Diamonds last forever…. and so does Styrofoam as reported by Mashable. The polystyrene packaging that cushioned many products for delivery may well sit in many landfills for many decades without degrading. And many of it specifically plastics found their way into the sea. It’s estimated Australian’s throw out more than 40,335 tonnes of expanded polystyrene every year.
The researchers have confirmed for the first time that these mealworms can eat and biodegrade petroleum-based plastic in just days all due to the bacteria in their gut. The mealworm is the larvae of the darkling beetle and the insect can survive on a diet of Styrofoam and other types of polystyrene.
According to Wee-Min Wu, senior research engineer at Stanford University and the co-author of two new research papers on mealworms and plastic that was published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. He said that they are confident there is fast degradation and it will eventually lead to a breakthrough in quickly breaking down petroleum-based plastics in the environment.
The researchers made a series of experiments, it includes feeding 100 mealworms a diet of Styrofoam. The mealworms ate 34-39 mg of plastic or about the weight of a small pill every day. The worms converted 48% of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide and still appeared healthy. Within 24 hours, the worms have excreted 49% of the plastic as broken-down bits of Styrofoam. They believe that the droppings are safe for the environment but they need further study to prove it.
The research team was able to isolate the specific gut bacteria found in the worms responsible for Styrofoam break down. According to Wu, it would be crucial for the future because it will be easier for them to engineer the bacteria than having live worms to clean up plastic waste. He added that they have not yet tried engineering the bacteria.
This is a positive result from the research team as compared to having incinerators or burying non-biodegradable plastic wastes or having them end up and pollute international waters.