U.K. to Investigate Environmental Impact of Equine Carcass Disposal

As with all large animals, disposal of horse carcasses in an environmentally safe manner requires planning and resources.

In June 2008 the USDA held a national forum to discuss the issue of the unwanted horse (read more). Unwanted horses might be sick, injured, old, unmanageable or dangerous. They might be horses the owner is no longer economically able to care for or no longer meet the owner's expectations. Owners might try to find a new home for the animal. This might not be an option, however, and euthanasia might be the chosen method of disposal. In addition to the animals owners euthanize, owners must also handle animals that die naturally from disease or old age.

Each year, more than 200,000 equine carcasses must be disposed of in the United States. The question becomes how to dispose of the carcasses?

Research at the University of Kentucky's Von Allmen Center for Green Marketing will first consider the six predominant methods currently available for disposing of livestock carcasses: incineration, burial, rendering, landfill, composting and alkaline hydrolysis. Each method considered presents a different level of environmental impact. If the animal is contaminated with a disease which may infect other animals or humans, that carcass poses serious concerns for minimizing the risk of contamination.

The problem of carcass disposal is not limited only to equines--all commercial animal productions must deal with the decision of how they will dispose of carcasses. Human burials also have an enormous impact on the environment. Each year in the United States, approximately 30 million board feet of hardwoods (much of which is sourced from rainforests), 104,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, and 1.636 million tons of reinforced concrete are buried in the 2.2 million acres occupied by cemeteries. Additionally, 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid (primarily formaldehyde, which is a highly toxic substance) are used to prepare bodies for burial. Binders, glues, stains, and varnishes are used to produce and finish caskets, all of which are placed permanently into the ground. These materials are detrimental to the environment, leaching dangerous chemicals into the soil and water.

The problem of how to dispose of potentially harmful materials extends far beyond the area of dealing with living creatures at the end of their lives. The average household generates 100 pounds of chemical waste every year, including fertilizers and pesticides, flammables, paint, old batteries, light bulbs and aerosols. These chemicals can have a devastating impact on the environment, poisoning wildlife and polluting the soil so plant life cannot grow.

By examining the problem of equine carcass disposal, this research will provide insight into how marketers can deal with the problem of lessening the impact of harmful materials on the environment by exploring how more environmentally sound disposal methods can be encouraged.--Emily Plant

This research is under way and will be a complete draft by December. Plant is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, Marketing Department. She is a member of the Equine Initiative student working group and active in Equine Initiative activities.

The author acknowledges the support of University of Kentucky's Von Allmen Center for Green Marketing. For more information on the center, visit gattongreen.uky.edu.

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