In a food waste recycling plant in Zhangqiu district in Jinan, East China’s Shandong Province, piles of food waste, freshly delivered here from local restaurants and canteens, are waiting to be recycled – by cockroaches.
After being ground, the food is pumped into glass containers in the plant through a pipe, then devoured by millions of cockroaches.
For most people, cockroaches are pests that can leave an offensive odor, transmit viruses on their body surfaces and taint food. But Li Yanrong, a technician-turned entrepreneur from Jinan, has successfully turned them into professional recyclers after spending years studying the notorious insect.
At the recycling plant, which doubles as a cockroach farm, the roaches feed on 15 tons of food waste every day, more than a third of all food waste generated from Zhangqiu’s restaurants and canteens. Previously, most of it would have ended up in landfills, causing environmental problems for the areas where they were buried.
Now, the roaches can not only decompose the waste leaving little residue, but also turn it into something useful. After the cockroaches die, their bodies, known to have high protein and nitrogen levels, will be made into cockroach powder to be used as a protein source for animal feed.
Next to the containers is an incubator, a warm and humid environment where young cockroach nymphs are bred. The 54-year-old said the number of cockroaches are growing exponentially, thanks to their resilience and fast-breeding capabilities.
In 2014, there were only 400 kilograms of cockroaches in the plant. In 2015, the number surged to four tons, and this year, it’s projected that over 3,000 tons of cockroaches will be produced here.