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Mealworms Eat Plastic Waste

  • Jessica Berman

It's a bit unclear how long it takes poly-styrene based products like Styrofoam to decompose. But no matter if it's 500 years, or 5,000, it's a long time in human terms, and it illustrates the scope of the problem we are creating every time we use disposable plastics. But scientists may have discovered an unusual way to break down this plastic garbage.

It takes hundreds of years to biodegrade Styrofoam, and those plastic plates, cups and containers currently take up between 25 and 30 percent of our landfill space.

But these little guys might be able to fix the problem, by literally munching the plastic away.

It turns out mealworms have a taste for Styrofoam.

“Mealworms eat Styrofoam and they digest Styrofoam in their gut. The process was very fast. In less than 24 hours it became CO2," said Stanford University's Wei-Min Wu.

Each worm can digest plastic waste about the size of a pill every day.

Special enzymes in their gut break down the styrofoam.

“I think the secreted enzymes are really interesting. Those are the tools that actually break the wall down into little pieces," said Craig Criddle.

Researchers are trying to develop enzymes that mimic the worm's ability to break down plastic waste.

“It’s an issue because we are running out of landfill space for one thing, especially in dense urban environments. Also, the clutter that results, particularly in the ocean everyone hears about, but all around the world," said Criddle.

Surprisingly, environmental scientists found mealworms chomping on Styrofoam were just as healthy as those that ate their normal diet of bran.

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