They can not only consume various forms of plastic, but also Styrofoam containing a common and toxic chemical additive. The study is the first to look at where chemicals in plastic end up after being broken down in a natural system – a yellow mealworm’s gut, in this case. It contains a flame retardant called hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD, commonly added to polystyrene.
Within 24 hours, the worms converted about half of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide while excreting the bulk of the remaining plastic as biodegraded fragments. While hopeful for mealworm-derived solutions to the world’s plastic waste crisis, they caution that lasting answers will only come in the form of biodegradable plastic replacement materials and reduced reliance on single-use products.
“If you think one plastic straw is bad, think what 7 billion tons could do”.
Thanks to a complex process of bacterial decomposition, they were able to convert more than half of the ingested plastic into carbon dioxide, much like they normally do with any kind of food. Additionally, it provides greater insight into the process of microbial decomposition that the mealworms employ to biodegrade plastic debris. Bertocchini, along with the researchers of Cambridge University checked this with 100 wax worms in a plastic bag.
These beads are harmful to wildlife and release toxic chemicals as they slowly degrade. The world’s plastic problem may seem vast and incalculable, but its footprint has actually been measured. If you think back to that first turtle, his encounter with a plastic straw is a distinctly modern problem. Any material looking to replace plastic would need to fulfil certain criteria: most importantly it would need to break down into substances that don’t harm the environment and it would need to be cheap and easy to make and be suited to a variety of situations.
“Unfortunately, there is no reason to cheer as of yet: we ‘re still far from resolving the global environmental problem of plastic pollution”, said senior scientist Michael Sander, who also helped coordinate the study. “Saudia Arabia even introduced a law in 2017 banning all single-use plastic bags not made from oxo material”
The study has now been published in the leading journal “Environmental Research”. So while cleaning the beehive she put all these worms in to a plastic bag and made sure that the beehive is safe from infections. Others worry about the long-term effects of biodegradable plastic on soil health and the environment. It’s still too early to know the long term effects.
The same study, published in the journal Science in 2015, surveyed 192 coastal countries contributing to ocean plastic waste, and found that Asian nations were 13 of the 20 biggest contributors. If fish eat plastic, and we eat the fish, are we consuming toxic chemicals? Scientists led by George Bittner, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas, looked at 455 common plastic products and found that 70 % tested positive for estrogenic activity.
A 2017 study by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency found that certain substitutes were actually more potent than BPA in activating estrogen receptors in human cells. In the new study, Jacobson’s team focused on urinary levels of bisphenol S and bisphenol F in more than 1,800 U. S. children and teenagers.