It has been found that certain bacteria in the gut of larvae or worms can help with disposal of plastic waste, and mealworms are the perfect recyclers of Styrofoam to help our environment. The tiny creatures can achieve excellent results in helping our planet, by getting rid of some plastic pollutants.
A whopping 25 billion Styrofoam cups are discarded every year, and only 10% of them are recycled. This leads to grave problems for our environment, plants, and animals. One cup made out of plastic foam will take 50 years to decompose, and each year, the problem grows worse.
Researchers from Stanford University and the Beihang University in China, have conducted a study on the positive effects of mealworms in disposing of the polluting material. They fed Styrofoam samples to 100 mealworms, the larvae of darkling beetles. Their success was compared to a control group that were fed their usual choice meal of bran.
Their results showed that the active subjects managed to eat between 34-39 milligrams of Styrofoam per day through the month-long study. That is the equivalent of the weight of an average pill. By comparison to the control group, the mealworms that munched on the plastic material also showed no signs of ill health.
Within 24 hours, they excreted what they didn’t use for their nutrition in “biograded fragments that look similar to tiny rabbit droppings”, according to Dr. Wei-Min Wu, a research engineer at Stanford University.
The mealworms successfully converted half the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide gas, and the rest was excreted. It’s quite remarkable that their excretions were also proven to be safe for crops or soil.
Previous research has shown that different types of worms could safely digest polyethylene, but polystyrene (or commonly known as Styrofoam) has proven to be more challenging. This is the first time that scientists have observed a way to recycle it through larvae.
As stated by Dr. Wu, this study will open a new door to finding a solution to global plastic pollution problem. They will conduct further research to find out what enzyme breaks the plastic and how to use it for possible new commercial applications. Both mealworms and insects will be taken into careful consideration on their potential capabilities.
The team of scientists will investigate their ability to digest and break down microbeads and biolplastics. It’s in their hopes that more discoveries will led to future solutions that will ultimately help our environment without harming the animals that eat the mealworms.
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