Can Plastic-Eating Worms Solve Our Trash Problem?

Can Plastic-Eating Worms Solve Our Trash Problem?

I love my drive through coffee in the morning
as much as the next gal, but the cup it comes in? Not so much. It could stay in landfill
FOREVER. But hey maybe the early worm gets the disposable foam. Hey guys Julia here for DNews Plastic can be great. It’s durable, flexible,
and used in everything from medical equipment to floss, to the cup my coffee comes in. Buuuut,
unfortunately, most plastics either don’t or take a very long time to break down. Most
plastics are made from processes like heating up petroleum, this rearranges the molecules
so it becomes polypropylene, forged together by strong carbon-carbon bonds. These strong
bonds are hard to break apart, and because it takes a lot of energy to make molecules
like polypropylene, nature doesn’t break them down by itself. Kenneth Peters, an organic
geochemist at Stanford University, told LiveScience that “Nature doesn’t make things like that,
so organisms have never seen that before.” But we seem addicted to the stuff. It makes
things cheap and disposable and makes getting your morning cup of joe a little easier. Speaking
of those cups of coffee, they are one of the worst offenders! While great at holding hot coffee, it’s
terrible at breaking down. It could sit there in a landfill for thousands of years. But
there is some good news two studies published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology
suggest the creepy mealworm is to the rescue! The researchers found that the mealworm has
microbes in their guts that can break down the foam. How? Well by feeding them nothing
but the nasty stuff. But they’re not big eaters, 100 worms ate about 34 and 39 milligrams a
day! Okay that’s really not that much. But still, it’s better than nothing. After digesting
the stuff the worms released half as carbon dioxide and pooped out the other half as little
pellets. Early results say that the pellets might safe enough to use as soil! WHAT WAY
COOL. Still preliminary though. Earlier studies also published in the journal
Environmental Science & Technology found other microbes that could help. These microbes live
in the guts of another worm, the waxworm which is a moth larva. These microbes chow down
on polyethylene, the most common plastic; it’s often used in packaging. But these worms aren’t alone in their dining
habits, there’s a fungus in the rainforests in Ecuador that can eat only plastic. Described
in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the fungus Pestalotiopsis microspora could
survive on polyurethane alone. And the researchers say there could be loads of other fungus species
that could be great bioremediation candidates, but we just haven’t found them yet. The
only problem though is we’re losing precious rainforest at five thousand kilometers a year.
So we might not have enough time to find the fungus we need. But maybe mother nature doesn’t have all
the answers. To take down something man-made, maybe we have to give mother nature a hand.
For the past ten years, MIT hosts a competition that encourages students to design a living
cell. Yeah, you heard that right, design. Every year students from all over their world
try their hand at genetic engineering in The International Genetically Engineered Machine
(iGEM) Competition. While not all students try to make bacteria that eats plastic, in
2013 a group of students at UC Davis tried creating a bacteria that would eat a type
of plastic called PET. But genetic engineering can be controversial. What happens if you
release it into the wild? We don’t know if or how the new organism might mutate, or
how if it could become an invasive species. And as for more “natural” bacteria it’s
not a silver bullet solution. We should be very cautious before we go spraying bacteria
and fungus over everything plastic. We have no idea how these kinds of organisms could
handle a new environment. There’s a real fear they could TAKE OVER. Like the fungus
from the rainforest? Yeah it’s known to cause “rot and disease in a wide variety
of plant species”, not good if it gets loose across the planet. So it’s clear more research is needed, but
researchers are on the right track. Until a perfect solution is found, maybe we should
keep plastic out of landfills and out of the environment with the old standby of reduce,
reuse and recycle. But the other question is, does it really
help? We are told every day that we should be recycling, but why? What happens to plastic
bottles when they’re not recycled? Amy’s got the answers in this video right here. So what do you think about plastic eating
animals? Let me down in the comments below

100 thoughts on “Can Plastic-Eating Worms Solve Our Trash Problem?”

  1. But if these "worms" eat all the soil plastics then all that carbon that has been subtaranian for millions of years will enter the atmosphere as if we burnt it. I think we should recycle plastic. We need to sink carbon.

  2. Why not do what the Navy is planning and just gather plastics, reconvert them to oil, and use it for fuel? The tech is here, and it's being used. No worms, please. Bacteria do quite a good job, when allowed to.

  3. Caterpillar eats leaves very fast. If scientist create a genetically modified caterpillar using mealworm DNA and create a caterpillar – mealworm chimera , plastic pollution will be solve in no time

  4. Good thing mealworms are found in any pet store.
    Looks like Petco and Petsmart actually did something right for once.
    Edit: Also wax worms are found in a lot of pet stores and even fishing stores

  5. Then we place the worms into a power cell to collect the power from their body heat.
    Soon, with selective breeding, we could make machines eat plastic, poop out oxygen, and power the robot slaves that will be the workforce of our future.
    I'd buy it.

