• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • paul wheaton
  • Mike Jay
  • Anne Miller
  • Jocelyn Campbell
stewards:
  • Devaka Cooray
  • Joseph Lofthouse
  • Burra Maluca
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Pearl Sutton
gardeners:
  • James Freyr
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Daron Williams

Superworms for bioremediation of polystyrene: ideas for extending the (re)processing?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Composting styrofoam using superworms/mealworms has been discussed before here:

https://permies.com/t/72035/critters/Styrofoam-Composting-Mealworms

And here is the scientific study:

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b02661

I am going to experiment with this, and have some superworms on the way.

My understanding is that the polystyrene is partially converted into CO2 during digestion, but that part of it passes through still as polystyrene, albeit shorter hydrocarbon chains. My understanding of this process is not super firm, however.

Questions:

Presumably, if the worms eat and redigest their waste multiple times, the HC chains will get shorter and shorter and eventually become harmless/not really plastic anymore, although I don’t know how to determine when this has happened. Suggestions?

I know my red wigglers, if not fed new stuff, will reprocess their castings into finer and finer material and live for quite a while without the bin becoming nasty. Will mealworms/superworms do the same, or will they die/become really gross?

I have heard that oyster mushrooms can break down plastics. I have never grown mushrooms of any kind. Would it be feasible to use the superworm waste and potentially their carcasses as a mushroom substrate somehow, or do the oysters only grow on specific stuff and you can’t just stick them on dead worm goo?

Any other suggestions for additional fauna/flora or other methods of cycling the polystyrene so that it actually gets digested instead of just disintegrating into microplastics?

Thanks!
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The worms are here! I dumped them in a plastic container from my dad’s bottomless pit of a garage, along with the bedding included when they shipped and a plastic take-out container. Weirdly enough, after a couple minutes in the bin, I could actually hear them start chomping on the styrofoam!

They can be kept in any plastic container of sufficient size, and allegedly they don’t climb, so it can be lidless. I have a lid with holes poked in for ventilation, however.

Superworms, unlike mealworms, are a tropical species and need to be kept warm. I live in a subtropical climate, but those wanting to vermicompost styrofoam in colder climates might want to stick with the smaller and more cold-hardy mealworms.
1B8001E1-BFF0-4385-952C-AC61D1F12787.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 1B8001E1-BFF0-4385-952C-AC61D1F12787.jpeg]
 
Posts: 56
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
That's fascinating. I wonder how much time it would take a similar number of these to eat a piece of polystyrene insulation board? Also, what do you do with the waste? Just let them keep re-processing it until they can't anymore, like you suggest? Or is it just finely ground styrofoam?
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here is a picture of the progress they made overnight on a piece of the take-out container. You can see where they have begun to gnaw away the edges. These are allegedly 1,000 worms. I also put a few of them in a glass overnight with some chunks of styrofoam to isolate the waste product. It looks like white and brown dust, essentially. From what I have read, they do actually have the ability to truly digest the styrofoam via their gut bacteria, not merely chew it up. However, they don’t get it all on the first round, so some of the waste is basically ground up styrofoam still. I am going to try to let them reprocess repeatedly, but I will say that they have a less pleasant smell than my red wiggler bin, although not terrible, and that may get worse if they are left to reprocess their own waste repeatedly. I am also considering using oyster mushrooms to try to add another cycle of styrofoam breakdown, but not clear on how that could work yet.
A9E6D2CA-E7A8-4C8A-B6E8-623AF27225F9.jpeg
[Thumbnail for A9E6D2CA-E7A8-4C8A-B6E8-623AF27225F9.jpeg]
43D03C36-F84B-4289-8E38-E7D0A759E81C.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 43D03C36-F84B-4289-8E38-E7D0A759E81C.jpeg]
 
Posts: 36
Location: Las Vegas
10
chicken dog fish fungi greening the desert medical herbs solar purity trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This is fantastic! Please keep us updated on your results. I don't quite understand one thing, though.... assuming that all of the plastic gets broken down eventually to a non-toxic level, will the resulting material be useful in any way, or will it simply be non-toxic? Which is pretty fantastic in it's own right! And can the worms be used safely as fodder?

Thanks!

