I believe black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens) represent the most logical method for dealing with the constant stream of putrescent waste that humans create. Putrescent waste is anything that gets putrid (rots) and is mostly wasted food. BSF aren’t magic but it’s hard to imagine a much more efficient solution to a growing problem.

adult bsf

Bio-conversion

The process of feeding organic wastes to black soldier fly larvae is called bio-conversion. That’s because the process doesn’t exactly eliminate the garbage, it converts it into BSF larvae. Rotting garbage is a liability and BSF larvae are a valuable asset. You can read more about bio-conversion HERE.

BSF prepupal larvae

Generally accepted data about black soldier flies and larvae

  • They are not associated with the transmission of diseases.
  • They don’t bite or sting and they avoid human habitats.
  • Their presence in waste deters or even eliminates house fly reproduction in that waste.
  • Larvae rapidly consume almost any organic waste except for high cellulose items like yard waste or paper.
  • Larvae reduce the volume of household food waste by up to 95%.
  • A 2 foot (60cm) container of larvae can process several pounds of household food waste in 24 hours.
  • When larvae mature they will self harvest using a simple ramp system.
  • Live larvae are very nutritious and are readily consumed by many different animals (pigs, chickens, reptiles, fish, etc).
  • Meal made from dried larvae is roughly equal to Menhaden fish meal, a valuable and widely used ingredient in animal feeds.
  • BSF grubs can be processed to create bio-fuels and other valuable products

The challenge

I’m making the claim that bio-conversion of putrescent waste with BSF larvae is the best way to deal with the constant stream of rotting waste that goes into landfill. The challenge is simple, state any significant problem that might be caused by using BSF to convert our organic garbage into nutritious animal feed or high quality products for industry such as bio-fuels.

Let’s not wait

Burying our food waste in giant rotting mounds is ridiculous given the elegant solution represented by bio-conversion with black soldier fly larvae. The technology already exits and represents the essence of sustainablity. What in the world are we waiting for?

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18 thoughts on “Take the black soldier fly challenge

  • August 18, 2008 at 2:16 pm
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    Please consider commenting here: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/18/poop-is-funny-but-its-fatal/

    Widespread adoption of BSFL as a means of dealing with human excrement in the developing world could conceivably save millions of lives per year. It could eliminate the flies and open sewers that spread disease largely to children. And it would provide an important source of protein for feeding chickens to improve the production of eggs and meat for human consumption.

    This needn’t even require someone to collect the larvae as they could simply be dropped in a place where the chickens could self-feed.

    And a well-designed unit could redirect urine which could be an important source of nitrogen in countries with poor soils.

  • August 18, 2008 at 2:50 pm
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    What a great comment Michael. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands the potential that BSF represent. I’ll definitely check out the blog you mentioned.

    Thank you!

  • August 18, 2008 at 10:37 pm
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    I was googling ‘Black Soldier Fly’ and came across one site here (it’s a fly control company I think) – the picture doesn’t look very much like the BSF that one sees here… (shorter body?) so I’m a bit confused.

    It does mention that the presence of BSF larvae seems to help reduce the numbers of ‘house fly’ larvae. But it also mentions something about the ‘manure’ being liquefied, except it doesn’t put it in such a positive light as Michael May put in his comment (and the comment made on the NYtimes blog site) since it says that it makes it ‘difficult to remove’ and ‘may block up walkways (in the poultry house”.

    Any thoughts? :)

  • August 18, 2008 at 10:52 pm
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    That is indeed the worst rendering of a black soldier fly I’ve seen to date.

    It’s a common observation that BSF larvae liquefy manure as they process it, but if properly managed the benefits seem to outweigh the obstacles. The most significant point is that BSF limit the presence of disease carrying houseflies, and there are ways around the problem of liquefaction, at least on a commercial scale. Designs have been tested at both poultry and swine operations using BSF larvae to reduce manure with good results. I think the urine is separated from the manure to reduce liquefaction. There’s also the side benefit of harvesting the mature larvae and feeding them to the animals that created the manure. Here’s a link that I believe address some of these issues:

    http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/waste_mgt/smithfield_projects/phase2report05/cd,web%20files/A2.pdf

  • August 18, 2008 at 11:49 pm
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    Mosey,

    From what I’ve read the liquefaction is largely caused by the presence of urine. At a blog called pond boss (I presume you’ve seen it) the person writing the thread on BSFL described his experiments feeding BSFL, including dry hog feed. While others have written in mentioning all the “worm tea” the BSFL produce, it’s clear that that is largely a factor of the water content of the food. The BSFL fed dry hog feed didn’t produce “tea”. Feces separated from urine, or a system which allows the liquids to drain out could provide a drier medium that wouldn’t lead to um turd soup.

    Ideally, a BSF process for dealing with human excrement in the developing world would be more contained than the floor of a livestock pen. Unlike livestock, we try not to walk around in our own excrement. And we can control the moisture by adding fluffing material or removing the moisture.

    I’ve not been able to locate any information on the use of BSFL in human excrement processing, but if a system could be developed and introduced to developing countries where sanitary standards are abysmal, this could be a good way to cut the volume of and problems associated with human waste. Admittedly, my comment is speculative, so if anyone has actual information, I’d be interested in seeing that.

