Plastic bags are the closest actual thing we have to a real-life zombie apocalypse. You just can not kill a plastic bag no matter how hard you try. Even when scientists spent years perfecting new types of innovative bags made out of biodegradable plastics or shrimp shells(yes that is possible!), no one gave them the time or day. Some countries have tried outright banning them, but they seem to just creep back into supermarkets after rules are relaxed. Others have given up and just started taxing them, supermarkets decided to pass that cost on to customers. There have been other attempts to turn the huge waste of plastic bags into fuel, but as ideal, as this would be so far it is nowhere near the levels the world needs it to be.
No matter how many stories we hear of sea turtles(Aye sea turtles mate?) getting stuck in plastic bags or icebergs of plastic waste in the sea, we still use over a trillion plastic bags a year. And this does not look it will slow down anytime soon. Unfortunately, plastic bags are cheap and effective – not to mention just easier than remember an adequate bag when you go to do your groceries. Recycle companies and landfill sites just hate them, no matter what they try plastic is not biodegradable so they can not get rid of them. But a new study may just have found the solution and its by using a hungry hungry caterpillar!
The waxworm lives in beehives and as his name suggests, is a caterpillar that feeds off the wax and honey. At least that’s what we thought… it seems the modest waxworm has a certain gourmet liking for plastic! And like the apple that fell on the head of Sir Newton, this was completely discovered by accident. Federica Bertocchino, an amateur beekeeper, believed the waxworms to be a potential hazard to her previous hive. So quickly removed them and put them in a plastic bag. On returning to the bag, it was filled with holes and the caterpillars were escaping all over her home! Was it a prison break or did the insect eat the plastic?
She quickly discovered that waxworms can break down plastics easily in a matter of hours, they turn it into an antifreeze-like substance called ethylene glycol. And the best part? This substance is easily recyclable, it breaks down within a few days. Yet undigested plastic bags can last up to 400 years! Will these worms be the savior to our plastic pollution?
And I am sure your thinking, those poor worms can’t be very healthy after eating plastic. Surprisingly though they seem fine, researchers believe this is because the molecules you find in plastic actually resemble wax. So will these worms help us in the fight against the plastic bags? Only time will tell, but it definitely seems to be an interesting concept that mother nature has provided her own solution to our plastic pollution.