by Emme Lee, AMS Worm Composting Coordinator
What is vermicomposting? Vermicomposting is the use of worms to break down organic waste into recycled nutrient sources for plants. It closes the energy loop in food production, reducing our food waste into a valuable product (vermicompost) that can then be used in gardens for food production.
Last summer, we bought a ‘Worm Wigwam’ bin, and set it up in the compost room of the SUB. It’s been in operation ever since with a starting amount of 10lbs (or roughly 10 000) red wiggler worms. These guys are ideal for vermicomposting food waste because they eat a lot! If you’re familiar with the SUB, you’ll know that this building produces a lot of food, and a lot of food waste too. During a Waste Audit of the SUB in 2009, it was found that ~40% of the waste that ends up going to Vancouver Landfill was food waste, perfectly compostable, organic matter – food for worms, and other decomposition organisms!! Why drive 30 km to Delta, and pay tipping fees to the City of Vancouver to dispose of perfectly good food waste when we can feed it to worms in the SUB?
Main reasons for vermicomposting at the SUB:
- Waste reduction – A large component of food is actually water. When food waste is composted, waste is reduced by a considerable amount (~60%)
- Waste diversion – By separating out the food waste and sending it to the worm bin, a lot less waste ends up in the Vancouver Landfill
- Reduced energy – On-site worm composting will reduce the requirement for transportation of waste (think of those rising fuel costs), and will reduce worker hours spent driving
- Reduced Greenhouse Gases – The decomposition of organic (food) waste in landfills produces greenhouse gas (primarily methane) which contributes to climate change. Also, remember all those driving hours spent going back and forth to the Landfill?
- Creates compost – Vermicompost is considered the best type of compost for improving soil quality which is important in growing healthier plants
- Reduced fertilizers – By recycling nutrients from food waste, and improving soil quality through the production of vermicompost, dependence on chemical fertilizers will be significantly reduced. Keep in mind that fertilizer production requires the use of fossil fuels, and needs to be transported to the consumer. Vermicompost is more effective than fertilizer when it comes to nutrient retention in the soil, and there are numerous benefits to the soil/plant ecosystem when compost is used (none of which can be replicated by fertilizers).
- Reduced costs overall – Vermicomposting is less expensive than other methods of waste management. This is arguable, and context-specific, but I crunched some numbers and found that vermicomposting at the SUB to be cost-comparative with the least expensive method of waste management available to UBC. Also remember that scale-up of the current worm bin project could lead to a significant increase in worm and compost production. This stuff is valuable (ask any farmer or gardener), and a cost-recovery, or even profit-making venture could be a future project for some lucky students!