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Close the Loop

Humans aren't the only ones who need to eat. Nutrients can be used for other organisms.

Photo of Thomas Chen
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From a young age I was taught not to waste food, as one of the biggest travesties.  I was told a traditional Chinese poem where the them was "every grain of rice is a drop of sweat of a farmer".  Later I would see the eye opening statistics of food waste in Tristram Stuart's TedTalk "The Global Food Waste Scandal" (  

So what can we do?  How can we find a convenient and useful alternative to throwing food away?  We can follow Mr. Stuart's advice and cook the food and feed it to pigs.  This would reduce the amount of crops needed to make livestock feed, namely highly subsidized corn, as well as reduce the need for injections for the animals in order for them to digest the corn.  This could potentially be a lower cost to feed animals and a potential to lower the price of pork.  Win/win.

Another alternative is being done by Compost Now ( which is to charge individuals a monthly fee to pick up buckets of organic wastes.  As the consumer returns a set amount of organic weight back, they are entitled to an equivalent bucket of nutrient rich compost to grow something else.  

I think the most cost effective place to start is in businesses.  Groceries and restaurants have exorbitant food wastes and a fairly regular supply.  If the supply trucks that bring inventory to the businesses would no longer leave empty and bring back food wastes to be re-purposed, then a slight increase in transportation cost but a potential savings in trash can be accomplished.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I would like to work with a local grocery store and a local pig farm to see if there can be a cost effective and mutually beneficial solution to animal feed and ugly produce. Have the farmer build a system that can cook large scale food returns to feed livestock. Have the grocery store owner separate organic scrap to be returned on the supply truck. And have the supply truck return the organic scrap to the farm.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

I would like to have some connections in both the farming industry, transportation industry, and grocer businesses to see if the logistics and financials will work.

Tell us about your work experience:

I work in design and manufacturing of energy efficiency equipment for data centers. I have an engineering and business background and I would love to be an eventual entrepreneur. My passion is in efficiency and waste reduction and food waste is my number one target. If I cannot be the one to complete this task, I would be happy to help the leader accomplish this goal in any way I can.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months


Join the conversation:

Photo of Karen Luyckx

Hi Thomas, Karen from the Pig Idea (founded by Tristram) here. It would be great to explore potential collaboration. Where are you based, and where do you think you might like to set up the waste to pig feed initiative? Also wanted to point you to the Harvard guide (see resource link on the Pig Idea post), which aside from the legal guidance has some great examples of where similar initiatives are already happening. I think what we need now is to get the public, policy makers and farmers behind it, so that feeding surplus food to pigs becomes a widespread practice.

Photo of Thomas Chen

Hi Karen.  Great to hear from you.  I live in Raleigh and a couple hours away from Tar Heels, NC, where I believe the Smithfield's slaughterhouse is still up and running.  I'll check out the articles and links and I'm happy to help out in any way I can.

Photo of Karen Luyckx

Hi Thomas, 
Just checked the Harvard guide and glad to see that the feeding of all wholesome and treated surplus food is allowed in North Carolina, so there is good potential. As fun and celebratory awareness raising is a central component of our idea, we're interested in exploring city locations to keep a small number of pigs and hold an "eco-pork" feast. Let us know if you have any thoughts. 

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