Cockroaches fed with kitchen waste at the facility of Shandong Qiaobin Agriculture Technology
China is leading the growth of a new industry, the cockroach farming. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Suen)

China is pursuing a unique way to address its growing waste problem: have billions of specially grown and harvested cockroaches eat them.

When these cockroaches die, they are then turned to food for the country's livestock. The country has also been conducting research on how to use cockroach extracts in beauty products, diet pills, and hair loss treatments.

In April 2018, an international team of scientists publishes research on the nutritional value of cockroaches. Their study found that a protein crystal located in the midgut of the insects is four times more nutritious as cow's milk. And while developments in China are geared towards more the environmental use for the insects, the international team of scientists is thinking ahead: the cockroach milk could feed populations especially that the insects reproduced in numbers.

Now, having farms especially designated in growing billions of cockroaches is becoming a new form of investments.

In Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, billions of cockroaches are feasting on 50 tons of kitchen waste daily. In context, the cockroaches are eating volumes of garbage that are as heavy as seven adult elephants, Reuters noted.

The garbage is delivered at the plan managed by Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co. The plant was constructed with pipes where cockroaches are delivered food in their respective cells. The system proved to be effective as Shandong Qiaobin plans to build three additional cockroach facilities.

China's cockroach business could be geared up to become a bigger industry in the future for a number of reasons. For instance, the country has already banned using food waste as food for pigs amid suspicion that such practice caused the deadly African swine fever.

The biggest cockroach facility in the country is found in the city of Xichang, in southwestern Sichuan province. Here, a company called Gooddoctor is raising as many as six billion cockroaches. The company believed the insects are an effective treatment for oral and peptic ulcers, skin wounds, and stomach cancer, Wen Jianguo, manager of the facility, told Reuters. Researchers at the facility are also looking into the possibility that the insects healing abilities could also be utilized in beauty and hair-loss treatments, as well as in making diet pills.

The facility, producing 28,000 adult cockroaches per square foot, could raise and manage such because it is run by a "smart manufacturing" system powered by artificial intelligence, the South China Morning Post reported in April.

The efficiency of the facility inspired Li Bingcai who told Reuters that he invested $143,000 in cockroaches. He plans to sell them to pig growers, fisheries and drug companies. Li now owns two farms with one housing as many as 3.4 million cockroaches. He said he plans to set up 20 cockroaches in the future.