Can This Critter Help Solve Our Plastic Problem?

About 300 million tons of plastic is produced globally each year.  Of those 300 million tons, 8 million metric tons end up in our ocean which translates to 17.6 billion pounds (one metric ton equals 2,205 pounds). It takes a plastic bottle about 450 years to decompose, and a plastic bag 10-20 years to decompose. 

As it turns out, the convenient aspects of plastic, such as its lightweight and durability, makes it harder to get it out of the ocean once it starts to break down into smaller pieces. In recent years there have been initiatives to clean our oceans and collect the plastic that has accumulated. Although this is a start and will help reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, this is a retroactive solution.  What we need is a proactive solution, preventing plastic form entering the ocean.

Recently, scientists have discovered the ability of  the wax worm, a caterpillar that is able to biodegrade plastic. Researchers ground the larva into a paste and spread it over plastic, again the plastic degraded. This is an indication that it is chemicals in the caterpillar that are responsible. So, why don’t we have massive farms of these caterpillars to break down plastic and solve our problem? Because like all things there is a downside. The wax worm is just that it eats wax, more specifically bees wax. These caterpillars have the potential to significantly damage the bee population. In a world without bees, plastic pollution would be the least of our worries.

All in all, there is not currently one good solution on stopping plastic from entering our oceans. As with most things it will take a combination solutions such as: reducing our overall usage of plastics, recycling what plastics we do use, and finding a viable method of biodegrading plastics. 

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