Wriggly Solution To Plastic Pollution: The Caterpillar That Eats Plastic
Author: Elise Catterall
In the face of serious concerns that by 2050 there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish, scientists may have found a wriggly solution to the problem: a plastic-eating caterpillar.
The impact of plastic waste on the environment, especially from polyethylene plastic shopping bags, is undisputed. We know the many issues this waste causes, for example, the filling up of landfill spaces, the creation of greenhouse gases through their production, and most distressingly, the threat they pose to marine life.
Clean Up Australia, reporting back in 2009, stated that there was an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean and that this plastic was responsible for the deaths of 1 million sea birds and over 100,000 sea mammals each year.
When it comes to the issues posed by plastic shopping bags, there are two important aspects to consider: the sheer number of plastic bags used by consumers (estimated to be around one trillion per annum, worldwide), and the fact that plastic is such a difficult product to biodegrade. Each amplifies the impact of the other.
The good news is that scientists may have found an unusual solution to the problem of plastic shopping bag waste – the wax worm caterpillar. As strange as it may sound, there is genuine excitement in the environmental science arena around the discovery of this little insect that can devour soft plastics.
Lead researcher, Federica Bertocchini, stumbled upon the discovery when tending her own bee hives. After removing caterpillars from her hives, she found that they made significant holes in the plastic bag she placed them in. This led to formal study of the caterpillars’ plastic-consuming behaviour to confirm the finding.
The researchers – a team of collaborators from University of Cantabria, the Spanish National Research Council, and Cambridge University - believe that enzymes in the saliva or gut of the caterpillars digest the chemical bonds in the plastic, in the same manner as they digest the bonds in the wax of beehives.
First author of the study, Paolo Bombelli of Cambridge University, said that “it is extremely, extremely exciting because breaking down plastic has proved so challenging”.
Bertocchini also commented, saying “we are planning to implement this finding into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste, working towards a solution to save our oceans, rivers and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation”
Of course, the emphasis should still, and always, be on lowering production and consumption of soft plastics and recycling more, but this unique discovery is a positive step forward for managing plastic waste.
- Read our recycling report for more information about recycling right.
- Read more about the impact of plastic bags on the environment.
- Shop wisely – avoid unnecessary packaging when buying food and grocery items.
- Recycle your soft plastics at many supermarkets with ‘REDcycle’ bins.
Subscribe to Positive Environment News.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
- A global commitment to clean oceans »
- Marine plastic pollution: a personal perspective »
- Plastics inspiration: reasons for hope »
- Planet Ark announced as Donation Partner for NSW Container Deposit Scheme »
- Doing well by doing good: a recipe for sustain-ability »
- Beyond plastic pollution: solutions for a small planet »
- Revolutionary eco-friendly furniture the way of the future »
- Victoria announces plastic bag ban »
- HIH GreenSmart Awards celebrate Australia's most sustainable homes »
- Sunshine Coast sisters launch Australian-first sustainability project »
- Brush-tailed phascogale makes a surprise appearance on revegetated islands »
- What do Smiths, Kathmandu and Jurlique have in common? »
- Hobart City Council going further to phase out plastic »
- Going plastic free: what does it take? »
- Australia is one step closer to being plastic bag free »
- World's largest crop of tequila plant set to fuel green energy in far north Queensland »
- ABC's War on Waste creates unprecedented demand for sustainable coffee cups »
- 81-Year-Old Lebanese woman inspires a nation to recycle »
- Painting a Brighter Environmental Future »
- Answering the Call to Connect With Nature »
- What's the Deal with Coffee Cup Recycling? »
- Planet Ark pays tribute to former Head of Campaigns, Brad Gray »
- Shell Recycling - Big Gains From Small Things »
- Scientist Discover Massive New Forests »
- 'Creature Compost' - Zoo Reduces Landfill and Generates Income »
- The Awful Truth About Nappies & Recycling »
- Seabin »
- This South Australian School Has Plans to Eliminate Campus Waste Bins in Seven Years »
- Australia's Biggest E-Waste Processing Plant to Open »
- Indigenous Communities Embrace Renewable Energy »
- 14 Items You Can Recycle - But Probably Aren't (Part Two) »
- Is the Supermarket of the Future Plastic Free? »
- These Googly-Eyed Garbage Gobblers Are Cleaning Our Waterways »
- New Technology Turns Beach Plastic into Treasure »
- Tokyo Set to Take Sydney's Green Olympic Medal »
- Manchester's Tree Change: From an Industrial to a Green Revolution »
- Sticky Fruit Labels Get The Laser Treatment »
- Unilever Commits to 100% Recyclable Plastic packaging »
- World's Biggest Beach Clean-up »
- Australian Solar Technology Used to Help China Reach Clean Energy Target »
- Launch of Positive Environment News »
- Soft Plastic - Scrunch and Recycle »
- Test Your Recycling Knowledge! »
- Awake to the Fun of Recycling »
- Planet Ark Project - Answering Kid's Questions »
- The art of upcycling »