Research has found that beetle larvae or mealworms have the ability to eat certain types of plastics. Mealworms can grow more than 2 cm long and have bacteria inside their guts that can degrade plastic. These worms can eat polystyrene and polyethylene – materials that are often used in numerous types of packaging. Approximately, 3,000 to 4,000 mealworms are needed to eat one coffee cup made of Styrofoam in one week. The worms then excrete the half as carbon dioxide, and partly as degraded particles.

Non-biodegradable materials such as plastics are one of the most serious environmental issues that we are facing. A comprehensive report from The Pew Charitable Trusts forecasted that by 2040, plastics could triple to 29 million metric tons per year which is almost equivalent to 50 kilograms per meter of Earth’s coastline. Anja Malawi Brandon, a plastics and bioplastics sustainability expert, mentioned that for mealworms to be a feasible recycling solution, there should be a system to accumulate and treat the waste they excrete. It is because the bacteria from the mealworm’s excretions were also seen as a potential to break down plastics into “monomers” or the building blocks of some plastics. Brandon’s team hopes that through further research, this breakthrough can be a promising technology.