Blurb from the author: Food waste has been talked about for as long as I can remember. You would think that managing it would be much easier than managing inorganic waste, but somehow we as species still have problems with it. On an individual level, not enough of us care about it.
In 2015 Jeff and his university colleague Pei Chin ran a student exchange program in Mauritius. At their host family there, they were provided with a container for the separation of organic waste.
How many people can say that maggots inspired them? Few of us, I would say.
But Jeff and Pei Chin are two of the few, and when they discovered that the rubbish that had been thrown away disappeared overnight thanks to maggots, they had an idea.
They brought this concept back to the small town of Kuching where they lived and founded WormingUp, which not only aimed to reduce organic waste, but also to raise awareness of recycling and inform the public about recycling, in particular with a view to sustainable waste management.
"We experimented first to use more houseflies," Jeff told Vulcan Post. "We sent a sample for a laboratory test and found that the intestine of a housefly or its larvae contains a lot of bacteria."
"They are also very smelly and not hygienic, so we had to find a suitable alternative and the black soldier flies (BSF) are the most suitable."
Contrary to the assumption that all flies are the same house pests, black soldier flies actually avoid people and occur in peripheral areas.
Therefore, they do not contaminate food, consume food waste and only drink water when they mate and lay eggs.
Only their larvae consume food waste. For Jeff and Pei Chin, this discovery was the way forward.
From a backyard project to a full-grown farm
They are far from growing BSF in their own backyards and collecting food waste in a perodua axia.
"After four years of work, we can currently recycle more organic waste at a scalable processing site and transport it by truck," Jeff said.
“To date, we are actively working with both public-private sectors, including municipalities, tourism associations, schools, universities, companies and NGOs. Our initiative also won Shell's Top Ten Innovators 2018 internationally. "
However, getting to where they are today was very tiring. When they opened their fly farm, they couldn't even get a permit at first because apparently there was no permit for a company like theirs.
“It is usually difficult to get people to fully understand our concept in a short time. Nor is it defined in the standard protocol, ”said Jeff.
Maggots and garbage are things we don't get into contact with after all. However, I believe that the concept is now more welcomed as other Malaysian social enterprises that breed BSF larvae have emerged.
One example is Life Origin on the Malaysian peninsula, which goes beyond food waste disposal and makes BSF larvae food not only for animals but also for humans.
Jeff has also noticed a change in people's reactions. "Most people didn't understand the concept because they think throwing is easier than sorting waste, but it has gradually changed over the years."
"There are more stakeholders who are willing to work with us and understand and appreciate our efforts."
Small creatures with a big impact
So far, her team has consisted of 5 full-time employees who run operations and outreach programs, and volunteers also play an important role in the latter.
Together, they diverted 1,046,188 kilograms of waste from landfills, including food waste, waste oil, and recyclables, to name a few.
A normal day at WormingUp starts with a visit to hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, canteens etc. to collect an average of 100 kg of food waste in the morning.
The food waste is then brought to their farm, where pretreatment begins. It is secondary sorted, desized, fermented and stored.
Then the maggots are fed and the old ones are harvested. The team will then collect, wash and clean BSF eggs before storing them where they hatch.
For their outreach programs, they sometimes visit villagers to teach them about sustainable agriculture, and they give key lectures on waste separation in hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, and canteens.
Volunteers during an outreach program to educate farmers and sellers / Image Credit: WormingUp
According to Jeff, they mainly monetize through services such as green events and workshops. COVID-19 has influenced them financially and presented a challenge for their operations, as donations are currently keeping them afloat.
However, they do not take a back seat as they are still driving the digitization of their business and further qualifying their team.
With these efforts, they hope to increase their upcycling effect and mechanize their operations to simplify the entire waste disposal process in the coming years.
Bottom line: You would never have caught me saying that a year ago, but BSF and its larvae are real heroes. I haven't visited a BSF farm yet, but after eating and enjoying their larvae, I think this has changed my view of these creatures. While they act like a champion against food and organic waste, they're also pretty good snacks for human and animal consumption.
- Read more about other social businesses we've written about here.