Before garbage disposals and Hefty trash bags; before street cleaners, incinerators, sanitation departments, and curb-side composting; we had pigs.
Pigs are the original recycle bins, turning food waste into food.
Throughout history, rural families fed food scraps to the household pig, and villagers saved theirs for the local hog farmer. Even a city like New York had herds of free-roaming, designated trash pigs that cleaned the streets through most of the 19th century.
Now we’re hearing a new call to bring back the pigs.
Trash pigs can keep food waste out of landfills.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, we toss nearly as much food as we eat. Food now takes up more space in landfills than paper or plastic, and the gases released as food decomposes account for 16% of the methane emissions in the U.S.
Pigs are contributing to global hunger.
Pigs are currently fed crops that are fit for humans like wheat, corn, and soy, while at the same time a billion people go hungry every day. The United Nations estimates that by substituting food waste for just one-third of the grain in livestock feed, we would free up enough food to completely eliminate hunger on the planet.
Trash to swill to feed is a winning proposition on all sides.
Laws vary from state to state, but federal regulations require that recycled food discards containing meat or other animal products be boiled to prevent swine flu and other food-borne illnesses. Since restaurants, supermarkets, and households all currently pay for waste disposal, we all benefit when processors take it off our hands for free. After its heat treatment, the processor makes a profit selling the clean waste to farmers, who are happy to pay less than they would for commercial feed. The meat itself is as safe and palatable as grain-fed, and in countries like Japan and Korea where similar systems are already in place, it’s even marketed at a premium as eco-pork, in recognition of the waste and greenhouse gas emissions it avoids.
There are already success stories in this country.
Rutgers University, with the third largest student dining operation in the country, has been diverting more than a ton of cafeteria discards a day to local farms for 15 years. Rhode Island is reviving its ambitious food-scrap collection program involving in-ground bins installed along driveways where local farmers make weekly curbside pickups. Even the MGM Grand Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip—no stranger to waste and excess—feeds 3,000 North Las Vegas hogs with the overflow of crab legs and prime rib from its casino buffet.
The United Nations is leading a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of food waste issues and facilitating cooperation across society’s producing and consuming sectors. Learn about why we create so much waste, why it matters for the planet, and what you can do to combat it at the UN-sponsored website: Think.Eat.Save.