Larvae of the darkling beetle can survive on a diet of plastic, pointing to new methods of processing the planet’s tide of garbage.
@Jeffrey
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7d

Unfortunately, this is old news and not as exciting as it sounds. Doing a search on Youtube yields videos from almost 10 years ago with ordinary people filming time lapses of mealworms / superworms digesting styrofoam.

One problem is that it takes a large number of the worms to digest a small amount of plastic, they take a long time to do it, and they do not fully digest or absorb the plastic on a single pass through their digestive system. The worms must eat their own poop multiple times before the microplastics are sufficiently broken down enough to be released into a natural environment.

A diet of styrofoam is also (probably) unhealthy for the worms, and it is unclear if there is a safe and effecient way to dispose of the dead worms.

The researchers are interested in isolating and synthesizing the enzyme that allows the worms to break down styrofoam, I think this is a great start and definitely deserves grant money, but even in a hypothetical scenario where commercial styrofoam composting is viable today it would not be enough to solve the problem of styrofoam pollution. Reducing (and ultimately eliminating) the use of disposable plastics is the only viable way to address pollution.

@jokeyrhyme
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Yeah, I hate the excitement over any potential “fix” that doesn’t require us to change our way of life even just slightly

Living slightly less convenient but also less wasteful lives is the solution, and we could do it now if we just had the (political) will

@AgreeableLandscape
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Also, you can’t realistically release trillions of superworms into the ecosystem to digest all the plastic. The only time where this can be taken advantage of is in a controlled, closed environment. But plastics in those environments aren’t the issue, and you can just as easily break them down chemically or thermally. It’s the plastics out in the natural environment that’s the problem, including the invisible, subcellular scale microplastics, and the actual hard part is finding it all and collecting it to be processed.

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