Millions of animals are killed each year in the United States, creating a great deal of waste from what is not consumed by humans. For a long time, meat producers diverted those leftover parts to industries that created cosmetics, soap, pet food or animal feed. More recently, however, companies are finding ways to fuel sustainable industries — from plastics made from feather protein to diesel fuel made from fat to organic fertilizer made from poultry litter.

Tyson Foods is developing plastics, adhesives and non-woven materials from the keratin protein found in feathers. The company believes that disposable diapers or hospital gowns might one day be created using the material. They've also recently joined a partnership to create a renewable fuels plant in Baton Rouge that will convert beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat and cooking grease into synthetic diesel fuel.

Another meat producer, Perdue Farms, collects poultry litter — a blend of manure and wood shavings — and converts it into organic fertilizer pellets to be sold to wholesalers.

Granted, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of new products created from animal parts. PETA's Kathy Guillermo, vice president of laboratory investigations, told USA TODAY that using animal products in this way could encourage the spread of disease. "The last thing we need in this country is another use for the bodies of animals," she said.


Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Leftover animal parts fuel new products
From feathers to animal fat, meat producers discover new ways to divert waste from landfills.