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Styrofoam eaten by mealworms…

This topic contains 31 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Brad Scott 2 years ago.

Eric S alfadriver

Styrofoam eaten by mealworms…

19/06/2019 at 20:38

Just wondering around and surfing, a video talking about mealworms eating styrofoam popped up.  Which lead to a quick search leading to some research done by Stanford University- https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-worms-digest-plastics-092915.html

Where they found that mealworms will eat styrofoam.  Or more correct- expanded polystyrene….  The bacteria in their guts break it down, and the result is waste that can be re-used and mealworms that can be eaten.

Something to look into for those of you fighting with polystyrene waste.

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19/06/2019 at 21:12

Hi Eric @alfadriver
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.
I immediatly contacted a mealworm farm to see if we can setup an experiment.
I’ll keep you posted, should I have nem information…

19/06/2019 at 21:27


I can indeed confirm they eat styrofoam…
I have a meeting next week to start up an experiment….

19/06/2019 at 22:23

Ubiquity of polystyrene digestion and biodegradation within yellow mealworms, larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae)

• Consumption of polystyrene (PS) by mealworms observed in 22 countries.
• PS degrades in mealworms obtained from 12 locations in the USA, UK and China.
• Addition of nutrition enhances survival rate and PS consumption rate.
• Antibiotics depresses gut microbes and severely inhibits PS degradation.
• PS feeding shifts mealworm gut microbiome.


Academics researchers and “citizen scientists” from 22 countries confirmed that yellow mealworms, the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus, can survive by eating polystyrene (PS) foam. More detailed assessments of this capability for mealworms were carried out by12 sources: five from the USA, six from China, and one from Northern Ireland. All of these mealworms digested PS foam. PS mass decreased and depolymerization was observed, with appearance of lower molecular weight residuals and functional groups indicative of oxidative transformations in extracts from the frass (insect excrement). An addition of gentamycin (30 mg g−1), a bactericidal antibiotic, inhibited depolymerization, implicating the gut microbiome in the biodegradation process. Microbial community analyses demonstrated significant taxonomic shifts for mealworms fed diets of PS plus bran and PS alone. The results indicate that mealworms from diverse locations eat and metabolize PS and support the hypothesis that this capacity is independent of the geographic origin of the mealworms, and is likely ubiquitous to members of this species.


20/06/2019 at 00:37



Hard to find the full .pdf, but a good starting point.

Would it be frowned upon to evolve them and set them free 😉

20/06/2019 at 07:39

Hey all;

After my visit last year at Eindhoven (and saw they were experimenting with mealworms & PS foam), i had to give it a try myself !

It seems the larvas can sustain on PS Foam only, but when they evolve to scarabes, they need some sort of complementary food & humidity (i just add some soaked little pieces of bread every few days)

The process is VERY slow, they tend to make some tunnels inside the PS foam rather than eating random pieces of PS.


I’ll try posting a pic of degraded PS foam this week !


edit : the type of worms i have are tenebrion molitor

20/06/2019 at 09:40

Hi Nicolas @imuh
Thanks, that would be realy helpful.
Like I said, I may even have the option to initiate some large scale testing, so ANY information would be welcome!

Food for Thought!

20/06/2019 at 12:06

Also found this on the Forum: https://www.plasticula.com
Styrofoam to bioplastic.
Actually explains why the worms eat it…

20/06/2019 at 12:44

sorry for bad photo quality 🙁

happy tenebrions doing there thing 😀

20/06/2019 at 13:11

Ha, that’s how bioplastic is made! lol


20/06/2019 at 15:34

And if all else fails:

(thanks @plastikfantastik in What to do with expanded polystyrene? )

20/06/2019 at 19:01

If the byproduct is water and CO2, is that significantly different than burning it as fuel in a proper furnace? At least one would not have to worry about the methane in worm farts.

@donald thank you for the brick making video. I always suspected that that’s how those awful rice cakes are made. Actually, a study on brick strength for different mix ratios would be valuable, as would a V4 version of the simple nail or screw based styrofoam shredder.

