Waste Management In Action

Maggots and robots: a waste solution

New start-up Goterra is combining innovative technologies and insects to provide a circular economy solution for food waste.

In Australia, 7.6 million tonnes of food is wasted annually, with the majority going to landfill.  Methane produced by rotted food waste is contributing substantially to greenhouse gas emissions.

Food waste management company Goterra is thinking outside of the box to create a sustainable solution to help its customers manage what it calls a “food waste crisis”.

Olympia Yarger, Founder and Chief Executive of Goterra, says combining modern technologies and insects to treat waste is a reality.

“We’ve built systems, which in its simplest form, is an insect farm. They operate basically like a trash compactor on site,” Olympia says.

“We use autonomous robotics, essentially we make robots that get insects to do a job.

“With our infrastructure technology we can create a circular economy which can cater for large [waste treatment] plants or smaller facilities. We are equally equipped to support the needs of both regional and metro communities.”

Goterra’s Modular Infrastructure for Biological Services (MIB) units consist of black soldier flies, members of the Stratiomyidae fly family.

Food waste is put into the system by using a bin lifter. The autonomous unit treats and feeds the insects within the system.

Black soldier fly larvae convert food waste into protein and fertiliser within 12 days. From there, the product can be used on food crops for human consumption.

Sustainable outcomes

An MIB unit is set to be installed in Albury-Wodonga. Olympia says the unit complements the efforts of the Albury-Wodonga region to increase its food waste treatment capabilities.

“We know that the Albury City Council is passionate about sustainable outcomes that can generate value to their community, and they have a long history of doing that,” she says.

“We have a unique technology that can get into locations quickly for stakeholders such as Albury City Council and can deliver a true and valuable outcome which is affordable for the community.”

Olympia says the versatility of the MIB units help to cater for the needs of different regions.

“The units can offer capacity flexibility. If clients need more, they can add it. If they need less, they can take it away,” she says.

“What we’ve built is infrastructure that can be used like a Lego block.

“At Albury City we are sending one unit, connected to a de-packager. We can accept all different kinds of food waste in the Albury City community – from packaged waste through to manufacturing waste, farming waste or post- and pre-consumer food waste from restaurants or hotels.”

Goterra installs the units with travel logistics in mind, ensuring that the systems are deployed as close to the food waste producer as possible.

“If we think about the challenge of food waste, it isn’t finding a supply as there is plenty of food waste to manage, but it comes in different forms and volumes,” Olympia says. “By placing these units as close to the food waste supply as possible we’ve changed the logistics requirements.”

Olympia says systems which can optimise the treatment of waste can make significant contributions to forming a circular economy.

“We are starting to see the benefits of technology that delivers a circular economy. That is a major game changer when you think about managing waste streams efficiently.”

Reducing external impacts

So why the black soldier fly, instead of maggots?

“This fly is a naturalised, non-pest, non-vector species,” Olympia says. “What’s important about that is if these bugs get loose from the unit, they cannot turn into a pest species or a vector for disease. We have this very safe species to domesticate that isn’t harmful to humans or to the wider insect population.

“It also eats aerobically, which is a unique feature within the fly category. Because the bug eats aerobically the smell is almost negligible, you do have some odours, but they are no worse than the odours which come from a general waste bin.”

Olympia says that the black soldier fly’s role is dedicated to the treatment of food waste.

“You’ve got this really unique species, which is designed to eat food waste – it is the specific job of the black soldier fly larvae,” she says. “There are the added benefits of the bugs not being a pest.”

For more information, visit: www.goterra.com.au

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