Mealworms could be the natural trash-disposers we need to battle the scourge of plastic polluting our planet. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, is the first to provide in-depth evidence for how these pudgy little bugs can survive munching on a diet of Styrofoam and other types of polystyrene plastic, which aggregate in landfills and were previously considered non-biodegradable.

”There’s a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places,” said Craig Criddle, a Stanford professor who supervises plastics research, in a statement. “Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock.”

For the study, the scientists fed 100 mealworms 34-39 milligrams of Styrofoam – the equivalent of a small pill-sized dose of Styrofoam a day. With the assistance of gut microbes, the worms converted half of this plastic into carbon dioxide and then excreted the rest in the form of biodegradable droppings.

 

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