Deciding what to do with the mountains of food wasted around the world has become a major challenge. But one Dutch firm has come up with an interesting solution to the problem.
In a purpose-built indoor farm under powerful artificial lights, swarms of black soldier flies are fed food discarded by humans to produce insect larvae – a cheap, environmentally friendly and nutritious source of protein.
Protix, the company behind the insect initiative, manages the entire lifecycle of the flies, from eggs to larvae, cocoon to mature insect.
Once harvested, the larvae is made into a paste that can be used as feed for egg-laying hens and in fish farms. It can also be added to pet food as a natural substitute to other forms of protein some animals are allergic to.
A swarm of black soldier fly larvae devours a pizza in just a few hours.
Projects that encourage a circular food economy – which minimizes waste and makes the most of resources – are an important step towards a more sustainable future.
What is a circular economy?
The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.
A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.
Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.
The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.
Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.
The way our food is currently grown and brought to market puts Earth’s resources under strain, as approximately one-third of all food produced for humans gets lost or wasted. This equates to around 1.3 billion tonnes each year, according to UN figures.
And the problem is getting worse as the global population – set to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – expands and incomes rise in developing nations, pushing food demand ever higher.
At current growth levels, food waste could increase by almost one-third by the end of the coming decade, according to a study by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The volume of food lost or wasted differs relatively little between developed countries and those in the developing world. However, the point at which losses happen differs greatly.
In the poorer countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, 40% of losses take place between crops being harvested and processed. Financial and technical constraints impact yields, which are also at the mercy of pests and extreme weather events like droughts and floods.
By comparison, in industrialized countries more food is wasted in the later stages of the supply chain. More than two-fifths is at the retail level and by consumers, due in part to quality standards that emphasise the physical appearance of food and when it should be sold or eaten.
Such high levels of waste seriously affect the environment as land is cleared for agriculture and animal grazing, soil fertility declines and oceans are overfished, all of which exacerbates climate change.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 sets an objective of halving per capita global food waste to reduce losses along production and supply chains by 2030. But achieving this will require major changes to how what we eat is produced and consumed.
As well as finding more sustainable ways to grow and process food, some companies are also looking at offering alternatives. In addition to its larvae protein for animal feed, Protix produces a range of insect-based proteins for human consumption.
While there are benefits associated with replacing more traditional forms of protein with a nutritious and sustainable diet of crickets, grasshoppers and mealworm, many people today might be reluctant to make this transformation. But in future, it may not seem so far-fetched an idea.
"We are seeing a real crisis at a global level," Esben Hegnsholt, co-author of a study into global food waste by the Boston Consulting Group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The amounts of waste and the social, economic and environmental implications are serious if we don't change the trajectory. When we fight food loss and waste, we also fight hunger, poverty and global warming."