Plastic-Eating Organisms

MILK MaterialLab Mehlwürmer Frauenhofer Institut
MILK MaterialLab Mehlwürmer Frauenhofer Institut

Styrofoam Decomposing Mealworms

While mealworms normally feed on wheat bran, biologists at Stanford University and Peking University have given them polystyrene – a form of plastic foam – instead. Mostly, this material is used for polystyrene packaging, yoghurt cups or cable insulation.

In a test experiment, the worms ate the material completely – approx. 40 mg per worm. This is because the yield ofCO2 and excrement is non-toxic, biodegradable and can also be used as biomass.

During the one-month test series, the (invertebrate) animal welfare is maintained despite the harmful plasticizers and stabilizers. In 2020, another research team succeeded in isolating the intestinal bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa from the larvae, which is believed to be responsible for the degradation process through the production of a hydrolase enzyme. However, years of research will be needed before such organisms and their digestive enzymes can be used in waste recycling.

Product Name: Styrofoam decomposing mealworms
Producer: Frauenhofer Institute
Project Status: Concept // Prototype // Market Ready // Series Production Ready

Source: Peters, Sascha; Drewes, Diana: Materials in Progress. Innovations for Designers and Architects, Basel 2019, p. 35.
Image source: Frauenhofer Institute