Flies may be the answer to waste problems at LSU

Updated: Feb. 22, 2019 at 5:08 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In the race to find green solutions for today’s problems, for one scientist inside an LSU greenhouse, the answer may be black -- the black soldier fly to be exact.

Devon Brits is an entomologist from South Africa working in south Louisiana to help end organic waste at LSU. It is a big problem with a tiny answer. “These flies do nothing but make eggs for us,” Brits said as he tapped on the netted box that housed hundreds of wasp-like insects.

The black soldier fly is a tree fly. It does not dive-bomb your dinner looking for a place to lay its eggs. And those eggs, or more precisely, what hatches from them, may be the answer to the food waste problem at LSU.

Students eating in university dining halls throw out more than a half-ton of food every day. “We’ve been trying to come up with a solution for how to divert food waste for four years,” said Sarah Temple, the director of LSU Campus Sustainability. “We’re trying to get LSU to be more efficient and more sustainable in its everyday operation.”

That’s where Brit’s bugs come in. Black soldier fly larvae have voracious appetites, and will eat almost anything: burgers, tacos, pasta, pizza, fruit, beans, rice, and the list goes on. Think of them like a college student, only hungrier.

Right now, he can only handle about 200 pounds a day -- about the amount that comes out of the 459 Commons dining hall. Brits hopes to be able to handle all dining hall food waste by the end of the year.

Brits collects the food students throw away, and lays out the larval buffet in big blue bins.

On the surface, they look like trays of lasagna gone bad, but break the crust, and the whole bin wriggles to life. “These guys have been eating for about a week or so,” Brits said as he dug his hand into the squirming mass. The half-inch grubs tumbled from inside a hollow grapefruit rind.

Pound-for-pound, the larvae eat more than a defensive lineman--enough wasted food to double their body weight every day, according to Brits. He said in his home country of South Africa, black soldier flies are already being used to reduce waste streams headed into landfills. But it is about more than just landfill space.

Rotting food produces greenhouse gases. According to Brit, decaying organic matter is the third biggest producer of greenhouse gases in the country. Reducing waste reduces those gases.

The black soldier fly may play a big part in the future of recycling efforts. “What they eat becomes proteins and fats in their bodies,” Brits said. “We can extract or use the flies themselves as food.”

He is not asking you to eat grubs or flies, but his bugs are destined for store shelves. “They’re great for reptiles. They’re great for fish. They’re great for chickens and pigs,” said David Fluker, president of Fluker’s Cricket Farms, an insect farm in Port Allen, La.

The Flukers are known for crickets, but the second-generation family business also produces pet food. And farm animals find black soldier fly larvae delicious.

According to Fluker, the larvae contain more and better quality protein than grain-based feeds. They also contain more calcium than fish-based protein commonly used for feedstock.

He said that as demand for beef and poultry rises, the danger of over-harvesting fish to be made into animal feed has also risen. Harvesting black soldier fly larvae will also help alleviate those problems.

Fluker’s Farms kicked in $90,000 to pay for Brits’ salary and the salaries of a few student workers who help in the greenhouse. The rest of Brits’ budget comes from a grant through the LSU Sustainability Office.

As Brits ramps up his larvae operation, the grown grubs will go to Fluker’s Cricket Farms where they will be dried and used in everything from chicken treats, to hog feed, closing the loop.

While we eat cows and chickens, the larvae will eat the leftovers. The livestock then eat the larvae, and the process starts all over again. At LSU, black may really be the new green.

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