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

 
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hau Tyler, try these folks for testing testing for styrene content

Redhawk
 
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Thank you!
 
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Caught a glimpse of a beetle in the bin. Pretty sure it was a darkling beetle and not a local invader. If so, evidence that they are at least healthy enough to pupate and morph into beetles on a diet of mostly styrofoam.
 
Jennifer Richardson
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I got some normal mealworms about a week ago. They don’t seem to be interested in eating the plastic grocery bag I gave them, or the styrofoam takeout container. Maybe they are just so small compared to the superworms that their depredations are not apparent yet. I thought about trying to put them all in the same bin, but I feel like the superworms might just eat the mealworms. Some of the mealworms did crawl over into the corner of their bin and pupate already, so I feel like they may be more easily self-perpetuating than the superworms. But in my opinion they are not as cool. I really want to get some worms to eat polyethylene, but so far no dice.
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pupae
 
Tyler Ludens
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The Red Wigglers I put in the bin died.  Going to try BSF next.

 
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I am beyond excited about this! I have bred these guys before as snacks for my chickens but had no idea that they could help in my recycling efforts. I had great success using oatmeal as a substrate. They will eat their eggs as well as their pupa so I sifted the substrate regularly to separate them out. Your numbers will increase faster this way. I got my first batch of these worms  at shop that sells Live Bait. Very cheap. Thank you Jennifer for sharing this!
 
Tyler Ludens
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So far the BSF larvae are doing great, cleaning up the dead Superworms and Red Wigglers.  I don't expect them to eat any of the remaining polystyrene, but I hope they will turn the rest of the bin contents into a uniform soil-like material which I can send off to the lab.
 
Jennifer Richardson
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Opened the superworm bin today and found several adult darkling beetles. Counted five before they hid in the bedding. So the larvae fed styrofoam are certainly capable of pupating and reaching adulthood. Actually, many people say that superworms will not do this if kept in a bin with lots of other superworms; I suspect that the ability to tunnel into the bigger chunks of styrofoam and isolate themselves is allowing them to pupate successfully. So depending on whether or not you want them to do that, you can decide whether you want big chunks of styrofoam into which they can tunnel. Personally I would like a self-sustaining population without having to pick out individual worms to let them pupate in other containers, and consider it encouraging that they are healthy enough to reach adulthood while chowing doen on styrofoam, so we will see how it goes.
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Tyler Ludens
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Looking good!

 
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Hi Ms Richardson,

Really interesting post.  I am thinking you have a very cutting edge topic here.  It would be so interesting if you did a lab test for microplastics at each stage. The University of Reading recently did a study to remediate heavy metals with earthworms and found that the organisms over a number of generation altered their physiology to deal with it (pp.153 in 'Compost Teas'). I think what you are suggesting is viable, but the evidence must follow.  

 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's the number for ALS Environmental Lab in Houston:  281/530-5656.  Ask to speak to a project manager.

(I haven't called yet because my bin got rained into and needs to dry out before I can prepare a sample to send)

 
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I am so glad that you are doing these experiments, and eagerly look forward to reading your results!  I am particularly interested in the test results, if indeed you can get a lab to determine just how broken down the polystyrene becomes after passing through a mealworm or superworm's gut.  But I am wondering: are you planning to test the worms themselves, or just the "soil" they produce in their bin?  I feel that both would be interesting to know.

If the worms themselves showed little contamination, then the possibilities of using them for livestock feed would be very exciting. If, on the other hand, they still contained microplastic particles, not so much.  Whereas if their poop was shown to be free of residual plastic pieces, that opens up different but still interesting possibilities.

Keep up the good work!  : )
 
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Jennifer showed some of us her beetles at the 2019 PDC at Wheaton labs, sadly the temps of Montana were not kind to the little buddies.

I am sure she will be giving an update when she has time. We sure didn't have much during the PDC.

But her experiment has gotten me interested in these little helpers.
 
Jennifer Richardson
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Hello all! Thank you for your interest! Unfortunately the nightly temperatures in Montana were too cold for the superworms even in summer, and they all died. I still have the partially processed waste, and may send some of that off for testing if I get organized, but for now the experiment is on hold.
 
Matthew Nistico
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Jennifer Richardson wrote:Hello all! Thank you for your interest! Unfortunately the nightly temperatures in Montana were too cold for the superworms even in summer, and they all died. I still have the partially processed waste, and may send some of that off for testing if I get organized, but for now the experiment is on hold.



Rest in piece, little grubs.  You tried hard  :'(
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think it would definitely be worth it to have the residue tested.  

(Unless the lab cost is stupidly expensive)
 
Tyler Ludens
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Still trying to track down a lab who will test for styrene in compost.  ALS Houston said they don't do it but will try to find someone who does.  Said such a test should cost $150-200. (yikes)
 
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