Is China buried under waste? The ever-growing population produces more waste than the rubbish dumps can process. To help with the processing of kitchen waste, cockroaches are now increasingly used.
In Jinan, a city in the eastern province of Shandong, there is a facility of the Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co. A billion cockroaches eat about 50 tons of waste every day. They are given the food remnants via pipes that lead to their cells. Shandong Qiaobin wants to start three similar plantations next year, in order to process a total of one third of the kitchen waste from Jinan, a city of seven million people.
“Cockroaches are a biotechnological approach to the transformation, and processing of kitchen waste,” says Liu Yusheng, director of the Shandong Insect Industry Association. And also, the dead cockroaches are ‘recycled’: they are transformed into a protein-rich food source for pigs and other livestock. Other factories in China also grow cockroaches to make animal feed.
Meanwhile the dirty beetle-like creatures also found their way to Chinese medicine. A breeding centre in Xichang, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, produces a “special drink” that is entirely made from cockroaches. At the end of their life, when they are about six months old, the insects are steamed, washed and dried before they go to a tank where the nutrients are extracted from them.
More than 40 million patients who suffer from digestive, respiratory and other problems would be cured by the so-called miracle remedy. The centre would also supply the drug to as many as 4000 hospitals in China. According to Chinese medical journals, the drink can also aid in the repair of damaged tissue or in the treatment of burns or stomach inflammations.
“Our drugs have been used in hospitals for many years and have a huge number of demands,” says Han Yijun, a representative of the Gooddoctor Pharmaceutical Group in Beijing who sells cockroach-based medicines. “They all know that it is made from cockroaches. It is a disgusting insect, but there are almost no medicines in the racks with the same effect.”
Researchers are now also looking at how cockroaches can be used for beauty masks, diet pills. And even treatments for hair loss.
But experts are also worried about the possible dangers. If the cockroaches ever escaped in such numbers, this would be a true “catastrophe” for the environment, says Professor Zhu Chaodong, head scientist evolutionary insect studies at the Chinese Science Academy. “Different protective measures are needed that must work well to prevent the accidental release.” Moreover, these insects can multiply quickly, if they are in the right environment and can quickly infect an entire neighbourhood.
“We have a canal filled with water and fish,” said Wen Jianguo, manager of Gooddoctor’s cockroach facility. “If the cockroaches escape, they will fall into the ditch and the fish will eat them all.”