Exciting news came out of research in Spain this week: certain moth larvae are able to consume plastic bags, leaving no residue and significantly cutting down the seemingly endless lifespan of the much derided carrier bag.
Now, before we all head out into the streets rejoicing, let's take a moment to 'digest' this news.
The Greater Wax Moth is normally (as it's name suggests) quite happy eating it's way through beeswax, much to the annoyance of beekeepers across the country. They are also bred as fishing bait commercially. It was found that when left amongst LDPE (Low density poly-ethylene, or plastic) bags, they would eat their way through with ease.
Naturally, you would immediately think that these 'wax worms' can be reproduced in massive quantities, to enable them to munch through our tonnes of plastic waste currently in landfill. it could spell the end of shock photos of Turtles chewing on plastic carriers, we could even go back to getting carrier bags for free in the supermarkets! However, there are more than a couple of significant 'holes' in this idea.
Plastic waste is a very general term. When you mention plastic waste, you immediately think of Carrier bags, then possibly plastic bottles and general plastic packaging further down the line. Plastic waste made up only 1.6% of our household sent-to-landfill waste in 2012. Any notion that a wax moth larvae will be able to consume anything other than plastic carrier bags (such as more rigid plastic bottles and food packaging) is totally unfounded, and unrealistic. This also leaves the question of what is in the other 98.4% of our landfill waste? We'll address that another day.
To allow these 'super larvae' to combat plastic bag waste, you would need billions of them chomping away 24/7. At the rate given in the recent study, one wax worm would typically get through 2 milligrams of plastic per day. If we release billions of the larvae into the outside environment, you can pretty much wave our bee population goodbye. They are a parasite to bees, plain and simple.
When last measured in 2014 (before carrier bag tax introduced in England), plastic carrier bag waste amounted to only 0.2% of all landfill waste. This begs the most important question: If wax moth larvae are to be used to 'consume' this tiny percentage, what percentage of the UK bee population will suffer?
So in conclusion, it's time to put the bunting away. We're still stuck with the waste. For now.
A much more sensible option is to carry on recycling your carrier bags. Remember, they are still a much more eco-friendly option than Paper (as plastic is a by product of Oil refining) and once they've been used as a carrier bag, they make an excellent bin liner!