Bug Business – Cockroaches Corralled by The Millions in China to Crunch Waste

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Staff member shows cockroaches in shelves to the camera at a farm operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor in Xichang
A staff member shows cockroaches in shelves to the camera at a farm operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor in Xichang, Sichuan province, China August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen
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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.

 

Children of cockroach farm owner Li Bingcai eat fried cockroaches at his farm in a village in Changning
Children of cockroach farm owner Li Bingcai eat fried cockroaches at his farm in a village in Changning county, Sichuan province, China August 11, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

 

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.

 

Workers sort kitchen waste at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan
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

 

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.

 

Workers sort kitchen waste at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan
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

 

“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.

 

“ESSENCE OF COCKROACH”

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

Li, formerly a mobile phone vendor, has invested a million yuan (114,307.45 pounds) in cockroaches, which he sells to pig farms and fisheries as feed and to drug companies as medicinal ingredients.

 

Cockroaches fed with kitchen waste are seen in a cell at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan
Cockroaches fed with kitchen waste are seen in a cell at a waste processing facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology on the outskirts of Jinan, Shandong province, China October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

 

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.

 

Li Bingcai shows cockroaches at his farm to the camera in a village in Changning
Li Bingcai shows cockroaches at his farm to the camera in a village in Changning county, Sichuan province, China August 11, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

 

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.

 

Staff member walks among tanks that extract essence from cockroaches at a facility operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor in Xichang
A staff member walks among tanks that extract essence from cockroaches at a facility operated by pharmaceutical company Gooddoctor in Xichang, Sichuan province, China August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Suen

 

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.

 

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

 

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)

 

More photos ahead …

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