Think you can’t compost styrofoam? Mealworms are the answer!

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Within our living systems, we have been raising several types of mealworms in order to compost polystyrene (styrofoam). We recently came across the study by 2015 Standard University that confirms our suspicions that they are indeed turning styrofoam into usable organic matter!

Their notes are not much different than ours, except their equipment (gel permeation chromatography, solid-state 13C cross-polarization/magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and thermogravimetric Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) was a little better than ours. I mean, we do have a microscope and a few 5-gallon buckets…

Here’s the Abstract from the 2015 Stanford study:
Polystyrene (PS) is generally considered to be durable and resistant to biodegradation. Mealworms (the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus) from different sources chew and eat Styrofoam, a common PS product. The Styrofoam was efficiently degraded in the larval gut within a retention time of less than 24 h. Fed with Styrofoam as the sole diet, the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of 1 month… Within a 16 day test period, 47.7% of the ingested Styrofoam carbon was converted into CO2 and the residue was egested as fecula with a limited fraction incorporated into biomass. Tests confirmed that the polystyrene was mineralized to CO2 and incorporated into lipids.

The mealworms are able to do this due to their gut bacteria (Exiguobacterium sp. strain YT2) that actually breaks down the polystyrene. The Stanford study uses a common mealworm (the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus) – we are using this same mealworm, but in addition to that we are also using what’s known as a “superworm” (the larvae of Zophobas morio), a type of darkling beetle, that has a lifespan of 3 to 15 years.

The superworm seems to be more aggressive, larger, more sturdy, and eats a lot more material. It also has the ability to live for up to a year in the larval stage just by keeping them all in constant contact of each other’s bodies. The other mealworm has a very short cycle.

A superworm is the larvae of the beetle, Zophobas morio

Side by side comparisons of a common mealworm, a giant mealworm, and a true superworm.

A superworm emerging from the whole he ate out of a block of styrofoam, and above him is the beetle the worm becomes.

A tank of mealworms eating styrofoam.

Superworms, the larvae of Zophobas morio

Superworms, the larvae of Zophobas morio

These mealworms will remain in their larval stage for up to a year, if kept in constant contact with each other.

They will only pupate once they’re separated from each other. The average time is 7-10 days of separation to initiate the metamorphosis, 10-14 days pupae, and they will then emerge as the darkling beetle. This is their natural cycle in nature – a year in the larval stage, then they pupate to become the beetle which lives for 3 to 15 years.

The pupa stage lasts 10-14 days before the superworm emerges as the beetle to the right.

Mealworm’s gut bacteria break down the styrofoam into usable organic matter!Click to Tweet

According to the Stanford study, a single meal worm can eat 46.36 mg of polystyrene waste a year.* So the small container of mealworms from the pet shop with 100 count is capable of eating 4636 mg of Styrofoam a year.

*100 worms can eat 380mg in 30 days (12.7mg/day). That means each worm can eat 0.127mg per day – 46.36mg per year!

We are in the process of measuring the amount of styrofoam that the superworms eat on a daily and yearly basis. So far, the numbers seem significantly higher than the numbers that the Stanford researchers found for the mealworms that they used.

We also have found that the plants we grow with the mealworms manure show no significant differences from those grown in other compost. This is an ongoing experiment. We are looking to have the plants tested, that are grown with the mealworm manure and try and see if there any detrimental effects.

There was also some information that was mentioned in the Stanford study indicating that the Indian meal moth is able to digest polyethylene plastic! This is very interesting as well…

Are the mealworm droppings actually becoming usable organic material?

The 2015 Stanford tests indicate that the mealworm droppings actually become usable organic material through the fact that they’re calling the process “mineralization.”

Mineralization is the process of nutrients becoming available to plants. If you think about the carbon to nitrogen ratio – when it’s up 30:1 the bacteria need to the use the nitrogen to process the carbon. You often hear the term that the nitrogen is “unavailable,” “locked up,” or “bound.”

When the ratio drops to 25:1 the nitrogen becomes available for the plants.

The fact that these worms are converting about half of the styrofoam they eat into carbon dioxide and the rest into mineralized organic material suggest that it has come full circle.

We don’t know that we would grow all of our carrots and food that we eat in this stuff, but it definitely is food for thought.

We need to start thinking about how we’re going to leave a healthy planet for the generations beyond ourselves, and using mealworms to compost styrofoam is definitely thinking out of the box.

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Now it’s your turn: go to your local pet shop and grab some mealworms – put them in a container with some styrofoam and report back in the comments below!

Let’s trust organic matter nourishing plants, instead of an organic certification.

