Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella

Plastics are synthetic polymers derived from fossil oil and largely resistant to biodegradation. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) represent ∼92% of total plastic production. PE is largely utilized in packaging, representing ∼40% of total demand for plastic products with over a trillion plastic bags used every year. Plastic production has increased exponentially in the past 50 years. In the 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills, with the rest utilized for recycling (26%) and energy recovery (36%) via combustion, carrying a heavy environmental impact. Therefore, new solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed. We report the fast bio-degradation of PE by larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella, producing ethylene glycol.

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