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Tenebrio molitor in the circular economy: a novel approach for plastic valorisation and PHA biological recovery

TitleTenebrio molitor in the circular economy: a novel approach for plastic valorisation and PHA biological recovery
Publication TypeArticolo su Rivista peer-reviewed
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsSangiorgio, Paola, Verardi Alessandra, Dimatteo Salvatore, Spagnoletta Anna, Moliterni Stefania, and Errico Simona
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Type of ArticleReview
KeywordsCircular economy, Food loss and waste, Mealworm-based bioconversion, Novel food, PHA, Plastic biodegradation, Tenebrio molitor

The increase in the world population leads to rising demand and consumption of plastic raw materials; only a small percentage of plastics is recovered and recycled, increasing the quantity of waste released into the environment and losing its economic value. The plastics represent a great opportunity in the circular perspective of their reuse and recycling. Research is moving, on the one hand, to implement sustainable systems for plastic waste management and on the other to find new non-fossil-based plastics such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). In this review, we focus our attention on Tenebrio molitor (TM) as a valuable solution for plastic biodegradation and biological recovery of new biopolymers (e.g. PHA) from plastic-producing microorganisms, exploiting its highly diversified gut microbiota. TM’s use for plastic pollution management is controversial. However, TM microbiota is recognised as a source of plastic-degrading microorganisms. TM-based plastic degradation is improved by co-feeding with food loss and waste as a dietary energy source, thus valorising these low-value substrates in a circular economy perspective. TM as a bioreactor is a valid alternative to traditional PHA recovery systems with the advantage of obtaining, in addition to highly pure PHA, protein biomass and rearing waste from which to produce fertilisers, chitin/chitosan, biochar and biodiesel. Finally, we describe the critical aspects of these TM-based approaches, mainly related to TM mass production, eventual food safety problems, possible release of microplastics and lack of dedicated legislation.


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Short TitleEnviron Sci Pollut Res
Citation Key9190