  • August 19, 2008 at 12:20 am
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    Michael, the thread you mentioned from the Pond Boss forum was started by me when I first discovered BSF. I still post there regularly, but my main focus has become this blog.

    You may find the following link interesting. It’s author is Dr. Olivier, the BioPod inventor.

    http://www.esrint.com/pages/bioconversion.html

    At very end of the page you will see a reference to urine diverting toilets. Dr. Olivier has worked with the governments of a few countries on programs that address the processing of human waste. I believe his position is that these developing countries don’t need to invest in an expensive sewer system like ours which mixes potable water with feces and urine. Instead a family could operate a BSF bio-conversion unit that would handle all putrescent waste and produce valuable larvae as a byproduct.

  • April 28, 2009 at 8:47 am
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    A friend of mine does mission work in Mexico. I told him that way (BSF) of handling human waste would save valuble resoursces of both water, food for livestock and the infrastructure to build a waste handling system that they don’t have the money for. I would also divert water towards a much better use.

    Water is a huge issue right here in the states. We think we should be able to waste water throughout the states cause it’s plentiful when it’s not.

    Can’t wait to get my own biopod.

    Hi Jeff,

    One of the most wasteful things a person can do is flush a toilet. Of course we need to safely process our waste, but contaminating two or more gallons of potable water with each use is highly inefficient.

    Dr. Olivier, the inventor of the BioPod has worked in Brazil and Vietnam to address the issues you bring up. You may find this article interesting:

    A Proposal for the Elimination of Landfill in Vietnam – by Dr. Paul Olivier

    Jerry

  • May 5, 2009 at 12:26 pm
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    I currently live in Costa Rica, Central America going on 4 years now. Moved down here from CT on the east coast of the states. I learned about the BSF via investigations Im doing for alternative food source for a tilapia farm Im planning to install. I was hoping there was a method of becoming the representative for the bio pod product here in Central America, it can really benefit not only the farmers etc but also those who cant afford the service of having their garbage hauled away. Who knows, maybe I can set up a network of “customers” that will allow me to place my biopods in their premises to raise BSF’s in exchange they can place their scraps in the bucket!! Great concept!!! If anyone can assist me in getting set up as a rep for the company I would greatly appreciate it!!

  • May 20, 2009 at 8:09 am
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    Hi Frenchy,

    I hope you do something with BSF and please keep me posted on your progress. You might give Robert a call at ProtaCulture. They’re the distributors for the BioPod. You can call their office in Texas @ 214.306.8740

  • October 10, 2009 at 6:03 am
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    I just wanted to add my two cents regarding BSFs and human excrement.

    We practice the humanure toilet method in our home and put ALL our human waste in our compost bin. We use the basic Joseph Jenkins five gallon bucket method (super easy, efficient and comfortable).

    The BSFs we have flourish in it. We just add our food scraps and have access to spent brewery hops so our compost piles are very hot. We don’t have a problem with any excess moisture that the BSFs might generate since it is an outside compost pile anyway and the moisture is good for it.

    In fact, we heat our greenhouse by our outdoor compost piles. No electricity at all needed for heat. Hope that gives you some idea of the heat generated and the efficient use of the BSF in getting rid of human excrement and in generating heat.

    Of course, I do want to point out that our piles were hot before the BSFs, enough to heat our greenhouse but the BSFs sure haven’t hurt anything.

    • October 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm
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      Thanks for another great comment Frugal. I live in the southeastern US where BSF were usually found in outhouses when they were common. This benefited both people and BSF because the larvae had a steady supply of food and at the same time they repelled disease carrying species that would otherwise be present in large numbers. Of course the BSF also reduced the volume of the excrement and limited bad odors.

  • May 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm
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    I run with some deep forest folks who will simply put a toilet lid on a 5 gal bucket with drain holes into a second bucket to catch the “juice”, a highly valued compost tea concentrate in itself. Of course most urine is saved in a separate large mouthed plastic washing detergent container. The openings of such are designed perfectly to catch the stream. Urine is diluted 1 to 5 ranging to 1 to 10 for plant or compost pine nitrogen needs. The droppings in the bucket disappear within hours during warm weather. I’m looking for research on larvae protein precipitation such as is used to make soy protein products but I haven’t located anything yet.

    • May 15, 2011 at 9:51 am
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      Hi Allen,

      Are the droppings disappearing due to BSFL?

  • May 15, 2011 at 11:22 am
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    Hi Jerry!

    Yes, BSFL in the “composting” toilet bucket…. though there’s no time to compost. I’ve seen it get to where it’s just a rolling mass of larvae waiting for the next “drop”. They churn and it just sinks-melts down into the feeding orgy. Pretty gross to watch since you can hear them mucking around as they go to work. I consider it all selling points, but most of the world will need to catch up later.

  • August 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm
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    I just discovered BSF in our compost this summer and am humming with excitement about what a useful creature they are. I will be ordering a Biopod and will feed the larvae to my chickens.

    One of the Biopod/BSF features that will be useful for our family is the disposal of pet’s feces, avoiding putting them in the garbage can (sealed in a plastic bag). Perhaps this is a way to get people more comfortable with the idea of the composting toilet that Jerry writes about. Thank you for the fabulous website.

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