OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

The Pig Idea

The most efficient thing to do with food waste is feed it to pigs. Let them eat waste!

Photo of Daisy Blackhurst
4 4

Written by

For thousands of years pigs have been man’s perfect partner in consuming the waste that humans produce and converting it straight into calories i.e. pork. Today, supermarkets talk about composting food waste or turning it into electricity but by far the most efficient thing to do with food waste is to feed it directly to pigs.

Instead, we have a crazy system where pigs are being fed food that humans could otherwise eat, and much of this feed is soy, grown in the Amazonian basin where rainforest is being cut down at an alarming rate. 97 percent of global soybean meal is used for animal feed and Europe now imports 40 million tonnes of soymeal a year. The amount of land needed to produce soy for the European market since the ban on meat and bone meal is roughly equal to the area of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest since that date!

The governments of other countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and many states in the USA recognise that the best way of turning food waste into a valuable resource is to feed it to livestock. Instead of banning the practice, the Japanese government support pig farmers who want to use food waste as feed. The resulting pork is sold at a premium as eco-pork on the same supermarket shelves from which the waste originated. In the UK, thousands of British pig farmers have gone out of business because of increases in the price of wheat, maize and soy – the principal ingredients of pig and chicken food – on the global market place where the farmers are competing with people who wish to buy these grains for their own consumption. If every country returned to the practice of recycling food waste for livestock feed it would increase global food security for the future.

The Pig Idea campaign was started in 2013 by food waste expert, award-winning author and environmental campaigner Tristram Stuart. Together with his 'Feeding the 5000' team and in partnership with top chef Thomasina Miers, on 21st November 2013, they gathered thousands of Londoners in Trafalgar Square for the Pig Idea Feast.

Seven of London's best restaurants served over 5,000 portions of free food, using pork that had been reared by the campaign at Stepney City Farm on a diet of food that would otherwise have been wasted. 'Hambassadors' from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to Sara Cox joined Thomasina to wow the audience with inspiring pork-based cooking demos - from trotters to tongue. The aim was to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the feeding of crops to pigs, and gather support for The Pig Idea campaign which aims to lift the EU ban on feeding catering waste to pigs and establish a robust legal framework for its safe processing and use. The campaign also promotes the use of already legally permissible food waste as pig feed – for example, bread, dairy, fruit and vegetables that are unfit for human consumption. In achieving these objectives, the following long-term goals will become a reality: liberate food supplies to help feed people; protect landscapes rich in biodiversity, such as the precious Amazon rainforest; reduce the costs of pig feed for British and EU farmers; and create jobs and revenue in the new eco-feed industry.

As well as this method of feeding pigs being safe and environmentally friendly, it produces a delicious end product. We know that we all need to reduce meat consumption drastically, and that the meat we do eat should come from animals that have been bred and reared under the highest welfare standards; it should also come from animals that have been fed in the most sustainable way, whether that's food waste-fed pork or pasture-fed beef.

Let them eat waste!

Image title

Image title

The Pig Idea is part of Feedback, the organisation Tristram Stuart founded in 2014 to expose the hidden causes of food waste throughout global supply chains and catalyze action to tackle the problem. Our other projects include Feeding the 5000, Gleaning Network, and Stop Dumping. Further info: 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Over 6000 individuals and companies have already signed the Pig Idea pledge: Feedback now wants to take The Pig Idea to the USA. We would love to hear your comments, stories and suggestions!

Tell us about your work experience:

I joined Feedback in Sep 2015. Former roles include strategy and policy for the gov.'s Global Food Security Programme, and Sustainability Executive for the Food & Drink Federation.

This post emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Daisy Blackhurt ! Thank you for your post. How receptive have supermarkets been to the project? Have they shown any interest in supplying vegetables, for example?

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great questions Kate:) Daisy, you might also like to check out these two like-minded posts: VALUE CREATION FROM FOOD WASTE and Waste in Animal Produce 

Photo of Daisy Blackhurst

Hi Kate! Great questions. Supermarkets in the UK are responding positively, especially with regard to supplying bakery surplus. See this case study on UK supermarket giant Tesco working with Sugarrich feed producers:

As long as the diversion of surplus food to anaerobic digestion (biogas) is not over-subsidised, there is a business case for supermarkets and manufacturers to send surplus to animal feed, on top of the greater environmental benefits. While we’re working hard at promoting this, a far bigger challenge, with far bigger environmental benefits, is using kitchen and catering left-overs in pig feed. We propose to do this by setting up sophisticated industrial collection and waste treatment systems to ensure the resulting feed is nutritious and safe, as is already done in Japan.

Best wishes, Daisy

Photo of Daisy Blackhurst

Hi Shane. Thanks for those interesting links! We love the Nigerian idea to put together a user guide for recycling food waste for feeding goats. With goats being ruminants (and so vegetarians), they will need to think on how to segregate plant based food waste from meat waste. Pigs are non-ruminant and have digestive systems and nutritional needs very similar to humans, that is why they are such super waste food recyclers, and why we focus on pigs in our work.

We also agree that the lifestyle changes proposed by George Richardson are very important. The Pig Idea is part of a great network of British organisations called exploring in detail how to promote lifestyle changes to significantly reduce meat consumption, from things to school meals, veggie cookery workshops to how to address the social pressures on men to eat meat. We think the Pig Idea complements all this work, so that the little meat that is eaten comes from waste-fed pigs with high welfare standards, and little need for additional resources. 

All the best, Daisy