The wax worm saliva breaks down a common form of plastic in a few hours at room temperature.

It is one of the most widely used plastic in the world and is used in a lot of things. It is a persistent pollutant because it needs to be treated with high temperatures to start degrading.

Wax worm saliva contains the only enzymes that can work on treated polyethylene, which makes it potentially useful for recycling.

Federica Bertocchini discovered wax worms have a talent for degrading plastic.

According to Bertocchini, at the end of the season, some empty beehives are put in a storage room to be used in the spring.

I found my honeycombs were plagued with wax worms when I did that one year ago.

She put the wax worms in a bag. She found the bag with holes when she returned.

The Galleria mellonella is a type of wax worm. The worms make their home in bee hive where they feed on wax and pollen.

After this chance discovery, Bertocchini and her team at Madrid's Margarita Salas Center for Biological Studies set to work analyzing the wax worm saliva.

The methods used by the researchers were gel permeation chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

They confirmed that saliva broke the long hydrocarbon chains.

The researchers used proteomic analyses to identify a few of the enzymes in the saliva.

The ancient Greek and Roman goddesses of agriculture were the inspiration for the names of the two enzymes.

"To the best of our knowledge, these polyethyleneases are the first enzymes capable of producing such modifications on a polyethylene film at room temperature and in a very short time," the researchers wrote.

The process could be an "alternative paradigm" for waste management if the two enzymes overcome the first step in the degradation process.

Bertocchini told Agence France-Presse that the enzymes could be mixed with water and poured over plastic. It's possible to use them in places where waste facilities are not available.

Wax worms are promising, but they are not the only organisms that degrade plastic.

The study showed that plastic was being eaten by organisms in the ocean and soil.

A Japanese waste site has been reported to have a bacterium that can break down the plastic. Scientists created anidase that could break down plastic drink bottles.

Around 400 million metric tons of plastic waste are generated each year, of which 30 percent is in the form of polyethylene. Only 10% of the 7 billion tons generated by the world have been recycled.

Reducing consumption and reuse will limit the impact plastic waste has on the environment, but having a toolkit for cleaning up our mess could help.

The study was published in a journal.