A Novel Approach to Decomposing Polystyrene
Veronica Guo
York House School
Floor Location : J 057 V

Styrofoam is a huge contributor to plastic waste and it takes approximately five hundred years to decompose. Although some can be recycled, it still contributes to increasing carbon dioxide and polluted oceans. While we may want to reuse, reduce, and recycle, finding a way to decompose styrofoam efficiently can also be beneficial toward our fight against climate change. This project used mealworms to decompose styrofoam, while comparing the data collected with organic vermicomposting. The material produced was then used to grow plants with multiple replications. This topic is relevant as the amount of plastic waste continues to grow each day. The decomposition of styrofoam could help to reduce the amount of styrofoam in the ocean garbage patches.

The hypothesis was that the waste produced from the styrofoam vermicompost will produce more carbon dioxide output and have less benefit to the bean plant when planted in soil. This is because research suggests that 47.7% of the indigestion of the mealworms after consuming polystyrene is of carbon dioxide. This will be measured with data collection comparison using a sensor that has been coded with a Microbit, as well as measuring the height and width of plant growth.

For this experiment, two vermicomposting bins were built for mealworms. Styrofoam was placed in one, and orange peels in the other as a control. Each day, the mass of styrofoam and mealworms was measured. A coded Microbit was used to measure the carbon dioxide, temperature, and relative humidity inside the bin. Results from this experiment showed that the styrofoam vermicompost produced less carbon dioxide than the orange peels. The styrofoam decomposed much faster. Plant growth data compared the growth of the organic soil to those of the polystyrene soil.