In recent years, several critical factors have driven the pest control industry and business towards non-tox solutions.
Stringent legislation, such as the FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) and the EU Biocidal Products Regulation, now regulates the use and development of new biocidal products, driving the innovation of non-tox alternatives.
Businesses, meanwhile, are reacting to the rising expectations of consumers, many of whom are increasingly aware of the adverse effects of the overuse of pesticides on the environment and health.
The pest control industry itself has also matured significantly. Like many other sectors, we are constantly researching and developing solutions that are more effective, sustainable and are better for the planet.
These are all compelling reasons why pest control is changing. What makes it exciting for innovation is that these forces are emerging at a time of technology, enabling us to explore and develop non-tox solutions that are more targeted and effective than many of the chemical solutions available in the market today.
The advantages of connected technology and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Many new developments are based on the automation of pest observation. Currently, for example, the pest control industry is embracing the Internet of Things to change the way facilities are monitored. We can now install connected traps and devices to carry out remote monitoring 24/7, so technicians don’t have to physically visit a site to establish the presence of pests. When they do visit a site, technicians don’t need to spend time checking traps and can focus on recommending non-tox, preventative risk mitigation strategies instead.
In the agriculture space, we are also experimenting with bespoke monitoring solutions, such as drones fitted with thermal imaging technology, able to survey large areas of crops. The technical capability of the thermal heat and hyperspectral imaging software fitted in these drones is so advanced, they can view microscopic detail and find localised infestations. This enables us to treat small areas and pest problems with non-tox solutions before they spread.
Prevention through predictive analytics
Another major advantage of these new monitoring methods is that they provide us with new data, much of which was not available before. The drones mentioned above, for instance, can monitor the chlorophyll level in plants and predict risk of damage; offering up a myriad of possibility.
We don’t simply collect data from these devices and use them in isolation. We can overlay it with public data sources – such as weather records, to start predicting pest behaviour based on different variables. This in turn, fuels sophisticated predictive analytics that allows us to apply targeted, non-tox treatments in localised areas, rather than blanket treating facilities with chemicals. In many cases, given the right support with innovative applications of technology, there is little need for harsh chemicals at all.
New developments in non-toxic heat treatments
Ironically, some of the recent innovations are enhancements of ideas that have been around for centuries. In the 18th Century, early settlers in Australia developed rudimentary ways to use heat to eliminate insects. Today, modern technology is now being applied to the same idea, scaled up for commercial use.
Rentokil’s Entotherm, for example, is a new solution that eradicates bed bugs and cockroaches. Rather than using sprays, which often don’t penetrate the hard outer shell, the heat delivered by the Entotherm system kills insects from the inside through dehydration and damage to essential physiological processes. This method avoids any risk of the insects developing resilience to spray chemicals and passing on resistant genes to future offspring.
Another benefit is that the heat effectively kills all the life stages of insects – egg, larva, pupa and adult – without needing to go higher than 56-60 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are high enough to eliminate pests rapidly without causing any structural damage to buildings or objects.
New advances in biopesticides
It’s not just hardware and data that is driving non-toxic innovation. Rentokil’s Global Research and Development Centre is also currently developing new organic-compound solutions that can repel or destroy pests. One solution we are currently developing, for example, uses fungal spores that attach to the external body surface of cockroaches. The spores then germinate and bore through the outer shell to reach the insects’ body cavity, where they multiply and eventually kill the insect.
Solutions like these have zero mammalian toxicity, with only low volumes needed. Another significant benefit is that unlike chemicals, pests cannot become resistant to the spores. This means that we’re able to get closer to solving a long-standing problem with how insect pests learn to adapt to chemicals and pass on resistant genes. It’s a clear illustration that many of the innovative, chemical-free solutions being developed today combine higher levels of efficacy with reduced environmental impact.
The future of non-tox innovation
Looking into the future, possibilities abound. What would happen if we could communicate with pests like mice, rather than just monitor them? This is something we are currently experimenting with at Rentokil using ultrasound technology. It is an idea borne out of frustration with the fact that current ways of monitoring mice (e.g. connected traps, or fluorescent gels) only pick up activity when the mouse interacts with the solution and activates it. If the mouse is merely nearby, then no pest activity will be recorded.
We’re currently developing a solution to this problem that allows us to listen to mice by picking up the high frequencies they emit – higher than the upper audible limit of human hearing. As we continue to develop and analyse the potential of this solution, we will also be exploring the possibility of sending messages back to mice – to repel them from the area.
Communicating with mice may sound like science fiction for now. But how often does today’s science fiction become tomorrow’s norm? What we can be sure of is that the need and demand for non-tox pest control is only going to increase – driven forward inexorably by rising consumer demand and increasing regulation. We can also be certain that we will be there, continually evolving innovations will help to effectively meet those demands with safer, greener solutions for pest control.
Discover more about current and future innovation for non-tox pest control by downloading our whitepaper, The changing face of pest control: Safer, greener, cleaner?