Styrofoam-eating mealworms could be the solution to our plastic problem

Sustainability |  2 min. read
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Ok, it looks kind of yucky.  But that pile of mealworms might soon be a welcome sight — because they eat trash.  And not just any trash — they eat our plastic trash.

We can’t say what a mealworm’s favorite meal is but we do know that if you put a plate of Styrofoam in front of one (so to speak), you’ve got one happy mealworm. They eat the plastic (which is what Styrofoam is), they digest the plastic, and they’re on to the next plate.

RELATED: Plastic-eating bacteria offers a biological solution for plastic waste.

And on top of that, researchers at Stanford University have discovered that we can safely use those mealworms as food for other animals — the kind we eat.  Also good news, mealworms are found all around the world and as you can tell from the photo, there’s a lot of them.

Want more good news?  Mealworms might be taking their place alongside other advances in recycling and reusing plastic materials.  And among the leaders in that work are the same petrochemical companies that make the raw materials for plastic in the first place.

  • Dow Chemical, for example, which is working on a project to blend plastic with asphalt, making better roads and reusing old plastic.
  • Chevron Phillips Chemical is developing a process for taking polystyrene, which is used to make Styrofoam, among many other things, and breaking it down into its original chemical components, so you can use the same material to make brand new plastic.
  • LyondellBasell is taking the same approach to another plastic, polyethylene.

And now, alongside those big names, some very small mealworms are tackling the same problem from a different angle (and yes, we like the idea that Nature might have its own productive use for our plastic waste that‘s a nice touch).

Oh, and about those mealworms. Here are a few factoids you can drop at your next party:

  • You can buy mealworms as pet food. And apparently your pet gecko or fish, or chicken for that matter, will thank you.
  • Some people think they ought to be people food too. Mealworms are rich in protein, and loaded with vitamins and minerals.  We can’t vouch for the taste though.
  • Oh, and they’re not worms. In fact, if you or something else doesn’t eat them while they are larvae, which is technically what mealworms are. They grow up to be darkling beetles. We can’t vouch for the taste of those either.
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