Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

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Scientists find worms can safely eat the plastic in our garbage


Garbage is a big problem. Even with so many of us doing our bit to help out with recycling, the amount of unrecyclable and discarded plastics in the US alone comes close to 30 million tonnes annually, thanks to things like disposable coffee cups (2.5 billion of which are thrown away by Americans every year). We’re looking at you, Starbucks.

Now, for the first time, researchers have found detailed evidence that bacteria in an animal’s gut can safely biodegrade plastic and potentially help reduce the environmental impact of plastic in landfill and elsewhere. The animal in question? The humble mealworm – which turns out to be not so humble after all.

Researchers led by Stanford University in US and Beihang University in China found that the mealworm – the larval form of the darkling beetle – can safely subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene, with bacteria in the worm’s gut biodegrading the plastic as part of its digestive process. The findings are significant because it was previously thought that these substances were non-biodegradable – meaning they ended up in landfill (or worse, our oceans, where they’d accumulate for decades).
Source:  Science Alert, Peter Dockrill, October 1, 2015

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