Kelly
 
pollinator
Posts: 2382
Location: Toronto, Ontario
212
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Please keep us posted on this one. I find it as exciting as mycoremediation.

Are you planning on having the worm feces and carcasses tested afterwards to see if there is any styrofoam present? That is my only caveat, as this is great if it's being broken down by the worms' gut bacteria, but terrible if they're just a biological shredder. I have read and am hopeful about the indications that it is actually digested, not just broken into smaller pieces, but I would need confirmation of this before, say, growing my food with it.

At worst, though, I suppose fuel and fibre crops could be grown with it even if it weren't a perfect solution.

-CK
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Kelly,

I am not sure if the waste would be especially beneficial, but according to the study I read, if I remember correctly, the researchers considered it safe to add to agricultural soils. Then again, scientists consider all kinds of things safe to add to soils which I don’t agree with! In my personal opinion, I probably would not add it to garden soil at this point, although I’d probably feel okay throwing it into a compost pile and putting the result under fruit trees. I likewise probably wouldn’t feed the worms to animals I intended to eat; I doubt they’d hurt the animal, but I don’t want to eat any leftover microplastics. I would like to get some testing done on the waste or mealworm corpses, etc to have better answers to some of these questions, but not really sure how to go about doing it at this point. So at this point it’s more about just degrading the styrofoam, but I think with enough cycling it could probably be safe and beneficial to incorporate in food systems.
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Chris,

I would love to get them tested. Most of the equipment and methodology listed in the abstract of the journal article is beyond my ken. Ideally I would like to test the waste, the worm carcasses, the carcasses of second generation worms, the product of adding the waste to bacterially and fungally dominated compost piles, the result of processing it secondarily through oyster mushrooms, red wigglers, chickens, etc...but I need to look into logistics and costs first
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The worms had a close call when my dad shut off the part of the house the worms were in while I was out of town, causing them to go comatose from the cold. I thought they were dead, but revived when placed in front of the butane heater for emergency resuscitation.

I have found some thicker blocks of styrofoam for them, which they seem to vastly prefer to the thinner cups and takeout containers. They make tons of burrows and hang out inside/underneath the large blocks.

I have observed that they cannibalize their fallen brethren (sistren?), and, in one case, I saw one worm eat another alive verrrrry slowly as the poor unfortunate writhed ineffectually for hours. High drama. I provided some old carrots for moisture, and they gobbled them up. Today I tried a piece of moldy bread, and they’ve eaten a hole in it, so that seems promising. I also added a green onion and a chunk of celery; not sure if they will eat those or not. It does seem that they have some potential for composting food scraps (similar to red wigglers) as well as styrofoam.

93BF118F-27D5-41DE-8DFC-99D3A1744609.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 93BF118F-27D5-41DE-8DFC-99D3A1744609.jpeg]
7ECA5E60-6299-4D79-B6D6-77ABFD087125.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 7ECA5E60-6299-4D79-B6D6-77ABFD087125.jpeg]
60CA5EA0-F150-4356-8042-A20D808801CA.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 60CA5EA0-F150-4356-8042-A20D808801CA.jpeg]
AD066D16-2A6F-4871-80B3-BE63BF5B59E9.jpeg
[Thumbnail for AD066D16-2A6F-4871-80B3-BE63BF5B59E9.jpeg]
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Apparently the cannibalism I observed can indicate that the worms are getting too little moisture, so I spritzed their bin with water.
 
gardener
Posts: 5440
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
725
books chicken dog duck fish forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur hunting pig
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hau Jennifer, very nice experiment you have going there.

You might want to add some substrate to hold the moisture the super meal worms need to thrive (think like they are red wigglers that don't need as moist an environment as worms but almost).
Shredded paper will do great and you can, as you discovered, add some small amounts of food stuffs to keep them healthy too.
If you can break up the Styrofoam some, that helps them process it faster.
Once the SMW (super meal worms) have gone through the Styrofoam twice you can take that material and simply add it to a working compost heap (most compost heaps will have fungi living there and those will work on processing the material further).
If you are not sure your compost heap has thriving fungi hyphae strands, just make up a mushroom slurry, dilute it by 10 and pour all over and down into the heap for a kick start addition.
Once you can't see the white color present in the SMW bin, you do have the option of taking that and using it in a garden bed, but as you have indicated, it is better to run it through a compost heap at that point to make sure it is completely broken down.

