CAS works to stabilize food disposal system

Campus Auxiliary Services and the Office of Sustainability are working together to create an alternate disposal system for food waste using black soldier flies. The idea originated with the marketing coordinator for Campus Auxiliary Services Rebecca Stewart, who had a strong interest in bioconversion and has been working to put this program into effect for almost three years now.

“CAS has been looking for a way to deal with its food waste,” Director of Sustainability Dan DeZarn said. “Right now it’s being trucked to a landfill, which is not a sustainable solution, so they’ve been looking at various alternatives.”

The black soldier flies will eat the food scraps that CAS normally disposes of, converting the food into a brown liquid called “leachate” that can be used as a fertilizer. This way, nutrients are recycled back into the earth as opposed to ending their life in greenhouse gas-producing landfills.

According to DeZarn, the project is currently in its second phase. Students tested it on a very small scale last year, and they are trying to increase the size of the project. Senior Diana Li is conducting the majority of the research with the help of sophomore Ashley Peppriell and plans to present the experiment at a conference next semester.

“Hopefully, we can bring this around and promote the idea of alternative food waste management systems for college campuses around the whole country,” Li said. “Even if it doesn’t work out for Geneseo, I think the importance of the idea of treating food waste sustainably on-site should be promoted.”

A project of this magnitude is mostly unprecedented in New York’s climate, meaning that Li and DeZarn have some trial and error to work with in their proceedings. One problem they have faced is that the black soldier flies in the first shipment did not reproduce like they were expected to––possibly due to cold temperatures––meaning that more shipments of flies had to come in. The second shipment has been more successful, however, and Li expressed her belief that it is because of the warmer temperatures.

“In a lot of ways, we really are pioneering this for our climate and our scale,” DeZarn said. The project, if these hurdles can be managed, would be set to start within “the next year or so,” according to DeZarn.

If it pans out, the project would allow for a higher understanding of sustainability and the food cycle. In addition, Li stressed her hopes that it will spark conversation on a generally ignored topic.

“I’m most looking forward to the connection that will be created between people affiliated with the college, students, faculty and even CAS members; between where they come from and where the food is going,” Li said. “It will be a cool educational tool to show that maybe bugs aren’t that scary. It’s a bit of a dirty topic and it would be really cool to reestablish the connection.”

DeZarn and Li anticipate having the first generation of larvae by mid-summer. Research will be conducted throughout the summer to see if this program is feasible for use on the Geneseo campus. The project will encourage research on sustainability as well as general awareness of where uneaten food and waste goes on college campuses.

“It will bring people closer to the land, which is an important aspect that has been gone recently,” Li said.