One-third of all the food produced on Earth is discarded. Although food waste is rich in nutrients and energy, the vast majority of this discard is also not recycled, partially because conventional methods for processing food materials are neither efficient nor sustainable. As resources on our planet become increasingly limited, there is a pressing need for the development of new technologies to efficiently reclaim food waste products, turning them into valuable incentivized commodities rather than financial and environmental burdens to society.
The USC Wrigley Institute is exploring the use of new techniques for recycling food waste and compostable materials, using the natural life cycle of the black soldier fly. With populations distributed worldwide, black solider flies are hardy and do not transmit disease or act as human pests. As they grow, fly larvae feed on solid and liquid decaying matter, helping to break down and “recycle” decomposing organic material in the process. The digested products exhibit lower acids and alcohols compared to standard fermentation products and can be used in a range of applications: solid products collected from the flies provide nutrient-rich compost, while the liquid products can be processed into fertilizer and chemicals such as melanin for use in novel biodegradable batteries. The larvae themselves may also be harvested and used for animal feedstock or biodiesel production.
The Wrigley Institute has plans to develop an experimental fully-automated Organics Recycling Station using black soldier flies to process food waste in this manner, located at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. The processing station will be able to collect and recycle up to 20 tons of food waste from the facility per year. Moreover, the station will be designed to function automatically without the need for manual labor. This project will serve as a research platform to optimize design and to study the relative costs and benefits of such systems, as well as to complement other ongoing sustainability initiatives at USC by showcasing an innovative waste management biotechnology.