These Worms Can Eat Your Old Plastic Bags

Researchers at Brandon University have isolated a gut bacteria in waxworms that allows them to eat polyethylene, a type of plastic found in shopping bags.

Waxworms are normally found in beehives and live off of the wax inside. But researchers found that the same gut bacteria that allows the worms to eat wax also allows them to survive on a 100% polyethylene diet. Not only can they digest it, the researchers found that the gut bacteria actually thrived on the plastic diet. One of the byproducts from the plastic digestion is a type of alcohol called glycol for which researchers are still finding a use.

During tests, 60 lab waxworms ate more than 30 square centimeters of a plastic bag in less than a week. This process of consumption is slow so researchers say they don't believe it would
be an effective method to curb worldwide plastic waste. They instead hope to use the data collected from the study to improve biodegradation systems that help remove plastic waste from the environment.

According to some estimates, 5 trillion plastic bags have been produced this year alone. An estimated 91% of plastics produced are never recycled and lab tests suggest that it could take hundreds of years for a plastic bag to decompose.