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I may sound completely stupid but this idea hit me when I saw termites ate a plastic bag packed with papers today in my house. What are the challenges we're likely to face if we decide to do this?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm glad you want to participate, but this is probably a better fit for Sustainable Living SE. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Aug 19 '18 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ And were they eating the bag, or just destroying it to get at the contents? Do we actually have plastic-eating termites (maybe) $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Aug 19 '18 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ We have "plastic-eating" micro-organisms: popsci.com/bacteria-enzyme-plastic-waste. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '18 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Termites, as well as mice, eat through plastic to get to what they really want to eat. As long as I understand, neither can degrade plastic. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '18 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ If you collect plastic wouldn't be more useful to recycle it for humans? $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Aug 19 '18 at 22:31
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Many animals can eat through plastic to get to what they really want to eat. Among them: termites, mice and myself when battling against a candy wrapper. However, as far as I understand, none of them can degrade the plastic. You can do the test yourself and I'll guarantee the plastic wrapper will come out the other end of your digestive system.

Nevertheless, several organisms have been identified to be able to actually eat and digest plastics, among them:

  1. Bacteria: Like Ideonella sakaiensis discovered in japan.
  2. Fungi: Like Aspergillus tubingensis discovered in the landfills of Pakistan, or Endophytic Fungi discovered in the Amazon, which seem to be edible, and there are some people offering small mushroom farms you can have at home to turn your polyester and polyurethane trash into food, they call it "FUNGI MUTARIUM".
  3. Insects larvae: Like this plastic-eating waxworm.

That said, it could be possible that some species of termites eat and digest some kinds of plastic. But I don't know of any reports of it. In the comments, Jan Doggen pointed to a 2003 article of people working in that direction. But I guess given the lack of publications afterwards, it probably turned out that the termites were not digesting the plastics usefully. If you search the internet, you will find many references of termites chewing through plastics (like this one).

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  • $\begingroup$ Well... you hope the plastic comes out the other end :-p $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '18 at 20:57
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The enzymes from maggots bred on plastic allowed ground up larva paste to also digest. I believe they were able to isolate and synthetically generate the enzymes. Seemed like they can really just apply and let sit, but they probably narrowed down thermal and pressure conditions for maximum enzyme effectiveness.

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