Stanford University researchers may have found the solution to global plastic pollution: mealworms.
The tiny worm can subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene, according to two studies co-authored by Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. The research also found microorganisms in the worms’ guts biodegrade the plastic.
The papers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, say understanding how bacteria within mealworms biodegrade plastic could potentially enable new options for plastic waste management.
The studies come as the New York City ban on Styrofoam foodservice items has been overturned by the New York State Supreme Court.
In her ruling that overturned the polystyrene foam ban, Judge Margaret Chan said the “one undisputed short answer to whether EPS is recyclable is yes: single serve EPS is recyclable.”
After the ban was first introduced in 2013, foam manufacturers including Dart were given an opportunity to prove that foam foodservice items could be economically and logistically recycled within the city’s five boroughs. Dart conducted tests that proved this feasibility and offered to recycle the city’s #6 rigid plastics, which are currently dumped into landfills.
But if recycling doesn’t work out, maybe the manufacturers can use mealworms, instead.