The key to saving the planet could be found in a bunch of small but hungry bugs. One day, these so-called "superworms" could help rid landfills of this waste and put a stop to one of the causes of global warming.
The darkling beetle is being studied by researchers from the University ofQueensland in Australia. In a study published in the journal Microbial Genomics, it was found that the bugs could survive on a relatively poor diet, and in almost 70% of cases, they would turn into beetles.
Rinke said in an interview that the people are eating machines. They want to become a pupa and a beetle by gaining as much weight as possible. They are not very picky.
In their natural environment, the so-called "superworms" eat rotting wood, leaves and animal carcasses.
There is a secret in the guts of theseworms. The scientists studied how the plastic is broken down. The insects are slicing and diceing through the white stuff.
There could be huge worm farms with millions of worms. "What scales way better and is also cheaper is to focus on the enzymes."
The ultimate goal, he says, would be to synthetically reproduce these enzymes in a lab to recycle plastic by spreading a type of emulsion. Microbes can help upcycle the material into bioplastics, which can be used for things like corn-based utensils.
"Polystyrene waste, which is a low value product, goes through this biological degradation using the enzymes and then you can feed it to microbes to produce something like bioplastic, which is actually a higher value product." He said that if you broke the cycle of waste, you'd be done with it.
To exit the realm of science-fiction and enter reality, consumers will need to step up to the plate by spending more on eco-friendly products.
According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, 12 billion tons of plastic will end up in the environment by the year 2050.
Rinke said that plastic recycling rates are very low in Australia. "I think the long-term vision is we use what nature can offer to help degrade the synthetic polymers we have made of petroleum and then we gradually transition to natural polymers."
Rinke started his journey with a sailing trip across the Pacific Ocean with his wife.
It was paradise when we stayed on the island for a week. If you look carefully, you can see that there's no escape, and that's because there's plastic there.
There is plastic debris on a tropical island thousands of miles away from any country. Plastic is all over the place. I wanted to look into that because of that.
He's holding out hope that what's in the guts of this tiny bug could make our world a better place.