Studies done at Stanford University have revealed that mealworms are not only capable of breaking down Styrofoam or polystyrene waste but they also do not absorb any harmful toxins in the process.
These creepy crawlers are capable of breaking down the harmful materials through the process of digestion and are thereafter still edible as they remain unharmed by the usually toxic components found in polystyrene products such as hexabromocyclododecane or HBCD.
In essence, this means these helpful bugs can be used to breakdown this unrecyclable material and can still be feed to livestock afterwards.
According to the study, the mealworms were able to effortlessly consume the styrofoam and excrete it in a ratio of roughly 50% biodegradable droppings and 50% carbon dioxide. These droppings could then be used as fertilizer and the worms as feed.
HBCD is a highly-toxic chemical and researches were concerned that it would affect the worms and the livestock that ate them following initial tests, but luckily they proved to be 100% unaffected.
The study showed that within 24 hours the worms managed to excrete 90% of the HBCD they ate and all of it within 48 hours. Researches believe that the plastic fragments in the worm’s gut were responsible for concentrating and then removing the HBCD. The worms that consumed the toxic chemicals were later compared to worms that had not, both groups were equally healthy.
Further tests involved feeding shrimp the worm to test if any HBCD side effects could be seen but no difference was recorded.
Later the study revealed that the worms’ droppings could not be used as fertilizer, however, as they contain traces of the toxic chemical and needed to be disposed of responsibly.
Despite the positive findings of the study, researches still suggest an alternative for styrofoam products be employed, but mealworms could serve as part of the solution to the styrofoam plague.
Watch the worms eat away at the styrofoam here: