While Lego’s mission to incorporate bioplastics into its products is commendable, it’s not going to eliminate the billions of pieces that already exist. Plastic disposal is an issue that has long puzzled the sanitation industry. Now, there may be a solution. Plastic-eating worms could potentially inspire waste-degrading tools.
Researchers in Spain and England recently found that the larvae of the greater wax moth can efficiently degrade polyethylene, which accounts for 40 percent of plastics.
To test their efficiency, researchers left 100 wax worms to munch on a plastic bag for 12 hours. The worms consumed 92 milligrams-worth (or 3%) of the bag. Off to a slow but promising start. When applied as a paste, enzymes from the worms’ stomachs act identically.
“Wax is a complex mixture of molecules, but the basic bond in polyethylene, the carbon-carbon bond, is there as well. The wax worm evolved a mechanism to break this bond.”
This could be the breakthrough every industrial process needs. Of course, biologists have yet to come up with a proper formula. After all, tossing a truckful of worms into a landfill may not be the most realistic option.