Plastic pollution is at an all-time high with approximately 8 million pieces of plastic finding it’s way into the ocean each year. That’s not even mentioning the plastic pollution that remains on land or the fact that it takes 10 to 1000 years for plastic waste to decompose. In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic, many companies and even countries have placed a ban on single-use plastic, such as plastic shopping bags, plastic utensils, plastic cups and most commonly, plastic straws. Other original ideas are being developed like Edible Water Blobs to replace single use plastic water bottles. But what can we do about all of the plastic that is still going to be here for hundreds of years? Well, scientists have found a potential solution, as they recently found out that a common worm actually eats the plastic.
New Discover Finds That Wax Worms Eat Plastic Pollution
We’ve all heard and probably seen wax worms before. They’re commonly used for fishing bait and can even be found in your own backyard, often as a pest that likes to destroy beehives. However, new studies found that we can use this beehive-eating worm to eliminate much more than wax combs.
Scientist Federica Bertocchini from Spain’s Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria came across this discovery after analysing how wax worms break down the wax combs of beehives. After doing so, she was curious to know if the worms intense eating skills could break through more than just wax, which is when she decided to place a couple in a plastic bag – for research purposes. It didn’t take long for the wax worms to be roaming free after chewing their way out of the bag at an unsurprisingly fast speed.
And that’s where it all began.
Wax Worms Can Chew Through Plastic Pollution
With a bit more research, Bertocchini and her colleagues found that 100 wax worms could chew through a polyethylene shopping bag in 40 minutes and have it completely shredded in 12 hours; plastic bags that would otherwise remain as plastic pollution for up to 1000 years. These polyethylene shopping bags are discarded at a rapid rate with approximately 1 trillion being disposed of globally each year. Needless to say that this discovery could have a huge impact on the global fight against plastic pollution, and even more in countries like India where they started to trade plastic trash against rice in search of a solution to this crisis.
The Worms Actually Eat and Digest the Plastic Pollution
It isn’t unusual to wonder where the plastic goes once the wax worms eat it. Some even suggested that perhaps the wax worms don’t actually eat the plastic but rather, cut it into tiny shreds that the human eye cannot see, thus not eliminating the plastic waste at all. So, the researchers pureed some of the worms and placed the leftover result on a piece of plastic. In 14 hours, approximately 13% of the plastic was gone. This suggests that there is some type of compound in the worm’s digestive tract that truly digests the plastic. Researchers also analysed the chewed-up bags and found ethylene glycol (the main compound in antifreeze) left over, confirming that the plastic was, in fact, undergoing the degradation process.
How You Can Help?
If you see a wax worm, leave it be or direct it to a piece of plastic pollution. These little creatures can drastically reduce the amount of plastic in this world; some may even say they can save the planet one bite at a time. But for now, you can help by:
- Eliminate single-use plastic from your home and lifestyle
- Volunteer to pick up plastic pollution
- Use refillable water bottles and eco-design water filters
- Avoid products that contain micro beads
- Donate to plastic pollution organizations
For the researchers who stumbled across this amazing discovery, they hope to find the enzyme in the wax worms that allow them to break down the plastic, so it can be produced at a higher scale to tackle the plastic problem quickly and effectively.