Abstract: Termites (order Isoptera) are insects, with a highly evolved social system of soldiers, workers, and two reproductive classes. Australia houses more than three hundred species, and colonies can have a million or more members, with prolific egg production from queens. Waste paper is in large supply in landfills and increasing daily. Since termites obtain most of their energy requirements from the digestion of cellulose, there is an opportunity to utilise their services to break down this waste paper and utilise the resulting termite biomass as a food source for the aquaculture, pig, and poultry industries. Nutrients left behind in termite wastes may also be useful for horticultural purposes, particularly compost. The aim of this project was to look at the feasibility of this idea, with emphasis on applications in areas where recycling is not economically feasible, as recommended by the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre centred in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. This project commenced with a pilot study in Perth, using a colony of Coptotermes acinaciformes in a termitarium. Here, the attractiveness to termites of different types of waste paper was evaluated. C. acinaciformes decomposed a total of 5.9 kg of paper over 20 weeks, displaying a preference for newspaper over glossy-coated paper, and glossy paper over bleached office paper. Trial two involved mixing paper types and adding moisture, which increased overall decomposition, but saturated samples were less preferred. The termites decomposed 6.9 kg of paper over 20 weeks. The decomposed remains and soil in the laboratory containers were evaluated for nutrients of horticultural significance via two pot trials and CSBP analyses. Mixing termite workings into a sand and peat control (4:3:1) increased the pH from 4.96 to 8.18 and conductivity from 0.08 to 0.25 dS/m. The workings mix revealed low levels of nitrogen and high levels of phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, organic carbon, and the trace elements copper, zinc, manganese, and iron. Addition of nitrogen to the workings increased plant productivity substantially. Then, next to the landfill of the Alice Springs rubbish tip, the trial was extended to a large-scale field evaluation, using 44-gallon drum feeding stations exposed to C. acinaciformis. The feeding stations were successful in focusing feeding activity, but decomposition of the paper in the plastic bags was relatively low. The most successful bag showed 561.6 g decomposed paper (20.8 %) over 20 weeks.
Severtson, D, 2006, Bioconversion of waste paper by termites: A landfill of opportunity. A feasibility study of employing Australian subterranean termites in the management of discarded paper (lignocellulosic waste)., Volume:Hons BSc (Environmental Biology), Thesis, viewed 05 December 2023, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=4840.