Pursuing circularity in food systems: unravelling the environmental potential of waste-fed black soldier fly larvae

PhD project by Alejandro Parodi Parodi. Food systems need to be restructured through a synergistic combination of measures that tackle food waste and losses, implement technological changes in agricultural practices, and promote dietary changes towards foods with a lower environmental impact. Farmed edible insects are increasingly seen as an important building block of a circular food system. Black soldier fly larvae can grow on a wide range of residual organic streams, making them ideal candidates to turn organic waste streams into biomass that can be re-used in the food system.

Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae production is on the rise. BSF larvae can grow on a wide range of organic streams making them ideal candidates to turn organic streams into protein-rich biomass that can be re-used in the food system either as animal feed or human food. For this reason, BSF larvae are increasingly seen as important building blocks of a circular food system. Nonetheless, even though waste-fed BSF larvae are produced already at large-scale globally, their exact contribution to a circular food system is unknown.

The overall research aim of this project is to unravel the potential contribution of BSF larvae to a sustainable and circular food system. For that, the first phase of the project will consist on experimental work to quantify nutrients flows and the emission of greenhouse gasses and ammonia during the rearing phase of BSF larvae on three different organic streams: industrial food residues, pig manure and food waste.

In phase 2, labelled nitrogen will be used to quantify the potential contribution of ammonia-nitrogen (present in pig manure) to larval body protein. In phase 3, the environmental consequences and the economic benefits of using the three organic streams for the production of BSF larvae instead of other activities (e.g., composting, biogas generation) will be explored using a consequential life cycle assessment. Lastly, the environmental consequences of incorporating BSF larvae as food and feed will be determined at a food systems level using a modelling approach.