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Big problem, tiny solution

THE CHALLENGE

In many of the world’s urban areas, especially in low- and middle-income countries, waste disposal is inadequate, and waste treatment nonexistent. Uncollected waste accumulates where people live, clogs drains and attracts disease-transmitting vectors such as rodents, posing a serious hazard to public health, the environment and social and economic development.

In Indonesia, which faces all these challenges, municipalities are exploring innovative ways to turn waste management into a circular economy. Extracting as much value from waste materials as possible can both reduce waste-related risks and spur job creation and sustainable development.

Indonesia’s national waste management strategies highlight the need for a 3R approach: Reducing consumption of primary resources, Reuse and Recycling, while also emphasizing private sector participation in community-oriented solutions. In most municipalities, small- and medium-sized private enterprises meet market demand for plastic, paper and metal by recovering them from waste. For various reasons, organic (biodegradable) waste – which typically accounts for more than 60% of the total – remains an untapped resource.

THE APPROACH

For more than 10 years, the Department of Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development (Sandec) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) has pioneered applied research into the technical and operational aspects of an insect-based waste recycling facility. The novel approach uses black soldier fly larvae to consume organic waste and harvests them as a source of protein for animal feed.

This process can reduce waste by up to 80%, therefore drastically reducing the burden on municipalities to transport and dispose waste in landfills. Black Soldier Fly larvae are harvested and used as an alternative source of protein for animal feed. Considering the depletion of ocean resources and that about 30% of captured fish goes into fish meal, and soybean cultivation requires large agricultural land areas and water, such larval protein offers an exciting alternative to conventional feed. This waste treatment approach also does not require any high-end technology or equipment, making it suitable for facilities that depend on simple technology and unskilled labour.

GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT

This research will investigate the technical and financial aspects of the insect-based approach using practical case study data from Indonesia. The results will be generalized as a detailed financial assessment tool and business model scenarios, which will be made available to small- and medium-sized enterprises and municipalities worldwide. To the extent that the project enables wide replication by environmentally and financially sustainable providers of urban waste services, it will mark an important step toward addressing the world’s waste management challenge.

EAWAG

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Eawag is concerned with concepts and technologies for dealing sustainably with water bodies and with water as a resource. In collaboration with universities, other research institutions, public bodies, industry and non-governmental organisations, Eawag works to harmonise ecological, economic and social interests in respect of water usage.

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