Bug business: Cockroaches corralled by the millions in China to crunch waste

Cockroaches are seen among cardboards at a farm operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor in Xichang, Sichuan province, China August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

By Thomas Suen and Ryan Woo

JINAN, China (Reuters) – In the near pitch-dark, you can hear them before you see them – millions of cockroaches scuttling and fluttering across stacks of wooden boards as they devour food scraps by the tonne in a novel form of urban waste disposal.

The air is warm and humid – just as cockroaches like it – to ensure the colonies keep their health and voracious appetites.

Expanding Chinese cities are generating more food waste than they can accommodate in landfills, and cockroaches could be a way to get rid of hills of food scraps, providing nutritious food for livestock when the bugs eventually die and, some say, cures for stomach illness and beauty treatments.

On the outskirts of Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, a billion cockroaches are being fed with 50 tonnes of kitchen waste a day – the equivalent in weight to seven adult elephants.

The waste arrives before daybreak at the plant run by Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co, where it is fed through pipes to cockroaches in their cells.

Shandong Qiaobin plans to set up three more such plants next year, aiming to process a third of the kitchen waste produced by Jinan, home to about seven million people.

A nationwide ban on using food waste as pig feed due to African swine fever outbreaks is also spurring the growth of the cockroach industry.

“Cockroaches are a bio-technological pathway for the converting and processing of kitchen waste,” said Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association.

Cockroaches are also a good source of protein for pigs and other livestock. “It’s like turning trash into resources,” said Shandong Qiaobin chairwoman Li Hongyi.

Workers sort kitchen waste to feed cockroaches at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan, Shandong province, China October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

Workers sort kitchen waste to feed cockroaches at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan, Shandong province, China October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen


In a remote village in Sichuan, Li Bingcai, 47, has similar ideas.

Li, formerly a mobile phone vendor, has invested a million yuan ($146,300) in cockroaches, which he sells to pig farms and fisheries as feed and to drug companies as medicinal ingredients.

His farm now has 3.4 million cockroaches.

“People think it’s strange that I do this kind of business,” Li said. “It has great economic value, and my goal is to lead other villagers to prosperity if they follow my lead.”

His village has two farms. Li’s goal is to create 20.

Elsewhere in Sichuan, a company called Gooddoctor is rearing six billion cockroaches.

“The essence of cockroach is good for curing oral and peptic ulcers, skin wounds and even stomach cancer,” said Wen Jianguo, manager of Gooddoctor’s cockroach facility.

Researchers are also looking into using cockroach extract in beauty masks, diet pills and even hair-loss treatments.

At Gooddoctor, when cockroaches reach the end of their lifespan of about six months, they are blasted by steam, washed and dried, before being sent to a huge nutrient extraction tank.

Asked about the chance of the cockroaches escaping, Wen said that would be worthy of a disaster movie but that he has taken precautions.

“We have a moat filled with water and fish,” he said. “If the cockroaches escape, they will fall into the moat and the fish will eat them all.”

(Reporting by Thomas Suen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Global standard to measure food waste aims to put more on plates

Vegetables pulled out from waste bins of an organic supermarket are pictured in Berlin

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new global standard for measuring food loss and waste will help countries and companies step up efforts to store, transport and consume food more efficiently, its backers said on Monday.

Around one third of all food, by weight, is spoiled or thrown away worldwide as it moves from where it is produced to where it is eaten, costing globally up to $940 billion per year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated.

The standard is the first set of international definitions and reporting requirements for businesses, governments and other organizations to measure and manage food loss and waste, with the aim of reducing it, its creators said.

The effort hopes to channel more food to the roughly 800 million people who are undernourished around the world, and cut emissions from the production of uneaten food, which account for about 8 percent of the total contributing to climate change.

“There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, which has led work on the standard.

“Now we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources, and ensure more people get the food they need,” he added in a statement.

Often companies, countries or cities lack information about how much, why and where food is removed from the supply chain. Definitions of food loss and waste also vary widely, making comparisons hard, according to a document on the new standard.

“It is challenging to manage what you do not measure,” it noted.

Other organizations that developed the “Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard” include the Consumer Goods Forum, the FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.


Pascal Gréverath, Nestlé’s vice president for environmental sustainability, said the food giant had tested the standard to measure fresh milk loss in its supply chain in Pakistan, where it procures milk from over 100,000 farmers.

Thanks to refrigerated tanks in villages and cooling systems used during transportation, wastage was found to be just 1.4 percent, the new tool showed, compared with a national average of more than 15 percent.

“Since we are in direct contact with many farmers, we have many opportunities to use (the standard) to better assess the possible options to further reduce loss and waste,” Gréverath told reporters. “This we do also together with local authorities, so there are ways we can promote the protocol.”

Robert van Otterdijk, an agro-industry officer with the FAO, said his agency would introduce the standard in its work in the developing world, and see how it could be implemented to produce better data on food loss and waste.

In low-income countries, food “loss” is the bigger problem, meaning food spoiled early in the value chain during harvest or in storage, transport and processing. But in richer nations, food “waste” thrown away by shops and consumers is worse.

The backers of the standard, launched at the Global Green Growth Forum in Copenhagen, hope governments will adopt it to measure progress under the new Sustainable Development Goals. Those call for food waste to be cut in half by 2030, and for food losses to be reduced by that date.

“The logic goes that there will be a convergence in thinking and reporting… as the complexities are teased out,” said James Lomax, a food systems program officer with UNEP.

The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, has adopted a resolution urging its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the new standard.

Mark Little, head of food waste reduction at UK-based supermarket chain Tesco, said that in Britain only a small amount of food waste occurs at the retail level, but that doesn’t mean Tesco is passing the buck.

“We have a shared responsibility for that waste,” he said. “We feel that the solution… lies in working in partnership with our farmers, our manufacturers and helping customers to reduce food waste in their own homes, as well as tackling the issue in our own operations.”

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)