4 June 2022

Circularity Tales: from organic waste to alternative proteins

Did you know that waste generation is not an accidental phenomenon, but a major result of how things are designed? According to scientific sources*, 80% of environmental impacts are determined at the product design stage. Today, most of the decisions taken at that stage directly reflect the linear economy principles and the consumption habits instilled by capitalism – which takes us back to waste generation.

To avoid some catastrophic 3.40 billion tonnes of waste lingering out there by 2050 (World Bank), our current system has to change: we need to re-learn how to manage resources, rethink how we make and use products, and reflect on what we do with the materials afterwards. A thriving economy that is sustainable to all forms of life and that operates within the limits of our planet is only possible if we do that. 

The Circular Economy (CE) offers a viable way to overcome these challenges moving forward. Designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems – based on these restorative principles, the circular model redefines growth and presents benefits not only for the environment, but also to companies and households. 

At Impact Hub Global Network, mainstreaming circularity across our programs and local hubs is a central priority in our mission to support better businesses for a better future. As part of our efforts, we are currently piloting a process of embedding CE principles and activities at different Impact Hub locations in Europe and Africa. 

In this Circularity Tales series, we are bringing action stories from entrepreneurs in our network that have been taking part in this circular journey and leading the way by implementing the principles in their businesses. Inaugurating the series, we spoke with Costantine Edward, Managing Director of AgriLife, a Tanzania-based business dedicated to recycling organic waste into a protein source for animal feed.

Impact Hub: Constantine, thank you very much for taking the time to share your inspiring experience with us! To get us started, tell us about AgriLife – what is it about?
Costantine Edward: Since its creation in 2021, our mission at AgriLife has been to make a difference in the world through sustainability. We do this by pioneering a waste-to-nutrient technology using black soldier fly larvae to convert organic waste into sustainable protein for poultry and organic fertilizer for crops.
We began with a problem: the majority of livestock feed comes from fishmeal and soy, but these are low-nutrient options that require large amounts of land and water to produce. At the same time, there’s so much organic waste (food and yard waste) that ends up in landfills and contributes to greenhouse gasses.

By using black soldier fly, we’re able to offer a sustainable alternative that reduces pollution, lowers consumption of fishmeal and soybeans, and generates more nutritious food for livestock while also reducing total demand on food resources”.

The process is also simpler than other alternatives, which means it can be implemented at any level.
In a nutshell, we are creating protein from waste by leveraging nature’s recycling agents – insects – through a natural and easily scalable process that is labor-intensive, perfect for Africa, where we are currently based. In addition, we target businesses that generate a lot of organic waste, like restaurants and grocery stores, offering them a way to turn their trash into a cash cow. It’s a win-win for us and our customers: we offer great service, and they get to do something awesome with their waste.

Impact Hub: That’s amazing! Now speaking on a more subjective level, what does circularity mean to you? And why is it so important today
Costantine Edward: In the past, circularity was not a major concern. But that is no longer the case. As the world population increases and resources get more scarce, it’s important to make sure that we’re using all of our resources wisely, or risk running out of them entirely.
So, to me, circularity is the idea that any resource can be used again and again in a sustainable way. By providing a new life to organic waste, I am putting this concept into practice with AgriLife – it’s efficient, sustainable, and just makes sense.

Impact Hub: Right on point. Recently, you had the opportunity to participate in Impact Hub Dar Es Salaam’s pilot program focused on implementing circularity practices into businesses. Considering your venture’s stage at the start of the program and looking at it now, how has this circularity implementation journey been going for you?
Costantine Edward: When we started the program, our business wasn’t very circular in large portions. While we had always recycled our organic waste with black soldier fly larvae, we never really considered what else could be done to make AgriLife more circular.
After just a few workshops, we were able to brainstorm some ideas together and come up with a plan for how to apply the knowledge to our business model. We’re now using upcycled plastic in our packaging instead of paper, and we’re in the process of converting the rest of our packaging to cardboard, which will be made from 100% recycled material.

Agrilife's alternative proteins
Agrilife's alternative proteins

Impact Hub: We’re impressed by how fast you were able to apply the knowledge into tangible action with AgriLife! When you look at that progress, what were challenges that stood in your way? And how did Impact Hub Dar es Salaam support you in overcoming them?
Costantine Edward: We’ve been a part of the Impact Hub Dar es Salaam community for quite some time now, and we’re always learning from them about new opportunities to grow. The training on investment readiness that we attended recently was particularly helpful because, as a startup, it’s hard to know when and how to bring in investors. After attending the training and learning more about what investors are looking for in companies like ours, we have a better idea of where we are in our growth stage and what we need to do next.

Impact Hub: Supporting better business for a better future – that’s why we are here. Reflecting on your trajectory, what did you enjoy the most from participating in the circularity program?
Costantine Edward: The most enjoyable part of the circularity program was getting to learn more in depth about circularity. Dealing with black soldiers fly, we are 100% doing circularity. But it is important to know the history of the Circular Economy and how the movement for circularity has grown over the decades and spanning to all over the world.

Impact Hub: Great to hear that it contributed to enlarging your perspectives on how the Circular Economy has been key to make this world a more sustainable place. Moving on to what lies ahead, what does the future hold for AgriLife?
Costantine Edward: We’re very excited about our future! We’re currently in the process of building a large insect breeding facility with a capacity to process more than 4 tonnes of black soldier fly protein per month. In the next 3 years, we are looking to recycle more than 180 organic waste into 60 tones of alternative protein per year.

Impact Hub: That’s absolutely amazing, we’ll be rooting for you! To end this conversation on a good note, please share with us your ultimate advice on circularity practices that any venture could implement as well!
Costantine Edward: We recommend ventures to implement sharing models. With them, it’s possible to share your products and services with others in order to create a network that is circular. This is a great way to reduce waste on packaging and production of certain materials.

 

Follow AgriLife on Instagram to discover their next steps in the circularity embedding journey.

* K Ramani et al (2010) 

The Circularity Program is part of our broader Environmental Strategy – discover how Impact Hub Global Network is addressing our time’s most pressing issues here. For more inspiring stories like this, head to our blog.