Two articles, published in Environmental Science and Technologythis week, found that mealworms can eat polystyrene foam, turning a huge source of waste into compost that can be safely used in the soil.
This finding is good for the environment.
Styrofoam, and in particular polystyrene foam cups, are everywhere, and less than 10 percent of those used in the United States are recycled. In the first study, researchers discovered that worms fed only polystyrene foam were as healthy as worms fed the most traditional food (bran, in this case). Each worm could eat a portion the size of a pill every day.
In the second study they focused on the intestinal microbes of mealworms, which are able to decompose the plastic safely. The researchers were able to convert this bacterium into a film that they applied to polystyrene, a form of the same plastic used to make polystyrene foam. The bacteria could also eat through the polystyrene, but at a much slower rate than the mealworms.
From now on, the researchers plan to continue investigating whether flour worms can safely break down other plastics, such as those that make up car parts. They also plan to find the marine equivalent of the mealworms, hoping that some sea creature can help reduce the massive amount of plastic debris in the oceans.