Innovation

The solution for polystyrene: feed it to worms

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

According to a new study by Stanford University, invertebrates are able to biodegrade polystyrene and turn it into CO2.

The solution, from a purely aesthetic point of view, is not one of the best. However, it could give new importance to an invertebrate which has been related to filth and cowardliness for millenniums. It’s one of the most reviled and underestimated creatures, which could now become an important partner for recycling polystyrene.

According to a study by the Stanford University, microorganisms in the invertebrate’s guts are capable of “biodegrading safely”, literally eating the polystyrene and other polyethylene products such as plastic film and shopping bags.

In this case, our potential recycling hero is not just any worm but, more precisely, the “tenebrio molitor”, commonly known as mealworm. The operation, which could scare animal-rights activists, would not affect invertebrates’ health. “Tenebrio molitors, fed with polystyrene, are as healthy as those with a traditional diet – says Wei-Min Wu, researcher at the Department of Environmental Engineering at Stanford – We hosted 100 worms in our laboratory and they ate about 39 milligrams of polystyrene per day”.

The worms turned half of the polystyrene into carbon dioxide, just as they do with any other food. Within 24 hours, they evacuated the remaining plastic in biodegraded fragments, similar to “small rabbit droppings”, according to the study.

The research on tenebrio molitors is particularly significant because, until now, it was believed that polystyrene was not biodegradable and, therefore, it was considered damaging to the environment. But then, from a flour bag emerged the worm that, in one bite and no problems for its digestion, ate what we considered a problem without solution.

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