How the Plastic-Eating Wax Worm Is Helping Reduce Amounts of Waste

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Here’s a caterpillar that thinks plastic tastes fantastic. Scientists have discovered that the larvae of the wax moth will easily munch through a common plastic known as polyethylene, turning it into a useful compound found in all kinds of consumer products.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, reveal an unlikely ally in the fight to reduce and reuse the enormous amounts of plastic waste that humans produce every year.

Plastic, made from oil, is the product of fossil fuels. Roughly 92% of it falls into two main categories: polyethylene and polypropylene. According to the study authors, polyethylene is widely used for packaging and so makes up about two-fifths of the plastic product demand — in fact, more than a trillion plastic bags are used each year.

Some of that plastic is recycled, but not much — out of 33.25 million tons of plastic generated in 2014, just 9.5% in the United States was recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (An additional 15% was burned for energy, which is not the cleanest process, and a whopping 75.5% ended up in landfills.)

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