Insects help combat food waste problem

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singaporeans love their food. Unfortunately, that also means that food waste is a big problem in Singapore too.

According to the Singapore Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, food waste is one of the biggest waste streams. The amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 20 per cent over the last 10 years. In 2019, Singapore generated 744 million kilogrammes of food waste – the equivalent of 51,000 double-decker buses.

Only 18 per cent of food waste is recycled, while the rest is incinerated.For Nathaniel Phua – the founder and CEO of a biotechnology company that uses insects to consume and repurpose food waste – the numbers were shocking.

The former fashion marketeer’s first foray into waste management came when he started working for his father-in-law at Tiong Lam Supplies, which transforms food waste into fish feed for aquaculture farms. Traditional waste management involves specific types of food waste, but Phua began searching for something that could break down all types of food waste. That led him to the black soldier fly.

These insects are natural decomposers that spend most of their life eating. They only eat when they are in their larvae form and can consume up to two times their body weight every day. The flies do not simply get rid of food waste. They can themselves be turned into higher value products, like feed and fertiliser. “It was really a challenge for us to figure out what was the best condition for them to live in,” said Phua, who told Money Mind that the insects would constantly crawl out of their trays.

The black soldier fly larve decomposing food waste. PHOTO: CNA

“What would be the best condition for them to just eat all that food waste and to remain happy within those trays. It took it took a while for us to figure that out.” Phua set up Ento Industries last year, and in November was awarded a social enterprise grant by DBS’ foundation arm.

With proceeds from the grant, Ento Industries plans to move into a 5,000 square feet facility with the capacity to process between 10 and 20 tonnes of waste per month.

Head of the DBS Foundation Claire Wong said that Ento Industries’ efforts are aimed at a “real problem”. “There is a real problem of food waste that they’re trying to solve that no one has really figured out how to get rid of waste and re-purposing it right. So not just throwing it and burning it but finding a purpose for it,” said Wong. “There is a real problem that they’re solving … With that problem comes a huge market potential as well,” she added.

DBS said that if Ento is able to scale up their existing capabilities, the possibilities for growth are huge.

With the government’s plan to produce 30 per cent of the nation’s food supply by 2030 and with the Lim Chu Kang area earmarked for development into a high-tech agri-food cluster, Phua said that future prospects are bright. A commercial pilot is being planned, with the aim of recycling one tonne of waste a day.

“Our vision for our support with the food manufacturers is to be able to take on their responsibility of dealing with that food waste. We want to be able to deal with that food waste for them and show them that the circular economy within the industry is possible,” said Phua.

“We want to convert all that food waste into more feed ingredients so that we can put that back into our local industry and support the food production in Singapore.”