According to the BalanceMD, it can take up to 450 years or more for a single plastic bottle to decompose and even when we can’t physically see the bottle, its remains, in the form of microplastics, are still affecting the surrounding soil, water and food consumed by humans.
As dire as this situation may sound, it seems as though mother nature has come up with a solution to this problem in the form of waxworms. Waxworms are the caterpillar larvae of the wax moth, and have the unique ability to consume polyethylene, the very same material that goes into making soft-drink bottles, containers for food and other consumer products.
In order to understand how exactly the waxworms, or ‘Plastivores’ as they’ve been named, break down polyethene, researchers from Brandon University in Canada isolated the intestinal bacteria found inside these worms and discovered that they not only digest the polyethylene, but create glycol as the by-product. Ethylene glycol is a type of alcohol used in commercial and industrial antifreeze and coolant.
Researchers believe the answer to why the worms produce the Polyethylene eating bacteria is down to the nature in which they’re born. A wax moth lays its eggs inside a beehive, which the larvae feed on during the pupa stage. Because beeswax is comprised of “a highly diverse mixture of lipid compounds,” the worms have adapted the ability to also break plastic down since some of those compounds are similar in their chemical makeup to Polyethylene.
According to said Dr. Cassone, a researcher who worked on the project, “Worms that eat our plastic waste and turn it into alcohol sounds too good to be true. And in a way it is,”
“The problem of plastic pollution is too large to simply throw worms at. But if we can better understand how the bacteria works together with the worm and what kind of conditions cause it to flourish, perhaps this information can be used to design better tools to eliminate plastics and microplastics from our environment.”
Image: Brandon University