Keep posting your findings here, they are awesome help and very informative.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
Posts: 10524
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
439
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would try to cycle the worm poop through fungi and then through BSF larvae and/or red wigglers and then tested by a chemist.

Running it back and forth between these small helpful animals and fungi a bunch of times "should" render it harmless eventually.

Will these superworms reproduce in captivity for you?  If they do, can I buy some from you?

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 5440
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
725
books chicken dog duck fish forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur hunting pig
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
superworms for sale

Those folks have a really good price Tyler

and this is their blurb about them

"Superworms are 1.75 to 2" in length and ¼ inch in diameter!

Reptiles, birds, fish, and even chickens just love them.

They are very lively and fast moving.  They have a long shelf life and are easily digestible.

They don't need refrigeration (it will actually harm them).  Keep them at warm room temperatures (75° to 85°).  

For storing larger numbers of Superworms, add a few slices of potato for their water source to keep them alive.  They will also need a grain such as wheat bran as their food.

The worms will not pupate as long as you keep them with many other larvae.  If they receive constant bodily contact, they stay in the larvae stage."
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10524
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
439
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Ordered!  Thanks Dr!
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Bryant Redhawk,

Thank you, that is very helpful info! I spent some of the morning ripping up waste paper and breaking up the styrofoam into smaller pieces for their bin, and then misted the whole thing. I feel better for them now that they are not just wiggling around in bare plastic and their own waste.

I was reading another of your threads about adding soil to compost as a way to bind carbon and keep CO2 from escaping into the atmosphere. Since the worms turn some of the polystyrene into CO2, do you think it would be a good idea to mix some soil into the shredded paper substrate in their bin? I could go get some of the good stuff from the oak woods by the creek, which might get a head start on the fungal action, too. What do you think?
C4AF158C-8926-4CA9-A2B5-D767B98B8FF3.jpeg
[Thumbnail for C4AF158C-8926-4CA9-A2B5-D767B98B8FF3.jpeg]
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tyler,

Unfortunately they do not just automatically reproduce in their bin as do my eisenia fetida, but I do intend to try breeding them at some point and will post the results here.

I had considered cycling the waste through my red wiggler bin. To my knowledge, the wigglers don’t possess the ability to break down the polystyrene, but I figure it can only help. Don’t have BSF but may get some in future.

I would like to try growing oyster mushrooms on the superworm waste, then feed the mushrooms to the wigglers, and then their castings composted in a working pile. I know some people grow oysters on coffee ground substrate. But it seemingly has to be sterilized. Maybe I could mix the superworm fecula with my mom’s coffee grounds and somehow sterilize it (with heat?) and try that? I am a mushroom novice. I will do more research.
 
Jennifer Richardson
pollinator
Posts: 265
Location: Colorado County, TX, USA. 8b/9a. Humid subtropical, drought & flood prone
58
cattle food preservation homestead trees ungarbage foraging
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So, I found research indicating that mealworms can also digest polyethylene, in addition to polystyrene!

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b02301

I tried to induce my superworms to eat some polyethylene, first by tying them up in a plastic grocery bag for a few hours to see if they’d eat their way out, and then by isolating a few in a separate, empty bin with a carrot wrapped in the grocery bag (on the theory that they might be motivated to chew through the bag to get the carrot), and then by leaving them in the empty bin with a six-pack ring overnight. Total failure on all fronts. They didn’t touch any of it, so I put them back in the styrofoam bin this morning with their buddies.

Maybe it’s because they’re superworms and not mealworms, or maybe I need to feed it to them in some other form/manner. Would be very interested to hear if anyone else has success with getting superworms or normal mealworms to eat polyethylene.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10524
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
439
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This is currently one of my favorite threads on permies!  Very excited about these experiments.  :)

 
If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. -T.S. Eliot such a short, tiny ad:
100 Chestnut Trees for 299$ or 50 for 195$ + Free Shipping & more
https://permies.com/t/107180/Chestnut-Trees-Free-Shipping-Interwoven
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!