Will Plastic-Eating Caterpillar End Plastic Crisis?

Greater wax moth caterpillars munch on a plastic bag. (Credit: Harald Grove/Brandon University)
  • You and I produce an annual 300 MILLION TONS of plastic debris.
  • We throw away 8 MILLION TONS of it into the sea, & there are 100 million tons already.
  • By 2025, that means IN JUST ANOTHER 5 YEARS, there will be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.
  • This staggering rate of plastic accumulation is NOT good for the earth.

Among the several solutions that people have come up with, scientists have found a caterpillar that eats plastic.

At least a minority of people on this planet are trying their best to come up with solutions to address the environmental pollution happening every second everywhere. In previous articles, we talked about how two guys replaced animal leather with cactus leather, and another guy replaced plastic plates with banana-leaf plates.

While these are promising innovations to minimize future environmental pollution, there’s already a huge lump of plastic garbage that covers the earth on land and in the ocean, discarded years ago.

Plastic needs roughly 1000 years to decompose, but we can’t wait for 1000 years because plastic debris annually kills 100 million marine animals.

What will be left in 1000 years? You do the math!

Greater wax moth caterpillar larvae eat a plastic bag.
Greater wax moth caterpillar larvae eat a plastic bag. (Credit: Harald Grove/Brandon University)

Scientists have found over 50 species of plastivores, and the newly found greater wax moth is the most promising one at the moment.

What does it do?

It is the caterpillar larvae of the greater wax moth that feeds on plastic, and has attracted the attention of scientists. This caterpillar is able to breakdown and metabolize plastic, and it does this with help of the microorganisms in its gut. So, scientists separated the bacteria from the gut of the waxworm for experimenting. What they were able to find out is that these bacteria could survive on plastic alone for a whole year. While they also found that the caterpillar could consume plastic on its own too, the process accelerates when the caterpillar work with its gut bacteria.

A waxworm, the larvae of the greater wax moth
A waxworm, the larvae of the greater wax moth. (Credit: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/Shutterstock)

Can these caterpillars finish off all the plastic debris?

No, given the small size of the caterpillar and enormous amount of plastic waste already there, these little guys aren’t going be able to eat them all and save the earth from this plastic crisis, if that’s what you were thinking.

It takes A WEEK for 60 waxworms to eat a matchbook-sized square of plastic bag.

So, a more effective and efficient strategy would be to discover how these caterpillars digest plastic, and apply that technique in dealing with the piled up plastic waste. This is also what the scientists are working on at the moment. Hopefully, they’ll be able to create a tool that perfects plastic bio-degradation, before it is too late!

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