Monday, November 07, 2011

Termites Chewing On Plastic

I was quite surprised to learn this morning that termites can actually eat plastic, or maybe more properly, they can chew through it. Not just plastic film, but even polyethylene pipe. Why the termites decided going through the pipe rather than around the pipe is something that only a termite would understand (although those with a more comedic sense could start a whole string of "why did the termite go through the pipe" [*] jokes).

I live in a climate too far north to be ever have been concerned about termites (for my southern brother, well that is a different story as termite protection of his house is a way of life), so I only know the basics - that they can be destructive to wood. I can only imagine the surprise when people first started finding termites chewing through plastic pipes.

So in quick attempt to turn this lemon into lemonade, I ask the following questions:
  • Could this "biotechnology" be used breakdown waste plastics? i.e., a low energy grinder.
  • Extending on this, could entomologists get varietals to only chew on certain plastics, thereby allowing for effective separation of mixed plastics. Start with a big pile of plastic over a screen, let the PET chewers in first and they breakdown all the PET which then falls through the mesh, then unleash the LDPE chewers...(Isn't it fun to tell other professionals what we think they should easily be able to accomplish?)
  • Can termites be used as a hardness tester for plastics? Or maybe an abrasion resistance test depending exactly on how the teeth of the critters interacts with the plastic?

[*] He just want to go with the flow. (Thank you very folks, you've been a wonderful audience I'll be in town all week be sure to try the brisket and tip your servers...)

3 comments:

Abigail Catani said...

I read a similar article from the NY times about termites chewing on plastic and getting poisoned. But raisin plastics seems delectable to them.

Kate Woodruff said...

Warmer temperatures bring out unwanted pests, namely termites.

Liam Connor said...

Great article.. Thanks for sharing.. Termites are deadly in destruction of wood,paper and other things and often chew through softer plastics. They play havoc with buried cables and sometimes hole water pipes causing service interruptions and major damage.