Beijing: Chinese scientists have discovered a method to decompose stubborn plastic waste with the help of a worm that can fully digest and degrade it into carbon dioxide and nutrition.

The finding was jointly published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ‘Environmental Science & Technology’ by Professor Yang Jun, from Beihang University, and Doctor Zhao Jiao, from the Shenzhen-based genomics organisation BGI.

Their research proved that the larvae of Tenebrio molitor, also known as yellow mealworms, can be fed with polystyrene, one of the most stubborn in the plastic family, state-run China News Service reported today.

The plastic can be fully digested by the worm and degraded into CO2 or nutrition for the worm.

Yang said global consumption of plastics totalled 299 million tonnes in 2013, including 21 million tonnes of polystyrene, which can be found in takeaway containers or coffee cups. The material can only degrade by up to 3% in four months when left in earth, mud or rotting garbage. He added that 400 million tonnes of plastic garbage was left untreated annually on the planet, posing threats to environment and food safety.

Yang started to study plastic degradation in 2005. His team tested many other insects and worms before the discovery of the mealworm, the most effective eater. PTI

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