Are insects leading the transformation of the global food waste industry?

Published: 1 March 2021

Globally, we are seeing changes in how businesses and the waste industry approach sustainability. New business models are helping to tackle food waste from different angles. With more than 2 million tonnes of food being wasted each year in Victoria, the opportunity for new businesses is vast.

Using insects – from cockroaches to black soldier flies – is one of the innovations reshaping the food waste industry.

Netherlands-based company Protix has worked since 2009 to become a leader in insect farming using the black soldier fly. Aiming to create a sustainable food source, Protix developed a new business model focused on reducing waste and supporting local biodiversity.

Starting out in a small office in Amsterdam with two people and a big idea, Protix founders Kees Aarts and Tarique Arsiwalla received huge interest from investors keen on an innovative and sustainable business opportunity.

Insect bioconversion of waste to protein uses less water, produces 200 times more protein per acre of land than soybean meal, and can be done almost anywhere. Within 10 days, insects can transform food waste into protein-rich food.

By transforming a decades-old process from Asia through innovation and automation, Protix helped kick-start a global movement. Today, their factory is processing up to 40,000 tonnes of food waste each year, using insects to transform it into sustainable protein, oil and soil conditioners.

Our local opportunities

Excited by the opportunities in bioconversion, several Australian start-ups have joined the insect-waste revolution. Through research, collaboration, and government support, they are reshaping the Australia waste sector: they are reducing emissions and saving water, while making money from their new and innovative circular-economy business models.

GoTerra, an Australian Capital Territory-based start-up, is using robot technology together with insects to transform 1,000 tonnes of food waste into new products each year. A key to their success is using a modular system to scale their business model. The system could be deployed on a single site or installed as a large factory to process food waste in a larger city.

There is also waste reduction potential in Victoria. According to a recent food waste report, The Path to Half, insect farming could help eliminate over 160,000 tonnes of food waste from Victorian farms, food factories and supermarkets.

In Victoria, HATCH Biosystems is a local innovator bringing Australia into this new global market. With a $250,000 grant from Sustainability Victoria, Hatch is currently developing a new approach to insect farming that will succeed in the local environment.

"Receiving a grant from Sustainability Victoria provides not just much needed funding for a start-up like HATCH, but also valuable credibility in a sometimes-crowded marketplace. The grant enables us to focus on our core work, sustainable food waste processing, rather than capital-raising", Claire Leach, Founder and CEO HATCH Biosystems said.

A manufacturer Beyond Ag is transforming food waste into protein and fertiliser with insects. Its co-founder Phoebe Gardner says she is “passionate about making agriculture drastically more sustainable and efficient through use of sensible systems and precision technology”.

Gardner says insect farming offers an elegant solution to many of humanity’s problems, while also offering a wealth of opportunities for those brave enough to try something new. Beyond Ag is now looking to commercialise insect-based pet food and other products in Australia, all made from food that was once destined for the bin.

“These local start-ups are a splendid example of how government, academia and industry can collaborate to drive innovation in Victoria”, says Alicia Darvall, Director of Regions and Partnerships at Sustainability Victoria. “This is exactly the kind of collaboration our Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre is looking to accelerate”.

With the ambitious goal to halve Victoria’s food waste within the next 10 years, the Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre is supporting innovators to tackle this pressing issue.

Is your business ready to take its next step on the path to halve food waste in Victoria? For information on funding available, visit the grants page.