Researchers have found that the saliva of wax worms can break down the plastic used in plastic bags.
It could have a major impact on global recycling efforts if the humble worms could be scaled into a viable commercial process.
The resulting recycled material is less pure and less valuable than the original.
The wax worms' saliva can break down the long polymer chains of polyethylene at room temperatures, in water, and at neutral pH levels, which is far more convenient than using high temperatures and carefully controlled acidity levels.
The researchers stumbled upon the discovery.
Federica Bertocchini, co-author of a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, told The Guardian that she began cleaning her bees after they were plagued with wax worms.
"After a while, I noticed a lot of holes and we found it waschemical breakdown, so that was the beginning of the story," Bertocchini said.
There's growing interest in using insects or other living organisms to recycle plastic waste, from fungi to super-worms that can survive by eating styrofoam
There is a lot of work to be done before wax worm saliva becomes a viable solution for a plastic waste crisis. According to experts, it's still expensive to synthesise the chemicals.
A lot of research is needed to come up with a new strategy to deal with plastic waste, according to Bertocchini's co-author.
Scientists discovered that wax worm saliva quickly breaks down plastic bags.
There are worms that can survive on Styrofoam.