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If an “organic” farm doesn’t have a composting system, it’s a clear indication that they’re probably not using compost in their program, or building their soil through living organic material.

Composting is to incorporate organic matter into the soil and to have an abundance of beneficial microbes, fungi, and symbiotic creatures. It is a true form of organic fertilizer – organic material broken down by creatures for plants to eat.

Trusting the organic certification of a farm or product (while much better than conventional farming) is just not good enough. Many times it is misleading to the consumer and simply hiding bad farming practices. Many times, amazing farmers that are doing great work can’t afford to get organic certification.

Let’s trust organic matter nourishing plants, instead of an organic certification.Click to Tweet

Farms that don’t use compost are most likely using some sort of pelletized form of fertilizer, or a liquified version as fertigation (fertilizer applied via irrigation). A lot of certified organic farms fertilize with bone meal, blood meal, feather meal, and fish emulsion that come from more than questionable, non-organic meat factories (that have incredibly inhumane practices and are fed GMO feed), or that are made from fish parts (that rarely come from sustainable fisheries).

Having visited many certified organic farms over the years we think the very basic rule of thumb is if they’re not making compost on site, or bringing it in from a credible source, then you probably don’t want to be supporting them. As consumers we have the power of swaying production with our dollar. So GET TO KNOW YOUR FARMER! Support farms that build soil. Visit the farms in your area and ask questions. Your best tool is observation of your farmer.

Ask the farmer:

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    Are you composting or using compost?

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    Do you use herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers?

    Many of the same pesticides and pest management practices used in conventional farming are also allowed to be used in certified organic farming. You don’t necessarily want these in your body or in our soils.

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    Do you have other creatures present in your systems that are in symbiosis with the plants?

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    Are you feeding the soil?

    or are you just feeding the plants?

Ask yourself:

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    Does the farm look lush?

    or does it look desolate?

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    Does the soil look dark and rich?

    or does it look dusty and infertile?

Beyond knowing that what you’re buying is what you want to be voting with your dollar on, knowing where your food comes from builds an important connection with your local space, and builds the important connection, and sense of security, of actually knowing your neighbors.

Ultimately, the most important elements for being safe, secure, and resilient in uncertain times is through building strong relationships with the humans in your community, and building topsoil teeming with life.

So what about you – where do you get your food from? Do you know of any good farmers in your area?

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[Event Announcement] Farm-to-Table Dinner & Drinks on August 18th

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Come join us for an example of sustainability. Eat food that has been grown from living soil less than 20 miles from Oceanside and picked within 48 hours. The unique Hawaiian-fusion dinner will be paired with mead (alcohol fermented from honey) made with local honey and brewed by Golden Coast Mead.

This is not your everyday meal – unique flavors that are learned from the land itself, Moloka’i style from the land to the table.

We will be demonstrating food alchemy in the kitchen and the garden. We’re bringing their experiments with Southern California climate to the table.

WHAT: Beyond organic farm-to-table 3-course meal with farm-to-glass non-alcoholic refreshments, grown and prepared by Living Earth Systems, and paired with a Golden Coast Mead tasting flight.

WHERE: Golden Coast Mead, 4089 Oceanside Blvd, Ste H, Oceanside, CA 92056

WHEN: Thursday, August 18, 2016, 6pm-8’ish.

* Space is very limited so reserve your spot today.

Purchase tickets here

Today’s Happenings // July 31, 2016 at 10:54AM

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Check out our free Composting webinar we’ll be live from 2oclock till. 3 o’clock today it’s free on our website and we’re focusing on the benefits of cold composting with earthworms and many creatures with symbiotic relationships ,and targeting what you grow to compost ! Cold composting releases less gas off versus thermal phallic which is a hot chemical reaction to break down organic material. Check it out in our profile link , were at

Today’s Happenings // July 21, 2016 at 01:30PM

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Tickets still available for our BASICS OF AQUAPONICS WORKSHOP // Link to tickets in profile:

The 2-hr hands-on workshop will cover…
– The basics of how to build a system
– How to maintain a system, and
– All of the elements needed for success!

WHEN: Saturday, July 23rd, 10am-12pm
WHERE: Fallbrook, CA (exact location shared after registering for event)
WHAT: Hands-on 2-hr workshop with aquaponics expert, Eddy Garcia of Living Earth Systems, with hyperlocal refreshments and a meal fresh from the garden to your mouth.

#earthworms #beyondorganic #workshop #socal #fallbrook #aquaponics #livingearthsystems #permaculture #livingearthaquaponics #recycled #organic #california #creativeentrepreneur #beherenow