Spot on Science: Plastic-eating Bugs

PLASTIC BAGS COME IN HANDY WHEN YOUR CARRYING GROCERIES OR LINING A TRASHCAN, BUT DID YOU KNOW EACH YEAR IT IS ESTIMATED THAT WE USE AND TOSS OUT ONE TRILLION OF THEM?

THAT’S A TON OF BAGS AND EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE THIN, THEY TAKE A VERY VERY LONG TIME TO BREAKDOWN – LIKE 500 YEARS. THAT’S A LOT OF TIME IN A LANDFILL BECAUSE RECYCLING PLANTS DON’T CARE TO BOTHER WITH THESE TYPES OF BAGS. IT’S CHEAPER TO MAKE THEM NEW THAN TO RECYCLE THEM.

PLASTIC BAGS DON’T DECOMPOSE BECAUSE THE LITTLE MICRO-ORGANISMS THAT BREAK THINGS DOWN IN THE GROUND, DON’T RECOGNIZE THEM AS FOOD. AT LEAST THAT HAS SEEMED TO BE THE CASE UNTIL RECENTLY.

THESE LITTLE GUYS HAVE COME TO THE RESCUE! SCIENTISTS IN ENGLAND DISCOVERED THAT THE WAX MOTH CATERPILLAR ACTUALLY FINDS THE BAGS TO BE A TASTY TREAT.
THE CATERPILLARS ARE PRETTY COMMON ACROSS THE GLOBE. USUALLY THEY EAT THE WAX MADE BY BEES IN THEIR HIVES. SOME PEOPLE BUY THEM TO USE AS BAIT IN FISHING OR AS FOOD FOR THEIR PET GECKOS. BUT TODAY THEY ARE THE ONES DOING THE EATING.

SCIENTISTS MADE THE DISCOVERY AFTER A BEEKEEPER REMOVED SOME OF THE LARVA FROM ONE OF THEIR HIVES. THE BEEKEEPER TOSSED THE CATERPILLARS INTO A PLASTIC SHOPPING BAG AND NOTICED LATER THAT THE LITTLE GUYS ATE HOLES THROUGH IT.

SCIENTISTS IN THE LAB REPLICATED THE FINDINGS AND IN THEIR EXPERIMENT NOTICED THAT WITHIN 40 MINUTES OF THE CATERPILLARS CHOWING DOWN, HOLES APPEARED IN THE BAGS – BY 12 HOURS IT WAS A PRETTY SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE.

NOW THE RESEARCHERS ARE LOOKING AT THE SALIVA AND UNIQUE DIGESTION OF THE CATERPILLARS BECAUSE THEY AREN’T JUST CHEWING THE BAGS INTO BITS, THEY ARE ACTUALLY BREAKING APART THE CHEMICAL BONDS OF THE PLASTIC.

IT’S A SUPER COOL DISCOVERY. THESE LITTLE CATERPILLARS MIGHT JUST BRING A BIG SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEM OF PLASTIC POLLUTION - ONE MUNCH AT A TIME.


Instructional Links


Video: PBS LearningMedia, Quest, Properties of Plastic | Experiment shows properties of polymers & how plastic bags are made.

Website Article: Reuse This Bag, Plastic Shopping Bags & Environmental Impact

Website Article: Scholastic, Bag-Ban Debate

Website Article: Environmental Protection Agency, Learning and Teaching about the Environment | Collection of resources & links on U. S. Government websites

Website Article: Science Buddies, Careers in Science, Earth and Environmental Science

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.