Mealworms: A Solution To Our Plastic Problem?

Researchers at Stanford may have found a new way to get rid of excess polystyrene, better known as styrofoam, by making it biodegradable. Rather than focusing on a big picture solution, they started somewhere extremely small: mealworms. The larvae of darkling beetles have been found to be able to successfully ingest styrofoam and turn it in to a mix of carbon dioxide and biodegradeable non-toxic waste.

One man’s trash is another mealworm’s potpourri

Thanks to a special bacteria inside their stomach, mealworms are able to eat and process styrofoam, turning it into something less damaging to the atmosphere. Rest assured, the insect isn’t harmed in the process and might actually enjoy eating the food. According to the researchers, 100 mealworms ate and processed between 34 and 39 milligrams daily. The resulting biodegradable waste can also be used as compost, since it not harmful to the environment.

How was the Study conducted?

To conduct the study Wei-Min Wu, the senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, has worked alongside his team to make sure it was viable for the mealworms to consume the plastic. To test this, they created a control group with worms that ate only bran, and compared the findings to the experimental group that ate only polystyrene. They found that the worms that ate the styrofoam were just as healthy as the group that ate the bran. To avoid issues with bug populations, further analysis will be needed in order to examine whether or not future generations of the styrofoam-fed mealworms will continue to remain as healthy.

Future Endeavors

The results of this experiment could potentially change the world as we know it. Researchers are now looking for other kinds of plastics, such as the type found in microbeads, that the mealworms may be able to consume and breakdown. Furthermore, they are also searching for marine life that has the same ability as the mealworm, which could provide a viable way to solve the ocean’s pollution problem, as trillion tons of plastic are currently floating in it.