  6. Good luck teaching environmentalism to third world ignorant baby machines who are still trying to work out basic sanitation and plumbing. These and the mass-consuming industrialized retards will leave a ecological nightmare to our future polluters.

  7. I am transitioning to a low waste life style, and I think anyone reading this should just take five minutes out of the day to do something to help the earth

  8. Pile up the plastics in one isolated place. wash them so the organism can survive, then let the them do the thing.


  10. Actually most of our recycle plastic just get sent to India broken down to a lower grade plastic that cannot be recycled and then thrown into the ocean. Yeah I was a little pissed off when I discovered what they were doing with our recycling plastic. I was also rather pissed off when I learn about the real story of pollution. The Democrats lied to us about that as well, America's not green. When the Democrats ships manufacturing jobs to China, a country that ignores every pollution law set forth by the countries of the world. One country that produces more pollution than every other country combined. They're small children dying of lung cancer in China now, now the poor Taiwanese are getting hit with massive clouds of toxic death. I've been tracking this for 20 years. Funny how CNN never mentions that

  11. I raise tenebrio molitor and zophobas morio, aka mealworms and superworms for my chickens, turkeys, and pet leopard gecko. They eat a diet of almost exclusively consisting of polystyrene with occasional vegetable and fruit waste for water. I have always wondered if this could be done on a large scale. One could dispose of trash, basically providing free food to worms that could then be used for fertilizer, food, etc.

  12. Not to mention, these things could eat the plastic that doesn’t need eaten yet, but these are all good ideas.

  13. wasnt this a old review ? i think they tryed this 25 years ago
    it failed i dont remember why but i think it was because of the size requied being 1 of the big factors

  14. Cmon..! No bacteria or living organism can make more damage than plastic. Just dump the genetically engineered plastic eating worms in landfills.

  15. Governments need to force companies to use biodegradable plastics, biodegradable glass for drinks, food, diapars, mail, grocery bags, garbage bags. It should be a requirement. Appliances, piping, construction materials, tools can still be made of regular plastic since they are thrown away less often.

  16. So digestion means the release of CO2. There is no win win situation. "Keep" the CO2 in the plastic and it will take thousands of years to break down or break it down fast and in turn releasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

  17. 🐛🥤 What a uniquely beautiful face this girl has!
    I don’t swing that way, LOL, just sayin’…
    BTW…don’t think that’s really a hickey; odd placement if it is though. No disrespect intended. You go, girl!

  18. Mega Weems work beater at eating ctyrafhome and ther alot bigger so a grop of 100 can esaly eat like 50grams a week but that count ther pun poop which they eat agen to brake it doew more

  19. Idiots plastic eating worm waste may contain plastic. And that was bad to bacteria eating wast of bacteria… So if that bacteria died or suffered from TB HiV etc then other bacteria eating that bacteria may spread plastic disease to humans. Soooooo don't create plastic eating worm

  20. How to deal with non-recyclable plastic: Burn it in an oxygen-rich environment and use the generated heat from the burning process as heating or energy source. Pipe the fumes from the burning through a filter to remove any particulates and then pipe the fumes into large greenhouses that use up most of the CO2 before it gets out at the other end.

  21. I heard a very unfortunate bit of information that US recycling companies do not recycle most of our plastic. They send it to China and other countries. It needs to be recycled and reused in America. If someone out there knows for a fact this doesn't happen, please let me know; because this bit of info I heard absolutely broke my heart. Much Love 😊

  22. Let's weigh our options with the fungus you have a fungus that can cause rot and diseases in plants that I'm sure Monsanto can just develop those particular species of plants to be resistant or we can continue to throw Plastics into our oceans so marinelife can eat them or be hurt by them and then we can consume the affected marine life and then we can carry all the extra Plastics in our bodies as well …… think I'm going with the fungus infected plants option.

  23. If we designed a bacterium that survived only in the gut of certain worms, ants, or even termites, then we would not have to worry about the bacterium taking over – we would have to worry about the insect or worm taking over instead, which is much more manageable than a bacterium or fungus for that matter.

  24. If we designed a bacterium that survived only in the gut of certain worms, ants, or even termites, then we would not have to worry about the bacterium taking over – we would have to worry about the insect or worm taking over instead, which is much more manageable than a bacterium, or fungus for that matter.

  25. What happens to the animal that eat the "plastic eating animals"? What if THOSE make it into the food chain? Whichever food chain, animals through to humans..?

  26. why dose modern life always find a plastic surgery style solutions for our biggest earth problems, in the end it makes are planet look like Kim Kardashion's fake ass and face. sad. we are going to kill this planet when all we had to do is live to our means. money is the problem
    not plastic!

  27. bacteria
    –> consume plastic — >they poop 💩 and there poop –>will eat human —>and when there poop do the poop —> they will eat Earth

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