Mealworms Can Eat Plastic Waste

17 November, 2015

Styrofoam is a plastic with a bad reputation.

It cannot be recycled without releasing dangerous pollution into the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is the fifth-largest creator of hazardous waste.

Worms to the rescue. Specifically, mealworms.

Scientists from the U.S. and China have discovered that mealworms can digest plastic. One mealworm can digest a pill-sized amount of plastic a day.

Study co-author Wei-Min Wu says that in 24 hours, the plastic is turned into carbon dioxide.

Are the worms hurt by eating plastic? The study found that worms eating Styrofoam were as healthy as worms eating bran.

The researchers will study the worm's eating habits and look to duplicate the plastic breakdown but on a larger scale.

Styrofoam, or polystyrene, is a light-weight material, about 95 percent air, with very good insulation properties, according to It is used in products from cups that keep your beverages hot or cold to packaging material that protects items during shipping.

Solving the issue of plastic pollution is important says Wu, a Stanford University environmental engineering instructor. Landfill space is becoming limited, he says.

About 33-million tons of plastic are thrown away in the United States every year. Plastic plates, cups and containers take up 25 percent to 30 percent of space in America's landfills. One Styrofoam cup takes more than 1 million years to recycle in a landfill, according to Cleveland State University.

I'm Anne Ball.

Jessica Berman reported this story for Jim Dresbach adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

recycle – v. to make something new from something that has been used before

Styrofoam – n. used for a type of plastic that is light and usually white

bran – n. the outer coat of the seed of a grain

carbon dioxide – n. a gas that is produced when people and animals breathe out or when some fuels are burned

pill – n. a small, rounded object that you swallow and that contains medicine

digest – v. to change food that you have eaten by a biological process into simpler forms that can be used by the body