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Reducing Food Waste By Feeding Scraps To Pigs

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Food waste is a huge global problem. About a third of the food produced globally for human consumption, approximately 1.3 billion tons each year, is wasted or lost, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Food losses in industrialized countries add up to roughly $680 billion, with $310 billion in losses in developing countries. Produce (fruits and vegetables plus roots and tubers) have the highest rates of waste.

Taiwan has a simple solution to reduce food waste: Feed it to livestock. The Guardian reports that Taiwan is “one of a handful of countries that have institutionalized the practice” of feeding food scraps to livestock. About two-third’s of the country’s food waste is fed to its 5.5 million pigs. Pigs are Taiwan’s biggest source of meat.

“We realized there was a lot of kitchen waste and that if we put it in incinerators it would hamper incineration because it’s wet,” Chiang Tsu-nong, deputy inspector general with the government’s Bureau of Environmental Inspection, told the Guardian. “And Taiwan’s land is limited, so if you build a landfill or an incinerator people will protest.”

Food waste to livestock in the EU and U.S.


Feeding food waste to pigs in the EU could save 1.8 million hectares of global agricultural land, an area about the size of Germany, a study released several months ago by the University of Cambridge found. Feeding wasted food to pigs would provide a use for the 100 million tons of food that is wasted in the EU every year. It would also decrease the costs European pig farmers face, in addition to decreasing the amount of land the EU pork industry needs by 21.5 percent. But there is a problem. In 2001, the EU banned the practice after the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that same year.

Contrast the EU’s ban with another Asian nation, Japan, that promotes the use of food waste as pig feed. In Japan, over 35 percent of food waste is used as livestock feed, and the label “eco-pork” is marketed as a premium product, according to the University of Cambridge study. South Korea also promotes food waste being fed to livestock and recycles 42.5 percent of its food waste as livestock feed.

“In many countries in East Asia, we have a working model for the safe use of food waste as pig feed,” said Erasmus zu Ermgassen, who led the University of Cambridge study. “It is a highly regulated and closely monitored system that recycles food waste and produces low-cost pig feed with a low environmental impact.”
Not everyone is content to just let a simple solution to reducing food waste in the EU fall by the wayside. The Pig Idea, a campaign by food waste expert Tristram Stuart and the Feeding the 5,000 team, in partnership with chef Thomasina Miers, promotes the use of food waste as pig feed and aims to overturn the EU ban.

Overturning the ban would not only reduce food waste, but also reduce costs to pig farmers. In the U.K., it might increase the amount of domestically-raised pigs. According to the campaign, although the amount of pigs in the U.K. decreased from 8.1 million in 1998 to 4.8 million in 2007, Brits are still eating the same amount of pork. However, about 60 percent of pork is now imported, coming mainly from “intensive farms” in Denmark and the Netherlands. The miles it takes to bring pork from those two countries means increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Some food manufacturers are already finding ways around the EU ban. The Pig Idea cites an example of a food manufacturer in England that saved the equivalent of $142,560 a year after it started selling bread waste as livestock feed rather than pay an anaerobic digestion plant $114 a ton to get rid of it.

In the U.S., there is no federal law regulating food waste as livestock feed. However, some states have banned the practice. As a University of Florida report states, the practice of feeding food waste to pigs used to be common in the U.S. but “has declined in recent years because of stricter federal, state, and local laws regulating animal health, transportation, and the feed usage of food waste.”

Despite the decline in the practice of feeding food waste to pigs, there are examples of food waste being sold to pig farms in the U.S. Rutgers University in New Jersey, which has the third largest student dining operation in the U.S., is one of those examples. Since the 1960s, the school has sold food scraps, collected by dining staff, to a farm less than 15 miles away. The farm charges $30 per ton of food scraps to haul them away, which is less than the approximately $60 it would cost Rutgers to haul a ton of trash to a landfill. Rutgers saved over $100,000 by avoiding hauling costs in 2007 alone.

Photo: Flickr/Nick Saltmarsh

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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