The Pig Poop Problem

Written by Kyra GauthierDickey, ESLLC 2017-2018

The states North Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana all have something in common: they all are top producers of pork in the US. In order to produce all that pork, they obviously have to raise a huge number of hogs. Those hogs do a whole lot of pooping. So what do these farms do to dispose of the profuse amount of waste produced?

Until fairly recently, the way hogs were farmed was vastly different. They were raised in small numbers and roamed the fields, naturally fertilizing crops with their poop. This ended in the 1980s because of industry consolidation, and farmers who raised hogs were able to stay in the business by filling giant barns with thousands of hogs who spent their whole life inside. The world loves bacon, and they love it even more when it’s cheap. The farmers now had more poop than they could ever fertilize their crops with. So, hog lagoons were invented.

This is how hog poop is currently dealt with: collect and spray it. First, waste is flushed from the barns and emptied into open air lagoons. Once in the lagoons, the liquid turns a bright bubblegum pink due to bacterial colonization. Then, farmers spray their fields with the pink liquid as to keep the lagoons from overflowing. Unfortunately, hogs poop faster than fields can absorb the lagoon liquid.

In 1999, North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd caused many of the hog lagoons to flood and contaminate local water sources. Following Hurricane Floyd, many lagoons in areas of high risk of floods were forced to shut down and state laws regarding spraying were put in place in order to avoid water contamination. For example: spraying during rain showers or strong winds is forbidden. These laws are often seen broken by the corporations owning the hog farms. However, very little regulation happens in North Carolina so litigation rarely occurs. Water contamination is still rampant in places with high production rates of pork, and the current disposal system of hog poop is far from sustainable.

Sources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141028-hog-farms-waste-pollution-methane-north-carolina-environment/

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