This worm eats plastic bags


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/25/this-worm-eats-plastic-bags.html


#2

Humans discard a trillion single-use plastic bags every year.

Makes you want to cry.


#3

I just patented a process to vacuum up the Great Garbage Patch, feed the plastic to these little guys then sell the worms for animal feedstock. Profit! If we can cover them in Cheeto dust we could be rich RICH RiiiiiiCH!!!1!!1


#4

That worm poops plastic.


#5

Plastic bags?


#6

At least worms are more controllable than bacteria.


#7

There might be possibilities for biological 3D printers there.


#8

This is great! We can strike plastic waste from our list.

Now if only there was a worm that ate assholes. We could strike world peace from our list too!


#9

does it affect their health?


#10

Now we just need to scale this up!


#11

"The caterpillar loves to eat them."
Well, from what I’ve been reading, it doesn’t. It eats through the plastic bag to get out of it, but that’s about it. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the real exciting bit here is that if we can figure out how it’s breaking down the plastic, we’ve got a viable method of dealing with it that’s a lot faster than those plastic-eating bacteria.

It sounds like each worm doesn’t eat enough for that to be an issue.

The nice bit is that it doesn’t.

How do you think they make the “distressed knees” version of those “jeans”?


#12

I predict a new invasive species.


#13

It makes me wonder. Are we talking an average of 133 bags per person per year? If so, then some folks must use a lot more, because I discard a couple dozen tops, mostly from things I buy that only come in plastic bags, and I know a lot of other people who try not to waste plastic. But I wonder how many of those plastic bags are actually industrial waste from things like shipping from suppliers to distributors to merchants in plastic bags.

Either way, I agree it’s tragic. But I also think it’s reached a point where our only real chance of dealing with the mess is an organism that consumes them - let’s not forget that plastic is used in way more things than just single-use bags.

Which isn’t to say that we should use and discard them with wild abandon. One concern I would have about using organisms to decompose a mess such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is whether it will elevate the acidity of the oceans which we’re already dangerously increasing. As I’ve mentioned before, ocean acidity is probably the single greatest threat to the world’s ecosphere both in terms of food supply and climate change, so caution would be advisable.

One thing that can be said in plastic’s defense is that it’s petroleum that doesn’t get made into fuel.


#14

I probably bring home that many every time I buy groceries. I swear those kids think each can of beer needs to be triple-bagged separately.


#15

The plastic must flow!


#16

The interesting bit is that the worm appears to digest what it eats. Mechanical shredding is relatively easy and mature; and normally animals eating plastic bags just leads to ugly gastrointestinal blockages and/or starvation.

Cracking polymer chains without economically implausible inputs of energy and/or chemists is the tricky bit; so this thing(or its gut microbes) are clearly worth a look.


#17

It just makes me cry. I pick the filthy things up everywhere.


#18

I’m envisioning Kevin J Anderson’s Ill Wind but with caterpillars. [Shudder]


#19

Holy crap! I checked this out from the bookmobile when I was 12 or 13 - not long after the US edition was published. It’s where I found out that in British English paraffin can mean kerosene.

It was an interesting premise for a '70s disaster story - and the concept stuck in my head for years, but I preferred the writing of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc.


#20

Pleonasm alert?