Chemistry in Pictures: Plastic snack

by Deirdre Lockwood and Carmen Drahl
July 10, 2018



Polystyrene—most familiarly produced as foams, including Styrofoam—has given the world cheap, lightweight insulation and containers for taking food to go. But the material biodegrades so slowly that it can sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. Scientists are working on a potential solution: Mealworms will dine on polystyrene foam when they can’t get a better meal. Gut bacteria within the worms convert up to 48% of what they eat into carbon dioxide. However, it’s not a perfect solution. The rest of the products— styrene monomers or otherwise—haven’t been identified. And the bacteria don’t completely digest their plastic meals, even after several weeks . Partially-degraded plastic can be as much of a problem as the intact stuff.

Credit: Environ. Sci. Technol.2015, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02661

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