Indonesia pins hopes on a common fly to reduce food waste, carbon emissions

By Fitri Wulandari

As the country aims to make inroads into its climate goals, it is turning to the humble and voracious black soldier fly larva. GovInsider speaks to waste management experts from Indonesia’s private and public sectors to find out how this innovative approach can make a world of difference.

The larva of the black soldier fly (BSF), also known as Hermetia illucens, is a voracious eater of decaying animal or plant waste, which makes this species an invaluable ally in sustainable waste management efforts. Image: Canva

A common fly found throughout Southeast Asia could play a big role in Indonesia’s climate goals, according to waste management experts.


The larva of the black soldier fly (BSF), also known as Hermetia illucens, is a voracious eater of decaying animal or plant waste, which allows this species to decompose organic waste in a short time. Commonly found amongst household food waste, the fly does not pose a risk to human health as it is not a vector of disease. 


When compared to industrial waste management methods, treating organic waste with BSF requires a shorter processing time, results in little residual waste, and offers a higher revenue potential, says M Satya Oktamalandi, the Secretary General of the Indonesia Solid Waste Association (InSwa).


GovInsider hears from Oktamalandi and Novrizal Tahar, Director of Waste Management at Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry (KLHK), about the benefits of utilising BSF larvae in waste management, and what it takes to align Indonesia’s climate ambitions with this common fly’s attributes.

Decomposing food waste in two weeks, not ten

Black soldier fly maggots ready for harvest at Magalarva's plant in Gunung Sindur sub-district, Bogor, West Java. Image: Magalarva

According to Oktamalandi, one kilogramme of BSF larvae can decompose one kilogramme of food waste. After the larvae feed on food waste for 14 days, these maggots can then be harvested as animal feed. In comparison, composting a similar amount of food waste takes eight to 10 weeks.


“BSF is more effective than composting, which takes longer, or the biogas process, which needs complex knowledge and [a] facility to apply it. The [larvae] from BSF waste processing can be used as a protein source in fishery, poultry or livestock while the residual waste can be used as solid fertiliser,” Oktamalandi says.


KLHK’s Novrizal adds that another benefit of BSF technology is that it can significantly reduce carbon emissions by ensuring less food waste ends up in landfills. This is one of four new policy thrusts the Government has identified to deal with such waste, as it contributes to 80 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions.


The other thrusts are campaigning for a less-waste lifestyle, increasing the recycling rate and developing a waste management industry, as Indonesia aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributable to waste by an equivalent of 40 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030.


Novrizal calculates that each ton of food waste decomposed with BSF technology equates to a reduction of 405 tons of carbon dioxide emission.


“It will also bring the potential of carbon trading for the waste management sector,” he adds. 

Indonesia’s waste management ambitions

Workers sort food waste collected from households, restaurants and wet markets at Magalarva's Bogor plant. Image: Magalarva

“For the waste management industry, we are looking at waste-to-electricity, waste-to-RDF (refuse-derived fuel), waste-to-biogas, and waste-to-fertiliser [solutions]. Waste-to-fertiliser using BSF maggot technology has the potential to be the biggest contributor to emission reduction because it reduces food waste going to landfills,” Novrizal tells GovInsider.


According to the United Nations Environment Programme Index 2021, Indonesia generates the most food waste in Southeast Asia, disposing of 20.94 million tons of food every year. Citing data from the Ministry, Novrizal highlights that organic waste, which consists of food waste and wood, accounts for 54% of total waste in Indonesia at 70 million tons per year.


Some companies, such as Green Prosa, a waste-to-fertiliser company in Banyumas, Central Java, work with local environmental agencies to source food waste supplies. 


According to the firm’s founder Arky Gilang Wahab, the Banyumas Regency’s Environmental Agency sorts and processes food waste from dumpsites into pulp, and delivers it to Green Prosa’s maggot-based waste processing facilities around Banyumas.


Established in 2018, Green Prosa has processed 6,838.1 tons of organic waste and produced 1,032 tons of BSF maggots, based on the company’s data as of May 2023.

Sorting food waste as a paid service


While there is no lack of food waste, most Indonesians do not have the habit of sorting out their waste, says Oktamalandi. 


“BSF can only decompose soft waste like food waste from kitchens and the waste should be cleaned and sorted out first. It needs collaboration from all parties to optimise ways to secure waste supply,” he says.


Kebun Kumara, a social ecopreneurship that promotes permaculture in Jakarta, has been running “Kompos Kolektif” (Collective Compost), a social media campaign to encourage the public to sort their household waste. 


Customers who want Kompos Kolektif to pick up their food waste pay a monthly subscription of IDR 100,000 (USD 6.5). The garbage is transported subsequently to Magalarva, a waste management company in Serpong, in Banten Province, to be processed using BSF technology.


Siti Alia Ramadhani from Kebun Kumara says while some people withdraw from the service after finding out the cost, Kompos Kolektif has seen its customer base grow since its 2020 launch; it now collects 6,000 to 7,000 kilograms of food waste from 250 homes, up from just a dozen kilograms of food waste from 30 to 40 homes at the start.

Connecting the dots

Arky Gilang Wahab (centre), the founder of the waste-to-fertiliser company Green Prosa, speaks with partners about using black soldier fly larvae to decompose food waste at the company's plant in Banyumas, Central Java. Image: Green Prosa

The Indonesia government is aware of the challenges in expanding the waste management market and plans to build a comprehensive network for it.


Novrizal says he is approaching sources of organic waste, such as associations, to connect them with waste-to-fertiliser companies that process the waste, and with animal feed or fertiliser companies as potential buyers of BSF products. 


“The maggot producers cannot expand if [waste producers] don’t try to sort their waste and keep dumping them in landfills,” Norvizal says, adding that the Ministry is trying to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between various industry players. 


“On the other hand, it is also a problem if BSF by-products can’t be sold.” 


Green Prosa’s Arky says his company can only generate revenue from selling the maggots to animal feed companies, but it cannot sell the organic fertiliser because it needs a special permit from the Agriculture Ministry. 


“So we just distribute the fertiliser for free to farmers or they only pay the packaging fee,” says Arky.