Mealworms can safely and effectively biodegrade certain types of plastic waste, according to groundbreaking new research from Stanford University and China’s Beihang University. In two newly released companion studies, researchers reveal that microorganisms living in the mealworm’s gut effectively break down Styrofoam and plastic into biodegraded fragments that look similar to tiny rabbit droppings.
Plastic waste takes notoriously long to biodegrade; a single water bottle is estimated to take 450 years to break down in a landfill. Due to poor waste management, plastic waste often ends up in the environment, and research reveals that 90 percent of all seabirds and up to 25 percent of fish sold in markets have plastic waste in their stomachs.
Worms that dined regularly on plastic appeared to be as healthy as their non-plasticeating companions, and researchers believe that the waste they produce could be safely repurposed in agriculture. Further research is needed before the worms can be widely deployed. It’s possible that worms could also biodegrade polypropylene, used in textiles, bioplastics and microbeads.