December 2005

Vermicomposting program continues and expands

Middletown, CT— The City of Middletown, in its efforts to increase recycling rates and encourage composting beyond homeowners, initiated a small-scale institutional food waste vermicomposting project in 2002. The City partnered with the Middlesex Alternative Incarceration Center (AIC) in other projects and will continue with this one.

The City provided assistance with site preparation, administration of the grant and publicity for the program; AIC provides oversight of the daily operations, serves as liaison with Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) and educates workers on site. Both parties pursued this project for different reasons. The City wanted to increase its recycling and composting rate and implement a successful institutional composting program while Middlesex AIC wanted to provide an interesting and viable program for its workers while saving money on waste disposal.

Project Summary
This project was designed to take source-separated food scraps from the Eddy Center kitchen and cafeteria. Food scraps are deposited into five-gallon step-on lidded containers, and transported by AIC clients to the vermicomposting area located inside a ventilated and heated greenhouse. Once there, the scraps are processed through a small grinder and placed on top of the beds containing the worms. Each bed consists of four 4’ x 8’ frames that nest on top of each other. Hardware cloth lines the bottom of the frames and each bed has a lid. The beds were stocked with a supply of 70 pounds of red wiggler worms. Because worms are surface feeders, they migrate up to the newest food source placed on the beds. As they ingest and excrete material, the castings accumulate in the bottom of the beds. Once the frames are full, the worms are removed from the top of the highest frame and placed into a new bed about to be started. The frames are then lifted off and the castings are harvested for use as a soil amendment.

Based on initial waste audits, it was estimated that 10,950 pounds per year would be diverted from the waste stream. This does not include any spoiled or outdated food items.

The AIC is planning to sell castings and excess worms (they keep breeding in captivity) to the wholesale and retail market in order to cover continuing operating costs of the program.

Benefits
The benefits of this pilot include:

•Participation and education of AIC clients in an environmental project that provides service to the community.
•Reduction of wet, high-nitrogen waste being sent for disposal and therefore reduction of air emissions and ash disposal from resource recovery plants.
•Reduction of solid waste disposal costs for participating facility.
•Increase in local and state recycling rates.
•Promotion of positive relations with a public/private partnership.
•Potential expansion of vermin-composting services to other areas.
•Establishment of a model organics recycling system for other commercial and institutional establishments to explore and possibly implement.
•Supports the goals of the proposed statewide Solid Waste Management Plan.

Coordinating city, utility and state resources has proven to be the biggest challenge in getting this project up and running.

However, with the persistence of Kim O’Rourke, the Middletown Recycling Coordinator who is shepherding this project, vermicomposting is finally underway!

The first batch of food scraps from the Eddy Center was delivered and fed to the worms. Since then, 1,940 pounds of kitchen scraps have been recycled for an average of 39 pounds per week! Although this is less than expected due to the irregular participation of the Eddy Center kitchen staff, it is a good start, and quantities will increase as more sources are identified and the learning curve levels-out.

In search of a more consistent supply of worm food, contacts have been made at the Connecticut Juvenile Training Center (CJTC) whose kitchen director, John Holland, is enthusiastic about participation in the project. Delivery of food scraps from this facility is expected to contribute at least 35 pounds per week.

Volunteers from the city’s Recycling Advisory Council and Wesleyan University’s Environmental Club have been solicited to help feed the worms.

For details about the program, visit dep.state.ct.us/wst/compost/wormpilot.htm.

—Information gathered for this article courtesy of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection.


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