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Could Mealworms Help With the World’s Plastic Problems?

As plastic pollution’s damaging effects continue increasing, the need to take vigorous action against them is growing as well. And, while recycling is the traditional approach of fighting the plastic waste issue, it might not be good enough. Scientists are seeking ways of fighting the pollution issue, and are now discovering mealworms just may be helpful in the process.

How Mealworms Help the World’s Plastic Problems

The University of Stanford conducted a study providing researchers with optimism regarding mealworms possible role in being part of the solution to the escalating plastic pollution problem. The team found the mealworms can consume a variety of plastic types with no negative complications to their health.

And, not just this, but they also found mealworms can also eat Styrofoam, which contains chemicals that are damaging to the environment without:

  • Impacting their health
  • Impacting the health of animals who eat mealworms

As such, this study constitutes a promising strategy of turning the nearly omnipresent plastic waste into a beneficial measure.

This study is the first to observe where plastic’s chemicals wind up after they’ve broken down in some type of natural system, in this case, a yellow mealworm’s gut. 

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s senior research engineer, Wei-Min Wu, found mealworms contain microorganisms in their digestive tracts allowing them to break the plastic down.

You may be wondering if the worm’s waste is toxic afterward. The waste, according to Wu, is safe to use as crop soil. Carbon dioxide is the other by-product which is the same thing for anything the worms consume. Plus, the worms that eat plastic didn’t seem to be less healthy than those that eat a more natural diet.

It’s a relatively slow process. Researchers found 100 mealworms consume 34 to 39 mg of polystyrene each day, which equals the weight of a small pill.  The scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology published the findings. 

The researchers are hoping more study into the gut bacteria in the worms will lead to true answers for the management of this form of plastic waste, which while you can recycle it, the facilities to do so are scarce. 

Their Efficient Guts Make the Magic Happen

The most essential part is to understand that the gut of the worms can degrade plastic so efficiently. The bacteria is important. When the researchers gave the worms antibiotics and then had them eat plastic, the plastic wasn’t degraded. This shows the gut environment of the mealworms is so essential.

The hope is that by obtaining an understanding of the mechanisms inside the gut of the mealworms, engineers and scientists can either come up with new ways to degrade plastic waste or find new ways of producing plastic that’s easily biodegradable.

You can find mealworms in pet stores in the U.S.  You should know that mealworms are not worms per se. Rather, they are larvae of a flour beetle, and they go through four life cycle stages:egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  Mealworms aren’t the only insects that can degrade plastic. Waxworms can eat, chew and digest plastic that’s used in making garbage bags. 

With the new evidence, scientists have about the plastic-eating capabilities of the mealworms, they plan on studying if the microorganisms that live inside the gut of the worms can breakdown polypropylene, which is another form of plastic used for making things like:

  • Textiles
  • Car parts
  • Microbeads

The Plastic Pollution Problem Worldwide

Plastic pollution has become a huge environmental problem, as the rapidly increasing disposable plastic product production overwhelms the planet’s ability to deal with it.

Take the plastic foam cup into consideration. Each year, individuals in the U.S. toss out 2.5 billion of them. However, this waste is only a fraction of the 33 million tons of plastic discarded each year by Americans. Less than 10% of this total is recycled and the rest presents challenges that range from animal poisoning to water contamination.

The world population stands on the front row of the most unprecedented, greatest plastic waste tide ever while:

  • Living
  • Vacationing
  • Working
  • Joining together along the coasts

It’s growing exponentially because of an increase in how much plastic is used for manufacturing things we use every day and because of an increase in consumerism. Many of the plastic items we use daily are single-use items where they’re used once and then thrown away. But, after the plastic hits the trash, what happens to it then? It doesn’t disappear.

No, it often winds up in some form or manner in the environment, with most of it gradually making its way into the ocean. And, within the plastic pollution crisis today, marine plastic debris is among the most pressing environmental challenges the world faces.

Plastic pollution washes out on the coasts in clearly visible and obvious form, sadly announcing its arrival on the beaches. And this is only the beginning of the bigger story that unfolds itself in the world’s oceans further away; yet mostly starting off on land.

For over 50 years, worldwide production and consumption of plastic have continued rising.  In 2013, there were approximately 299 million tons of plastic produced, which represents a 4% rise over 2012 and has continued rising over the previous years.

Plastic is lightweight, versatile, strong, flexible and fairly inexpensive. These are attractive qualities that have led individuals worldwide to such over-consumption of plastic goods. But, being very slow to degrade and durable, plastic materials used in producing so many products ultimately end up as long-term waste. The world’s attraction to plastic, together with the undeniable tendency of over-consuming, throwing away, littering and thereby polluting has become a lethal combination.

So, while mealworms may help manage plastic waste, it’s not a substitution for recycling and using reusable products, like the ones you find at reusethisbag.com.

Douglas Lober

Author: Douglas Lober

Written and edited by Douglas Lober, Owner at ReuseThisBag.com. RTB is one of the original U.S grown suppliers of eco-friendly wholesale reusable bags. For any and all questions related to his articles, please contact him online.

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