Kai from the Insectta Team sat down with Female Magazine for Earth Day to share about Insectta's vision for the circular economy, her motivations in the sustainability industry, and how we can make Earth Day meaningful
The Black Soldier Fly sounds like a pretty sweet name for a superhero, and in many ways, this insect is one. Chua Kai Ning, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Insectta, Singapore’s first insect company, is one of the brains behind the technology to extract high-value chitosan and melanin from these tiny flies that are used in applications in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, organic electronics, and F&B industries.
What sparked your interest in contributing to the circular economy?
“I’ve always felt a sense of duty to protect the natural world – many of my childhood hobbies (now adult hobbies!) include fishing, looking for critters in the leaf litter, and growing plants and animals. Coupled with my passion for entrepreneurship and fascination with composting, I realised that by conforming to a linear economy (produce, use, throw), we were wasting some serious economic and environmental value. What if we could imagine waste as a resource? That’s the basis of how I got really motivated to do something that contributes to the circular economy.”
Why did you decide to focus on bugs in particular?
“The truth is, I never set out to pursue a career in sustainability with a specific focus on bugs. I’d learnt about the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) when they came and paid a visit to my home earthworm composting bin (yes, many people keep earthworms as pets). They chowed down on the food waste meant for my earthworms incredibly quickly – much faster than my worms could. You could say from then on, my earthworms were out of a job. The BSFs are used around the world to do this job of food waste valorisation, and to tap on their potential just seemed like an amazing opportunity.”
What keeps you going in the work that you do with Insectta?
“My motivation comes from many places. I’ve seen Insectta make so much progress in the five short years we’ve been around. We’ve progressed from the first insect farm in Singapore to the first company in the world able to extract chitosan and melanin from these insects. I’ve also seen schools including insects and black soldier flies as part of their mainstream curriculum, all thanks to our outreach efforts. Knowing Insectta has played a role in mainstreaming the insect industry for the world is an incredible feeling. Lastly, I’m motivated by the love from my family, in particular my mom, who has brought me and my sister up to pursue creativity, explore our passions, and embody resilience.”
How close do you think we’ll get to achieving a circular economy in the foreseeable future?
“There are no exact answers for this, but we’re definitely seeing increased emphasis on the need for and benefits of a circular economy. It’s an unreachable goal in a sense, because it’s hard to define a completely circular economy, but what we can measure are the start-ups, initiatives, and legislations dedicated to increasing circularity. If data shows anything, that’s on the rise.”
What’s one message you’d like to spread this Earth Day?
“No effort is too small when it comes to inspiring people to care for the environment – however for tangible change to happen, we need the efforts of large businesses, governments, and communities to come together. With talks of greenwashing going around, let’s keep that in mind during Earth Day this year, and ensure our efforts for the environment are directed to make a lasting impact.”