Stanford University and Beihang University in China claim to have a solution to the growing plastic problem. That solution is worms.
Only about 10% of all plastic produced is recycled. Millions of tons enter the environment every year, which leads to water contamination and animal poisoning. According to Leave No Trace, an organization that promotes enjoying the outdoors responsibly and ethically, plastic can exist in the environment from 10 to 1,000,000 years, and Styrofoam lasts forever!
Scientists have discovered that mealworms have microorganisms in their gut which break down polystyrene. It was observed that the mealworms converted half of the Styrofoam they were given to carbon dioxide and the remaining half was excreted as tiny waste pellets. The pellets appear to be safe, and the polystyrene did not affect the health of the worms. Not only are mealworms effective at breaking down polystyrene, but waxworms are able to biodegrade polyethylene.
More research will be done to determine if the mealworms are able to biodegrade other plastics, such as polypropylene and bioplastics.
In the future, scientists hope to use the information they are gleaning from the worms to develop powerful enzymes to degrade plastic.