JINAN, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- An entrepreneur in east China's Shandong Province has turned the cockroach, what many consider a pest, into an environmentally-friendly creature to deal with kitchen waste.
In Li Yanrong's 6,300-square-meter cockroach farm in Zhangqiu district of Jinan, the provincial capital, 1 billion cockroaches are consuming 50 tonnes of kitchen waste every day, which is about one-twelfth of the total daily amount of kitchen waste in a city with a population of 7 million.
Li said some locals are raising cockroaches to supply pharmaceutical plants that use them to make drugs. However, he wants to bank on the insect's potential for environmental protection.
The 55-year-old entrepreneur used to work for a pharmaceutical company. He got his inspiration from a cartoon clip he watched with his daughter. The clip showed that cockroaches can survive for 90 days without food and 40 days without water.
"Most kitchen waste in the city is being buried in landfills. I thought I could make use of the ravenous character of cockroaches to help deal with the waste," he said.
He conducted his first experiment in a fish tank in his living room. He found that cockroaches are not picky eaters and are fond of fermenting foods of all flavors.
Founding the business in 2011, Li has obtained six patents and submitted 36 patent applications for opening the cockroach farm. In his new factory, with automated ventilation, feeding and cleaning facilities, few workers can be seen.
Li said he raises American cockroaches, the largest of all common cockroach species with the longest life cycle. The cockroaches on his farm live an average of 300 days.
He said some people are worried about cockroaches accidentally escaping the farm.
"Multiple sealing measures have been taken. There are water curtains on every entrance," he said, adding that the fish he raises in his pond prey on the insect.
Li said cockroaches are rich in animal protein. He plans to add facilities to dry and grind the dead cockroaches into livestock feed.
According to statistics from the Jinan Food Quality Supervision and Testing Center under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, chickens fed with cockroach powder can survive without antibiotics, the fat content of their meat is lower than that of rabbit meat and their selenium content is 1.8 times higher than that of ordinary chickens.
Li said he feed his chickens with cockroach powder.
"The roasters are so strong that they even peck the dogs," he said.
Cockroaches were used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and its pharmaceutical potential is continuously being tapped with cockroach farms springing up across China.
Li's factory was visited in August 2017 by a group of experts led by Sun Jiulin, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
The experts gave the appraisal that the factory is green and efficient in making use of cockroaches for treating kitchen waste.
Li has plans to build another three farms and has started to explore the potential of using cockroaches to make diet pills and high protein cosmetics.