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Worms That Recycle Plastic

Nov. 6, 2015

Discovery could enable development of sustainable waste management solutions.

Mealworms could offer the solution to one of the world’s largest pollution issues – new research has discovered that the larvae form of darkling beetles can safely consume Styrofoam and other types of polystyrene. Using these worms to safely biodegrade the materials can tackle a significant source of landfill waste. Over 33 million tons of plastic are thrown away in the U.S. every year, with less than 10% being recycled.

The research, published in Environmental Science and Technology, shows that the worms converted about half of the plastic into carbon dioxide, the same rate as they would with other types of food sources, and the remaining plastic waste was turned into biodegraded material that is safe to use as soil for crops.

Noting that the discovery could enable new plastic management technologies to be developed from the way mealworm guts handle plastics, the researchers from Stanford University and Beihang University in China also plan to study mealworms and other insects to see if they can biodegrade other types of plastics, including microbeads and bioplastics.

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