These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Thomas Clark uses skin care to help solve climate change.

This 29-year-old is disrupting the beauty industry by using oil from flies that consume food waste to make beauty products.

Thomas Clark's Insekt line of skin care products. Photo submitted

Tell us about your project.

Thirty per cent of the food produced in Canada is wasted, and global food waste generates approximately 10 per cent of our greenhouse gases. The skin care industry’s significant use of water, chemicals and packaging also contributes significantly to climate change and environmental degradation. My wife Michelle and I founded Altrene so skin care products can be part of the solution.

How does it work?

Our first offering is the boldly titled Insekt line, which includes a cleanser, moisturizer and oil. We work with a Quebec company that farms and raises black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens), a common and widespread fly of the family Stratiomyidae.

Their larvae efficiently consume food waste while converting it into proteins and fats. The larvae are then cold-pressed to extract oil, which in addition to the Omega 3s, 6s and 9s found in many skin care products, has a high concentration of lauric acid, considered to be the number 1 anti-bacterial and anti-microbial fatty acid. The few additional ingredients have been carefully chosen for skin health from other eco-friendly companies. Our packaging is recyclable and the violet glass containers filter light to protect the product, ensuring a long shelf life.

This 29-year-old is disrupting the beauty industry by using oil from flies that consume food waste to make beauty products. #YouthClimateAction
Thomas Clark is disrupting the skin care industry by using oil from flies that consume food waste to make beauty products. Photo submitted

How are consumers reacting?

There is sometimes initial resistance because of our own species’ general dislike of insects. But once consumers understand that this product is a pleasure to use and is safe, effective and beneficial to them and our planet, they are positive.

Investors have been very keen. We were recently named as a recipient of a Rock My Startup Business Award through Futurpreneur and RBC and that, combined with some other private and public funding and mentorship, has helped us sell out of our first offering round.

How did you get into this project?

Food waste means people go hungry needlessly and adds significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions as it degrades. I read an article about these insects that are currently farmed to be used as poultry feed while capturing the source of these emissions and wondered if the oil could have this other purpose.

We began by trying to farm the insects ourselves and did a proof of concept producing an initial kilogram of the oil. Potential investors told us it would be less risky for them if we specialized in producing the beauty products and left the raising of the flies to those who already understood how to do that well. We did that and are now successfully marketing to boutique outlets in Ontario and Quebec.

Thomas Clark in front of the solar panel array he set up to power the heat pump for the family's soon-to-be-built home. Photo by M. Passarelli Photography

Tell us about your background.

I was raised in rural Ontario and often annoyed my mother when I could not bring myself to come out of the forest or off the land in time for supper. After I finished my education, I was happy to leave the concrete and noise of the city for the quiet and serenity of Kemptville, Ont. My wife and I have many conversations about our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure our newborn son grows up on a healthy planet. I have a 9-to-5 job and my wife teaches high school but we hope to do this full-time one day.

My training as a mechanical engineer taught me to look outside the box for solutions.

What keeps you awake at night?

My newborn son has a healthy pair of lungs!

I worry that one day many years from now, I will look back and regret the missed opportunity to drive change if I don’t act now. This project helps with that concern.

The Clark family. Photo submitted

What do you see if we get this right?

An increased awareness about food waste and a shift in consumer mindsets about beauty product ingredients.

We will provide a secondary market for farmers of these flies, which are so useful but still so underused.

Consumers will become so aware of the issue, that we will all start buying only what we need.

Consumers will join us in understanding that our climate is as sensitive as our skin.

What makes this work hard?

It has never been done before.

What advice would you give to other young people?

Time is finite, so act boldly on your ambitions as soon as possible. For me, that meant having a backup plan, so I finished my education and got a good job before taking the plunge. I like to think this will allow me to take the kinds of risks we must all take to keep our planet habitable for our children.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Measure your achievements and those of the young people around you not so much by their dollar value but by their improvement to quality of life. Support innovators. Business-as-usual is not an option.

Keep reading

Did anyone ask the flies for comment?
Curious what the millions of flies who give up their lives for vanity have to say. Are their lives worth nothing?
Perhaps we should question the notion that other species (most of which long precede ours) are here for human use and consumption. Our property to do with as we please.

"Consumers will become so aware of the issue, that we will all start buying only what we need."
Do we need face cream?

"Thirty per cent of the food produced in Canada is wasted"
Thirty per cent of the food produced in Canada is still wasted, i.e., not being consumed as food by humans. Turning food waste into face cream does not address food waste. That's the problem we need to solve.
Some people may conclude that we do not have to address food waste because we have found other (non-essential) uses for it.