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Mother Nature tackles plastic waste

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany suggest caterpillars could play a role in cutting unwanted plastics.

Their work is based on the knowledge that some animals have an appetite for unusual foodstuff. As an example, the larvae of the Greater Wax moth (Galleria Melonella) can consume polyethylene (PE) and convert it at a ‘remarkable rate’. Researchers report 100 000 larvae eat over five kilograms of plastic in less than a week.

‘This would open up promising possibilities for the disposal and elimination of large quantities of plastic waste,’ Fraunhofer suggests. However, before this unique ability of the caterpillar can be harnessed technologically, it must be proven whether the creature completely digests the PE or merely crushes and excretes it.

The research taking place under Fraunhofer’s RauPE project uses state-of-the-art, high-resolution Raman microscopy and machine learning.

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