Bud Herron: Worming our way out of the mess we’re in

Columbus is a trashy place to live.

Of course, I suppose it isn’t fair to single out our “Athens of the Prairie” for its trashiness. The whole state is trashy. So is the entire country.

Except for areas of the world where people are too poor or nations are “too backward” to have been able to develop the luxury of single-use, disposable everything, the whole planet is trashy.

Our planet is so trashy that a swirling, slimy mass of trash now covers 620,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean and has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by environmental researchers.

Plastic — from huge hunks of wall insulation to micro plastic particles — makes up 80 percent of the Pacific slop. And on land, plastic accounts for nearly 20 percent of the trash Americans toss into landfills.

The worst of it all is the Styrofoam-type trash, which some researchers estimate will still be there for at least 500,000 years, refusing to decompose to meld back into the soil.

So for years, scientists around the world have been trying to develop some bug or bacteria that will eat all this trash before humankind is completely buried in it. Success has proven even more elusive than dealing with the trash that invaded the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But good news is on the horizon.

As those of you who faithfully read the “Journal of Microbial Genomics” from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, already know, a “superworm” has been discovered that not only has a taste for Styrofoam and plastic foam but thrives on it.

The worms are actually the larvae of darkling beetles (no connection with the 1960s Beatles singing group) called zophobas morio. The larvae have a natural enzyme that digests Styrofoam-type trash and then they release the digested stuff (you know what I mean) harmlessly out into the environment.

The reports do not say whether scientists hope commercial businesses will breed herds of these worms to sell worldwide to eat all the discarded Styrofoam, or will find ways to inject the enzyme into other animals for help with the disposal work.

I guess the ideal situation would be to inject the enzyme into the people who use and discard plastic foam containers. A morning cup of coffee could be topped off by eating the cup. Or, foam containers sent home with leftovers from restaurants could become a part of the next day’s lunch instead of the next day’s pollution.

Even more exciting is the possibility that the research on worms as tools for getting rid of environmental hazards could be expanded beyond Styrofoam-type trash.

Maybe we could train the worms to eat bullets, or at least gunpowder. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms but says nothing about the right to have bullets or gunpowder. If all the bullets were eaten, everyone could harmlessly carry a gun and we could all quit arguing about our God-given right to shoot each other.

The possibilities are limitless.

The worms — even people — might be able to eat ANYTHING.

Well, maybe not kidney pie or pickled pig’s feet, but almost anything.