Researchers at Cambridge University may have discovered a solution to the huge plastic pollution problem that the world faces, and it comes in the form of a small caterpillar.
Experiments involving small moth larvae (Galleria mellonella), which eat wax in bee hives, have revealed that they can also eat their way through plastic bags! The larvae then break down the chemical bonds of plastic in the similar way to digesting beeswax.
Millions of tonnes of this type of plastic polyethylene are produced around the world each year, but the bags and packaging can take hundreds of years to break down. The caterpillars start to eat away at the plastic in a matter of minutes. Scientists at the university say that they will need to understand better the process taking place and hope that this will develop into a process that reduces the issues around plastic waste.
Whales and dolphins swallow plastic debris (like water bottles) floating in the ocean. It can cause painful internal injuries that can prove fatal. Ingested plastic can also poison whales’ and dolphins’ bodies with toxic chemicals. Plastics never biodegrade, they just become smaller pieces of plastic. These microplastics are ingested by fish and plankton and end up in the bellies of the whales and dolphins who feed on them. It can even end up inside us!
Read more about what you can do about plastic pollution.