I think it’s safe to say that we all know just how irresponsibly we have been using plastic over the past few decades; I don’t even know if we saw it as a problem until quite recently. The damage has been done and there is now so much plastic waste in landfills (and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the ocean) that the situation is starting to seem hopeless. Interestingly enough, there are garbage patches in the Indian and Atlantic oceans as well, but the Pacific is just the largest and gets all the credit. This is not only terrible for the environment, as plastic takes centuries to biodegrade, but very detrimental to wildlife as well.
In the United States alone, 33 million TONS of plastic waste are being thrown away every year, but less than 10% of the plastic being consumed actually ends up being recycled at all. And, according to Popular Mechanics, the material that is used to make plastic bottles can only be recycled into lesser products before eventually ending up in landfills as well.
Mealworms Eat Plastic!
But thanks to a recent discovery, it seems there is hope. It turns out that mealworms can survive off of nothing but Styrofoam; they can digest it, turn it into compostable waste, and still meet all their dietary needs. This is pretty amazing. A collaborative study between Stanford University and Chinese researchers found that just 100 mealworms were able to consume almost 40 milligrams of Styrofoam per day. This is by no means a lot, as 453,592 milligrams are equal to 1 pound of Styrofoam, but this has opened up the doors to some exciting implications. Many bugs have the ability to eat plastic, but not all are able to turn it into totally natural, biodegradable waste. The plastic also does not harm the worms in the process (phew).
So, Now What?
You may be thinking along similar lines as I was — just release millions of these little guys onto landfills all over the world and let nature run its course, but that is likely not going to happen. What might be feasible instead is that scientists could one day be able to recreate whatever biological process is allowing the mealworms to breakdown the plastic. If we were able to emulate the environment of the mealworms’ stomach on a mass scale, we wouldn’t have to use so much energy melting down bottles and other plastic containers and turning them into new bottles.
Can We Do Anything?
There are a number of things that can be done to help reduce our plastic consumption on a daily basis.
- Use a reusable water bottle
- Simply don’t drink soda, it’s bad for you anyways ?
- Choose items with as minimal plastic packaging as possible
- Buy items in bulk, and bring your own containers or paper bags to put them in
- Try making certain personal care products and foods yourself, and storing them in glass containers
For more tips on how to go even further without producing waste, give the following a read: She Hasn’t Produced Any Trash In Two Years. This Is What Her Life Is Like.