The Role of Flies in the Food Waste Problem
“It’s kind of disgusting” – a common thought from most people when they see a maggot.
Maggots are among the most unappealing earth creatures. They wriggle, squirm and live on all sorts of awful things that you could find in the dumps. But unknown to many, these tiny bugs have been tasked with an important mission: to clear off your food waste.
How does food waste affect the environment?
When we think about the stuff that is hurting our planet, oil spills and ocean plastic often come to mind. Rarely do we think about the food that we throw away.
According to the FAO, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases next to China and the United States. It will be responsible for roughly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions per year. Losing food is an issue faced both by low-income and high-income countries. In low-income societies, wastage is often unintentional and happens at the start of the supply chain (example: food rotting in farms, food spoilage during transportation). In high-income societies, willful wastage dominates and happens along the supply chain (example: consumers rejecting bruised produce, ordering too much food). Thus, every intervention from food storage level, up to retail and consumer level counts.
In a circular economy, waste is seen as a resource. Food waste for instance, can be used as a feedstock for fuel production or as a material for soil regeneration. When done consistently, initiatives for eliminating food waste can reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 87.45 Gigatons.
How do black soldier flies solve food waste?
In the agricultural sector, an unexpected trooper is silently churning away mounds of food waste to produce high-protein feed and nutrient rich waste residue: the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens).
They thrive in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide and have been vital players in nature’s decomposition cycle.
Unlike houseflies, black soldier flies are not a threat to human health. They are bigger than typical flies and are known for their amazing ability to convert organic matter into edible protein.
In a farm, black soldier flies are brought together in climate-controlled cages to mate. Females lay between 200 to 700 eggs that hatch in a few days. The resulting larvae are then collected and allowed to feast on the organic waste. Since soldier fly larvae are voracious eaters, they can turn the waste into high protein body mass for a short period of time.
The larvae can then be sold alive and fed directly to livestock or it can be mixed with other grains to create customized feed blends.
On-site Waste Treatment
A viable business model for this technology is the on-site treatment of organic waste for commercial establishments such as malls. With on-site treatment, costs for waste transport will be significantly reduced and the lifespan of landfills can be extended.
In addition, dried larvae can be turned as poultry feed and become a source of additional revenue for the mall or an additional incentive for mall staff that handles the waste. Residues from the conversion process are essentially compost material and could also be sold or used for landscaping.
Using larvae to sequester carbon from food waste is game-changing. Twenty years ago, this could be simply brushed off as a laughable idea. As more businesses think about their environmental impacts, every opportunity has the potential to be the next big thing when it comes to sustainability.
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