United states – Mealworms feasting on plastic may provide a solution to the growing waste problem, claim engineers from Stanford University in the USA. It has been found that micro-organisms present in the guts of these worms can ‘safely biodegrade’ Styrofoam as well as polyethylene products such as plastic film and shopping bags.
Mealworms fed a steady diet of Styrofoam were ‘as healthy’ as those on a normal diet, explains Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the university’s department of civil and environmental engineering. Wu describes how the Stanford lab played host to 100 mealworms eating roughly 39 milligrams of Styrofoam per day.
The worms converted about half of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide, as they would with any food source. Within 24 hours, they excreted the bulk of the remaining plastic as biodegraded fragments that look similar to ‘tiny rabbit droppings’.
Potential applications for their waste include soil for crops. He believes the cradle-to-cradle-inspired research has ‘opened a new door’ to solving the global plastic pollution problem.
The research team cites the fact Americans throw away 2.5 billion plastic foam cups every year, representing ‘just a fraction’ of the 33 million tonnes of plastic discarded annually, of which only 10% gets recycled.
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