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Icky wax worms could help solve the plastic bag problem

A simple worm commonly used as fisherman's bait could be the key to getting rid of the plastic bags clogging landfills.

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Wax worms could hold the key to our plastic problem.

CSIC

The larvae of the Galleria mellonella, also known as the greater wax moth, could hold the key to solving our plastic bag problem.

Scientists from Spain's Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria and the UK's University of Cambridge have found that the caterpillar version of the moth has the ability to digest and break down polyethylene, the material most commonly used in plastic bags, Phys.org reported Monday.

That's good news for science because recent discoveries, such as gut bacteria, can't do it as fast as the wax worms can. The worms munch their way through bags while digesting them. And to ensure that it's not just a simple case of them eating plastic without actually properly biodegrading it, scientists have mashed up the worms (ewww!) and discovered that the polymer chains in the plastic are actually being broken down.

Instead of breeding horse-size caterpillars to digest plastic, though, researchers plan to figure out what exactly is inside the caterpillar -- be it the salivary glands or symbiotic bacteria -- that is breaking down the plastic. Once that's solved, it may be possible to replicate the solution on an industrial scale.

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