-- "All the fertile areas of this planet have at least once passed through the bodies of earthworms." -- Charles Darwin
What is Vermicompost?
Vermicompost is an all natural method for recycling nutrients in food
waste. The method employs soil bedding and red worms, and over time,
the worms will turn food into compost.
Benefits of worm composting:
• provides garden with rich organic fertilizer
• natural recycling method
restore soil- the soil in verimcomposts have five times more nitrogen,
seven times more phosphorus, and 11 times more potassium than ordinary
soil (Luther study)
• Composting in general is a good idea- getting food out of landfills and recylced into garden materials.
Is it right for Macalester?
Essentially, vermicomposting is a small-scale form of composting that
is ideal for those who want to compost, but have a limited amount of
space. This is certainly the case for Macalester College, which has an
environmentally aware student body who want to practice more
sustainable habits, but doesn’t have the luxury of space to realize all
of their big environmental ideas. This study will analyze different
vermicompost initiatives that have been taken at other colleges, and
access the model that would best ‘fit’ at Macalester.
II. History (and future) at Macalester:
The school has hired Fred
Rizynakski, a landscape architect from Barr Engineering Company, to
help design a new landscape management for the college. It is our hope
that our group’s contributions will be taken into serious consideration
when decisions are being made about the future changes to our campus.
As part of my group’s Landscape Management Plan for Macalester College,
I will analyze the pros and cons of introducing a vermicompost system
as a part of the compost initiative here. Before going any further, I
would like to outline the definition of Vermicomposting I will use
throughout the paper:
Many colleges and universities
around the world have implemented vermicompost systems as a compost
method on campus within the last few decades. Currently, Macalester
does not have a campus wide vermicompost system, but rather has had a
few isolated productions. In the past, vermicompost systems have been
set up in the Eco-house, as well as other Language and culture
Nowhere in the 2005 Campus
Analysis Report of 2005 is there mention of the potential of
vermicompost initiatives on campus, which I think is a big mistake. I
say it is a mistake not because I am convinced vermicompost is right
for Macalester, but because it was not taken into consideration at all.
Initiatives like vermicompost need to be assessed regardless of the
likelihood of implementation. As we have learned about in class
semester, I believe a precautionary principle must be utilized towards
the unknown: I like the example that we wouldn’t want to let a species
we known little about go extinct, on the reasoning that it may hold the
cure to a disease, or be an important food source in the future. This
is why I conducted a case study analysis of different campus
vermicompost initiatives, so before making a campus wide decision to
exclude the innovation, we have a fair and balanced assessment of its
implications for Macalester. This analysis will hopefully aid me in
deciding whether vermicomposting is suitable for Macalester,
cost-efficient, and easy enough to implement.
III. Case Studies:
Instead of issuing a full literature review on the subject, I instead
thought it would be much more practical to issue a case study analysis
of campus’s that have already implemented some form of vermicompost,
and analyze a. the transferability of the project to a campus like
Macalester, b. the pros and cons, in context to Macalester, of the
project, and c. the likelihood it would “fit” into future plans. By
using case studies, I think I can achieve a more influential argument,
as well as provide a much more practical and tangible guide for a
committee to reference. A lot of decisions at Macalester College are
based of other campus’s current models, so I thought it would be
important to include concrete, real life examples.
1. Eco-house: the status quo
- Currently uses a vermicompost bin to compost food scraps.
- Use a stacking tray-style worm bin called ‘The Worm Factory”
- Use an indoor bin because of the cold Minnesota
climate. Indoor bin has an ‘upward migration system’, allowing worms to
move upwards as they eat, leaving the bottom trays with the finished
compost product. This allows for little maintenance and ‘spoiling’ of
- Produces little odor
- Say “taking a trip to the basement once or twice a
week to visit your ‘worm friends’ can be a pleasant and even exciting
- Also has a spigot that allows for water drainage
for "worm tea," which can be used to fertilize plants.
|The Worm Factory Unit
|Worms (unspecified amount)
2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI: large scale vermicompost
- Have a 6 by 8 foot unit equipped with automatic
heating and cooling to maintain temperature at 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A group of students, with the support of UM Waste
Management Services staff, researched vermicomposting options and
drafted a paper describing the potential for using this method on
- The red worms feast on 50 pounds of food waste three days a week.
- Need to weigh household food waste for one week (in
pounds), and then provide one square foot of surface area per pound.
- Correct ratio of worms to food waste should be: for
one pound per day of food waste, use two pounds of worms (roughly 2000).
- Since the inception of the food waste-composting
program in August 1997 through June 2006 almost 396 tons of food waste
has been composted.
Success of compost initiative, by year.
|Fiscal Year,|| Compost (tons)|
|FY 1998,|| 29.64|
|FY 1999,|| 22.30|
|FY 2000,|| 10.26|
|FY 2001,|| 34.52|
|FY 2002,|| 47.85|
|FY 2003,|| 64.96|
|FY 2004,|| 67.54|
|FY 2005,|| 66.09|
|FY 2006,|| 52.70|
|FY 2007,|| 33.69|
|FY 2008,|| 42.70|
|FY 2009,|| 66.60|
a. Pros and Cons. There are many pros to this system:
the machine is self-operating which means the project would require
little maintenance. However, this kind of machinery comes with a hefty
price, starting around $5,000. Also, at the University of Michigan,
they had to discontinue the program just two years after it began,
because of mechanical problems with the vermicompost machine.
b. Transferability/ Likelihood at Macalester: It is
highly unlikely this model would be transferable to Macalester’s campus
for many reasons. The first being space: The University of Michigan’s
campus is 3,177 acres compared to Macalester’s 53 acres, almost 60
times the size! Even though the bin is relatively small (would take up
48 square feet), space is very precious at Macalester: each faculty,
organization, and interest groups are fighting over every inch of the
campus, and how it should be used. The likelihood that a. the project
would be funded are b. the space would be allotted are extremely low.
