Wax Worms: A Solution to Our Plastic Waste?

Plastic waste is especially rough to breakdown because of the polyethylene-based compounds used to make up a variety of plastics that is very tough. Current industrial methods to breakdown polyethylene plastics require toxic corrosive chemicals and take a long time to breakdown. Once in a landfill, polyethylene plastic shopping bags do not break down for a really long time. Some researchers estimate bags and other polyethylene packaging could take between 100 and 400 years to naturally degrade. Now, wax worms offer perhaps a natural solution to breaking down our plastic waste.

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Wax worms are medium-white caterpillars with black-tipped feet and small, black or brown heads. They are the caterpillar larvae of wax moths. In the wild, they live as nest parasites in bee colonies and eat cocoons, pollen and shed skins of bees, and chew through beeswax, thus the name. They were found to be able to feed on plastic, much like other scientific discoveries in the past, by complete accident as Scientist Federica Bertocchini of the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria in Spain first noticed the Wax Worms’ plastic-eating skills while she was cleaning up a wax worm infestation in one of the beehives she keeps at home. She had placed them in a plastic bag when she came back and saw that they’d escaped by chewing their way out of the bag, and fast.

Scientists then conducted research to see if they were truly digesting the polyethylene and how much they could consume. Bertocchini and her colleagues found that 100 wax worms were able to chew through a polyethylene shopping bag in around 40 minutes. After 12 hours, the bag was significantly shredded. While other items such as fungi and bacteria have been found to also be able to breakdown polyethylene plastics, Wax Worms have been found to do so at a much faster rate and offers us a new environmentally-friendly option of processing our plastic waste.

By Efrain Esparza, ESG Writer


Recycled 3D Printing Filament from Everyday Plastic Waste

447030Additive manufacturing (AM) company, ALT LLC, has recently announced an Indiegogo Campaign in late December of this year to raise funds in order to produce high performance Recycled 3D Printing Filament made from everyday plastic waste. The company based out of Santa Barbara, CA operates a 3D Printing Service, providing design, fabrication and consultation services. ALT realized that, although AM offers many environmental benefits over standard manufacturing, they were still introducing virgin plastic into the waste stream in Santa Barbara. 

The company set out to create a new way to doing business by offering recycled and recyclable products to the 3D printing community. Their goal is to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills, waterways and ultimately, the ocean, by sourcing the plastic waste used to make their filament from local California waste collection facilities. ALT hopes their initiative will inspire other local engineering firms to adopt green practices.

ALT’s recycled 3D printing filament is produced in-house and made from a class of polymers called Polyolefins. This includes common plastics such as Polypropylene (PP), Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) used to make plastic bags, milk jugs, bottle caps, and other short-lived products that are discarded within a year of manufacture. Polyolefins have excellent properties for use in many applications, which makes them the perfect material for 3D printing. High and low-density polyethylene are desirable due to their flexibility, toughness, ability to withstand high temperatures, and their resistance to impact, moisture and chemicals. Polypropylene is similar, but has a higher thermal resistance enabling it to withstand the heat of an autoclave. Together, polyolefins account for nearly half of the plastic being used on the planet today. While several companies use plastic water bottles to make PET 3D printing filament, ALT wants to tackle the plastic that makes up the largest amount waste and that rarely gets recycled. Supporting this campaign will help ALT produce their high-performance recycled 3D printing filaments and bring them to the market at an affordable price, which may help reduce waste and make an impact on the environment.

By Efrain Esparza, ESG Writer