There's been a lot of buzz lately about plastics and worms, with much of the recent news generated by a report out of Australia on a study showing that a "superworm" could eat and digest expanded polystyrene. (Other, earlier studies have looked at similar capabilities.)
But before you celebrate, there are some very big caveats to that study.
The debunking website Snopes has a nice overview of the study from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, on the larval form of the darkling beetle.
"Over the course of several weeks, researchers ... split a total of 171 worms into three groups: one that ate only organic wheat bran, one that was fed a diet of polystyrene, and a third group that was not fed at all. The scientists tracked the worms, their eating habits, and their potential weight gain," Snopes' Madison Dapcevich writes.
The worms fed polystyrene not only survived, but also they managed to gain weight.
But that doesn't mean that we can simply add worms to EPS and call it a day. Co-author of the research, Jiarui Sun, said the aim is to grow a version of the gut bacteria in the lab and further test its ability to degrade polystyrene.
Beyond that, any attempt to use the study's findings still relies on a very basic issue that's already plaguing sustainable plastics efforts: collecting and sorting items.
Jeremy O'Brien, the director of applied research at the Solid Waste Association of North America, told the The Washington Post that the solution would require waste managers to collect foam separately from other trash, which makes it cost-prohibitive.