When we hear of the word “Plastics” the first thought that crosses our mind is the menace caused due to plastics that often end up chocking the drains, sewers, natural water courses, food tracts of animals feeding on them accidentally as well as the health impact it has on humans directly or indirectly. We have a good news for this earth. Scientists have found plastic eating worms to help clearning the plastic waste.
Since the generation of plastic which first started in 1950, it is estimated that over the last 70 years 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been generated. Further, as per the data published by the World Economic Forum, over 300 million tonnes of plastic is generated worldwide annually in the current scenario. Of the generated plastics, approx 91% of the plastic isn’t recycled and often end up in landfills or water bodies. The major component which ends up as trash is the single-use plastic products such as bottles, polythene bags, plastic cups, food packaging, gift packaging etc.
The concern regarding plastics is not the quantum of its generation rather it’s disposal. Plastics take hundreds of years to degrade and all this while it creates a lasting impact on the environment which is irreversible. Plastic has also made their way to oceans, rivers and seas and has entered the food chain. These plastics also serve as a breeding ground to mosquitoes thereby increasing the transmission of vector-borne disease such as Malaria. In the major part of world plastics are incinerated which leads to release of obnoxious gasses and causing air pollution along with health problems. Due to increased use of plastics, the cases of cancer in recent times have surfaced exponentially as compared to a decade ago.
So, does it mean that there is no solution to this problem? The answer is No!!!! With the revolution of technology and science, a team of European scientists have come up with a solution to tackle the quantum of plastics generated by degrading plastics with zero environmental impact in a natural way. An insect popularly known as the wax worm has been discovered by European scientists who feed on plastics and eventually degrade plastic.
For experimental purpose, the Scientist named Federica Bertocchini placed the worms in an old plastic bag and after some time she found holes in the plastic bag with larvae of the worm. It was, later on, found out that this ability of the worms is due to their natural habit. These plastic eating worms houses themselves in beehives. The moths lay their eggs inside beehives which are filled with beeswax where these moths hatch and grow to form worms. Wax is a polymer which consists of the Carbon backbone. Since the chemical structure of wax and polyethylene is similar, these worms may have inherited the ability to munch on plastics.
To ensure that worms were actually eating plastic and not just munching them, the researchers pureed the worms and applied the pureed paste on plastics and waited for its impact when it comes in contact with the plastic. After a couple of hours, it was observed that there were holes in the plastic in which the puree came in contact confirming that there is probably an enzyme in the worms or some bacteria is thriving in or on their bodies which has the ability to dissolve plastics. On carrying out further research it was found that these plastic eating worms not only had the tendency to ingest plastics rather they were capable of chemically transforming polyethylene to ethylene glycol. Bertocchini, in her future research, is hopeful to identify the specific enzymes that break down polyethylene.
Although scientists have been successful in finding a preliminary solution to degrade plastic but the rate of degradation of plastic by platic eating worms is time-consuming. It will require millions of worms to degrade the plastics that are generated globally. The scientists are hopeful of finding the enzyme that assists plastic degradation so that the same enzyme can be created in labs and can be used on a larger scale to manage the increasing plastic waste.
The plastic eating worms can help in eating the trash but to treat the trash globally would require the worms in huge quantity which seems to be practically challenging in the near future. Thus, the intermediate solution to plastic waste management is reducing its consumption and restricting its disposal to landfills. For more articles like this, visit our home page.