The world has a big trash problem. Growing urban populations make more waste than landfills can handle. One type of trash – food waste – produces a lot of methane, a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon monoxide (CO). Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which fuels global warming. Some food waste had been used as pig feed, but the practice was banned after several outbreaks of African swine fever.
Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Company, in Jinan, China, has an answer to the overflow. The company's plant houses a billion cockroaches that eat their way through 50 tons (45 metric tons) of food scraps a day, a daily mountain of garbage otherwise headed for the landfill.
The food waste is collected from restaurants, and any plastic, glass or metal is removed. The remainder is blended into mush and piped into the building. Inside, roaches thrive in the warm, humid and dark environment and on a never-ending garbage buffet.
Cockroaches happily make more cockroaches in this optimal environment – a truly renewable resource powered by table scraps. The bugs are also a good protein sources for pigs and other livestock, so when roaches "buy the farm," they're ground into food for farm animals. The company plans to open three new plants in 2019 with the goal of handling a third of Jinan's food waste.
Other cockroach farms are popping up around the country. The biggest is pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor, which breeds 6 billion adult roaches a year – the largest colony of cockroaches ever. Crushed roaches are the main ingredient in the company's popular healing potion sold to more than 4,000 hospitals nationwide.
Good for waste disposal, good for business, but what if all those roaches somehow got out? In 2013, at least a million escaped when a farm was vandalized. Authorities from the local board of health performed a large-scale disinfection while urging residents to stay calm. For many, easier said than done.