WormingUp food waste with Flytech
By Patricia Hului
So you just had the most delicious dinner but unlike the popular saying ‘There is always room for dessert’, this time you’re all out of room.
Many of us don’t give a second thought about what happens to our leftovers, although it is most likely that our unfinished food ends up in the garbage bin, and subsequently to the landfill.
Then it’s not our problem anymore, right?
Wrong! Do you know that food waste at landfill sites usually result in methane gas and leachate emissions?
Both are harmful to the environment; methane is one of the greenhouse gases and leachate is a solution containing contaminants from waste decomposition.
Greenhouse gases are of course the culprit for climate change and leachates can be poisonous if they find their way to our river systems.
In addition to that, Malaysians are producing 15,000 tonnes of food waste every single day.
That much food waste could fill 7.5 football fields.
The number is scarier during the month of Ramadan when an estimated 270,000 tonnes of food get thrown out, an amount that could feed 180 million people!
On a mission to combat food waste, four young people came together to start a social project called ‘WormingUp’.
Wee Hung Yee, a resource chemistry graduate initiated the idea after he participated in a project called ‘Stay Green’ at Mauritius.
Overall, the project covers four key thrusts; to raise the awareness of food waste in Kuching, donating surplus food to the needy, recycling food waste through decomposition and upcycling food waste into high quality bio-protein.
Explaining more on the project, Wee said: “What we are trying to do here is trying to reduce food waste. We want to introduce the use of fly maggots to reduce the number.”
According to Wee, food wastage in Malaysia is quite serious and a lot of food waste is produced every day.
If we rely on the usual decomposition method, it would require up to 40 days for the food to completely decompose.
“It is time-consuming and a lot of space gets occupied,” he commented.
Instead, Wee and his three other founding members are introducing what they call Pateeworm Farm to save on land being used for food waste disposal.
“These worms can eat food waste very fast. If we have one kilogram of worms we can reduce one kilogram of food waste a day,” he said.
Wee pointed out University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) as an example where up to 1000kg food waste is produced a day.
How it started
Going back when it first started last year, the Unimas graduate was looking for a new thing to do somewhere along the lines of renewable energy.
He admitted, “The thing is I didn’t have the capability to do that since I graduated in resourcee chemistry. I thought of another idea.”
During his visit to Mauritius, he learned about their fly-breeding technique.
“So I thought maybe we could use the idea of using flies to reduce the food waste.”
He recruited three other friends – Mohamad Ihsan Rambli, Tan Pei Chin and Doris Chong – and together they started a company and christened it Fly Technology Agriculture Sdn Bhd (Flytech).
They first tried breeding houseflies, which was not a good idea since houseflies carry a lot of bacteria and pathogens.
Instead, they found one type of fly in the jungle near Serikin and brought it home for breeding.
The breeding session was a success. Now they have maggots ready to eat their own body weight in food but Wee and his team have another hiccup in their plan.
“We are considered a pioneer in this field here in Sarawak. We found this out was when we tried to apply for a permit – there is no such thing as applying for a permit to breed this kind of worm,” he explained.
“That serves as a challenge, everything we need to build from the ground.”
Since worm-breeding for food decomposition is almost unheard of here in Sarawak, there are some concerns about whether the fly is some kind of pest.
“We are still waiting for the test results on it from the Agriculture Research Centre.”
An inside source from the department assured the team they could get the permit but it is just the matter of time.
Their game plan is to rear pattee worms to consume food waste and these worms would subsequently be used as chicken feed.
“Until we get our permit to breed this worm, basically we cannot start our start-up,” Wee said.
Raising awareness around Kuching
In the meantime, the group is going around Kuching to raise awareness.
Food waste awareness in Sarawak, according to Wee, is still low.
“We found that food operators refused to give their food waste thinking that it will damage their reputations for producing a lot of waste or unless it was profitable to them,” he commented.
Still, they did their part by going to places such as Swinburne University, Green Heights Mall, Summer Mall, CityOne Megamall, Kuching Sentral, Eastern Mall to speak to members of the public.
“We are also collaborating with SJK (C) Chung Hua No. 3 where we put up a board on food waste management awareness.”
Start them young
Wee said it was important to raise awareness among the younger generation first.
They are also working closely with Society of Kuching Urban Poor (SKUP) to reduce food surplus in Kuching.
“So we get the surplus food from hotels and restaurants and we pass it to SKUP. There, SKUP segregates the food and distributes it to those who need it.”
Before tackling the issue of large amounts of food waste ending up in landfills, the team said their first issue was to change society’s wasteful behaviour.
Wee emphasised, “I founded the company not to raise funds or sell the worms but to reduce the food waste.”
WormingUp project is always looking for volunteers who believe in their cause.