20/06/2019 at 19:34

Valid concern about the CO2, but all the plastic is going to break down eventually.  Not to say that sooner is better than later, but more about dealing with a waste that needs dealt with.

And since mealworms need to eat, anyway- eating polystyrene does not change the CO2 output of the worm (according to the Stanford study at least).  And another by product is compost.

let alone you are left with mealworms that can be fed to pretty much anything that eats them.  Would be a good way to feed chickens.

So if you are raising or need mealworms, may as well feed them waste so that it can be reduced.

20/06/2019 at 22:30

I was wondering what other insects might be able to break down polystyrene – and thought about termites’ ability to eat Lignin (wood).

See: Termite gut holds a secret to breaking down plant biomass. 

There are certainly similarities between Lignin and Polystyrene – since both contain lots of benzene rings. 

There are many references online to termites tunelling through (but not eating) polyurethane foam insulation – but so far nothing has turned up on termites eating polystyrene foam.

21/06/2019 at 00:28

Another thing I’m wondering- how to convince the mealworm to eat more than just expanded polystyrene.  There’s a lot of polystyrene in addition to the expanded part.  For that part, I wonder if the hardness of the material is the issue….  So what can be done with other PS things so that mealworms will eat them?

Still, there’s SO MUCH expanded PS out there, this seems to be a good way to dispose of it, and get some compost and mealworms to feed something else out of it.

21/06/2019 at 07:55

@frogfall @alfadriver

I guess it’s the same as with Mycelium:

It will depend on how you ‘train’ them.

I believe there is already evidence for both happening (other bugs eating plastic, mealworms eating other plastics), but I think in this case ‘size does matter’.
If you had to take a bite out of plastic, what plastic would you choose? 😉

Grinding plastics to powders and mixing it through regular feed should do the trick.

Adding to the wondering though:
If we humans eat the plastic fed mealworms (fresh), would our guts also acquire the needed gut flora to digest plastic?
It works with fruits and vegetables…

21/06/2019 at 08:06

i really have to insist on the SLOWNESS of the degradation process.


We baught approx 200 larvas; they are living through their 5th or 6th cycle now; and are still eating the same expanded polystyrene we put almost 7 months ago.

VERY VERY SLOW process ! (but interesting nonetheless :p)

21/06/2019 at 08:38

Scale is of course everything.
If we can PoC adding styrofoam to the feed, the real difference will be made convincing commercial producers to reduce their Carbon footprint(!) by doing the same…

The potential 35% PS leftover in the mealworm castings has me more concerned…

21/06/2019 at 08:45

We need a bigger Worm!

21/06/2019 at 18:05

It is interesting that in the mycelium video, the plastic (LDPE?) is exposed to UV light prior to the fungal innoculation.  I thought that PE was funginert – but it looks like it isn’t, as long as there are enough surface free radicals…

In the article about the termites, the gut bacteria breaks down some of the bonds in the lignin, and then the fungus grows on the residue – so that is also a 2 stage process.

Maybe that gives us a clue of what we need to do, if we want to build that bigger worm and scale up the process.  ie. do something that partly breaks bonds in the plastic (in bulk), and then find a friendly strain of mycelium to grow on the residue.

A bigger worm…

21/06/2019 at 18:15

Also why I wanted to try Oyster mushrooms on the mealworm castings (like: why not). Mix in some coffee grinds and train them…

I’ll expose some styrofoam to sunlight, to see if I can do a comparative experiment once I get my worms…
But maybe @imuh has already beaten me to it 🙂

23/06/2019 at 17:57

Nice topic and thanks for sharing my homepage @donald! 🐛
These people in hawaii also do a lot of research towards composting Styrofoam with mealworms: http://livingearthsystems.com/mealworms-compost-styrofoam/
They also do a lot of other cool stuff, so check them out! 🙂
And speaking about a bigger worm: There actually is a bigger worm, that eats and digests styrofoam as well. They are called Zophoba morio and kind of look like a bigger version of the mealworm. (I think americans call them “Superworm”. Quite fitting in our case 😎)
I did a bunch of experiments with them in the beginning and they seemed to eat the stuff pretty well and definitely way faster then the mealworms. Just because I wanted to also make bioplastic from the chitin in the shells, I didn’t end up farming them, since their beetles can life for 15 years and I didn’t want to kill them. Or wait that long;)

23/06/2019 at 18:09

Oh and I just started planning a little research month for the beginning of next year with biochemistry students from a university in maastricht and am collecting research questions right now. They have access to all the labs and equipment to go into all the nittygritty,  so let me know, if you have good ideas.

