Parked under an awning of trees in Camas, Washington, Doug Knippel’s converted semitruck trailer smells like strong, sour beer. It’s the scent of hundreds of pounds of barley, leftover from a local microbrewery, being devoured by young Hermetia illucens: black soldier fly larvae. Knippel dips his hand into a tray and comes back with a palmful of rice-sized organisms writhing through his fingers. “I’ve been composting since I was a kid. I love turning waste into something that’s usable,” he says. “I’m taking waste and I’m creating food from it instead of just soil.”
Knippel is one of a growing number of bug breeders rearing black soldier flies to help simultaneously tackle three of the biggest environmental issues in the United States: greenhouse gas emissions, irresponsible land use, and food waste. Black soldier fly larvae convert waste into a popular garden fertilizer: their poop, which is called frass. Chickens go wild for the later stages of larvae, which are fat with protein and oil and can be processed and sold as animal feed. Projections estimate the black soldier fly industry to be worth $2.57 billion by 2030, and as companies scale up, they could provide a pressure relief valve for the United States’ food waste issues and the greenhouse gases that come with it. If implementation around the world is any indication, the flies may become a large-scale trash solution for our waste-burdened world.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30% to 40% of American food is thrown away every year. Much of that food ends up in landfills, where it makes up 22% of municipal waste annually. Unable to reach soil, food decomposes and releases methane gas, which is at least 25 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide. Garbage dumps produce nearly a fifth of U.S. methane emissions.
Trash-diversion tactics like composting have grown in the last decade to address…