Facilities would likely be hesitant to hosting a dumpster-like bin over
creating more green space, parking, or other pressing land-use issues. Synopsis: Highly unlikely.
3. Luther College, Decorah, IA: Worms in Residences
- Luther has brought vermicomposting to their residence halls.
- Students can throw away their organic wastes
(vegetable and fruit compost) and can also place old paper and receipts
in the compost bins.
- In order for this to work, would need to employ work-study "worm keepers"
- The red worms can eat at least their own weight in organic matter in a day.
- Raises awareness about environmental sustainability.
- Red worms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin.
- The temperature of the bedding should not be
allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees. This shouldn't be a
problem as long as the bins are placed in year round residence halls,
and there are student employees who take care of the compost sites.
a. Pros and Cons: This method is low cost, simple
model. However, you get what you put into it. This vermicompost
initiative would not have as large of a capacity as an industrial sized
vermicompost system would. Also, by taking it down to the residential
level, a lot of compost from large communal areas could be neglected in
the process. One of the main problems with scaling down the operation
is loss of accountability: if the responsibility and duties are left to
students, the job may not be done properly. If it was managed and
funded by facilities, there would be more incentive to keep the process
b. Transferability/Likelihood at Macalester: This
initiative is one of the most likely of the case studies to be applied
at Macalester, and in fact, already has to some extent in the
Eco-house. This should definitely be considered at Macalester,
especially when the next residence hall (probably Dupre) is renovated
or rebuilt. Synopsis: Highly Likely.
4. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada: combination of small/large scale vermicomposting
- Small-scale vermicomposting at residence halls and cafeterias and campus centers.
- Reduced the amount of organic material sent to the landfill.
- Reduced the cost of waste removal and disposal for the university.
- Reduced costs associated with the purchase of
organic fertilizers and irrigation of the grounds at the university.
- Having the vermicompost systems in residence halls,
helped educate students, staff, and faculty on sustainable issues.
- Contributed to the goals of the university to make the campus more sustainable.
- Outlines what you can and cannot put in a vermicompost (see below).
a. Pros and Cons: The University of British Columbia
seemed to take a very practical approach to their vermicomposting: to
save money while saving the environment. Their initiative focuses on
the cost benefits of the program, which is an important element to
consider. They use their composted material as fertilizer for campus
gardening, which is a really smart idea. A downside to their system,
similar to Luther, is that the vermicompost takes place in the
residence halls, and not on a large scale. At UBC, they have compost
collections right next to trash bins, so very few people have direct
contact to the process, which is a good idea because it makes it
easier. However, they did not specify who transported and maintained
the vermicompost bins, whether it was students or facilities staff. A
major downside of the operation is that they have made it open to the
general public to use as well, but there have been problems of
b. Transferability/ Likelihood at Macalester: This
model is extremely mendable to Macalester’s campus, as UBC is an urban
campus. Also, since part of our Landscape Management Plan is to improve
green spaces, the vermicompost could be contributed to that effort as
well. However, if we were to set up compost bins around campus, it
would be a pricey investment because it would require new
trash/recycling units all across campus. Also, many students currently
misuse the recycling bins, and it would be a slow learning curve to
teach students what they can and cannot compost. Students are not
likely to stop and read a list before they toss their waste, and it
would be difficult to set up a large informational session, much less
get people to attend. A lack of interest has forced Waste Management at
UBC to discontinue their wormbin composting workshops. It may be
telling that even with 40,000 students, they don’t have enough interest
in independent vermicomposting. Synopsis: Somewhat likely.
IV. Cost-Benefit Analysis
- One worm composter has the potential to divert to kg of waste from the landfill every week.
- Presently, it costs between $40-50/ton for
Macalester to dispose of its waste at the landfill, not including fuel
and transport costs. The initial set up cost for residential
vermicompost systems are very low, the Macalester Eco-house did it for
$129.25, so the initial capital would be earned back after just 2 or 3
tons of waste.
- Perhaps Macalester Waste Management could establish
a cash incentive for students living on campus: for every ton of waste
they compost, and therefore save the school $40-50 dollars in landfill
fees, they would receive $30.00 for their effort. This would most
likely to a group initiative, and could be made into a competition
- The number of worms needed would depend on the
amount of waste generated per day. One lb of red worms will take of a
half-pound of garbage
- Newspaper clippings could be used to keep the
compost balanced between nitrogen and carbon materials, therefore
cutting down on costs for ‘worm food’.
- Macalester could also use the vermicompost system
as a way of branching out to the community, and allow public use of
compost dumping, as this would benefit us by increasing our fertilizing
supply and also benefit those in the community who want to help with
the environment, but don’t have the time or energy to do the compost
- An industrial sized vermicompost system would take
much longer to pay off the initial investment, but would allow
Macalester more capacity in waste output. It would also distinquish
Macalester as one of the environmentally revolutionaries in the area.