So far I got some questions about how to treat the styrofoam “crumbs” that fall of, when they bite into the material. It’s possible to feed it back to them and have it digested, but still it would be cool to figure out a low tech system to make sure the “composted” material is plastic free.
And the other ones are more about the bioplastic and it’s process:
One on how to simplify the process of extracting chitin/chitosan from the shells, so that it’s doable in a non-Lab-setting.
And the other one on strenghtening the material I made so far by making it more water restistant, etc.
Maybe a bit off topic, but just wanted to open the door for your guys’ input and questions 🙂

23/06/2019 at 18:12

Oh and since someone already posted the mycelium project by Livin Studio, you probably also already know this one: https://www.livinstudio.com/livin-hive
Always wanted to spend more time on getting the setup of my farm more propper and think theirs is a pretty sweet setup!

23/06/2019 at 18:38

So this thread has turned so very good. 😀

any chance that research help can be coordinated?

23/06/2019 at 22:24

I guess the main question to answer is the ‘food safety’ one: Do the mealworms contain plastic and are they safe to use as food. probably already tested several times, but the more research confirms this, the better.

Superworm: check. These might be the ones in the video. Scary buggers…

Will also study all the links, thanks!

24/06/2019 at 11:25

@donald yeah, I think the food safety one is super interesting, but at the same time it seems also far from reality, since it’s even hard for people in big parts of the world to imagine eating insects in the first place.
There is this Study by a German university: https://www.uni-kassel.de/fb11agrar/fileadmin/datas/fb11/Agrartechnik/Dokumente/Projektarbeiten/2017_Gaerttling_Projektarbeit.pdf
For everyone who doesn’t speak German or doesn’t want to use translation tools:
They were more focussed on researching the eating behaviour of the worms, the consequences for the population after a few generations of worms eating styrofoam and checking, if they can also digest styrofoam that is impregnated with fireprooving chemicals, which is heavily used as insulation materials in Germany. But they also always checked the worms and beetles for remaining traces of the plastic/chemicals and so far, they couldn’t find any.
Plus they made a good point about the Superworms, which I also found pretty fascinating, when I grew them: They only pupate when being separated. (Kind of romantic, that they can’t grow up, unless they are left alone for a bit 😉 )
This is pretty helpful, if you want to use them for recycling and have control over the population and when they turn into beetles.

Oh and @alfadriver I’m not sure I understand the question. Can you rephrase it for my monday-morning-it’s-so-hot brain? 🙂

24/06/2019 at 12:01

Oh and this is the research they quote in the paper: https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/teens-use-science-worm-through-plastic-waste

The “teens” actually claim that the superworm is slower, but in my experiments they were definetly much faster. I guess there’s still some research to do 👨‍🔬

24/06/2019 at 12:23

Jannis @dasjannis
Thanks for the research link. No problem with German here, as long as I don’t have spreche Deutsch 😉

Well I guess that when you can live up to 15 years, no hurry to grow up!
The beetles are a way the worms reproduce, not the other way around…
interesting indeed!

24/06/2019 at 13:24

but at the same time it seems also far from reality, since it’s even hard for people in big parts of the world to imagine eating insects in the first place.

True, at least in Europe, but nowhere have people any problems with feeding bugs to their livestock/pets.

No plastic in the worms, no plastic in the eggs, fish, chickens etc. seems to be the logic

24/06/2019 at 14:46

So what I was wondering is if other experiments done here can assist in your research.

On the food part, mealworms can be used to feed other things, as suggested for fish and chickens. Which would then be used for humans. That sounds safe?  It seems to be a good thing to clean trash and make chicken and fish feed at the same time.

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