Vermicomposting in Student Residences

 

Executive Summary

This project focuses on the feasibility of vermicomposting in student residences, specifically the Columbia Lake Townhouses (CLT), at the University of Waterloo. Vermicomposting is the process by which red wriggler worms break down food waste produced in homes and is an ideal method of composting for apartment style housing. To be feasible at CLT, vermicomposting must be suitable for the site, cost efficient and easy to implement. CLT has an ideal layout for vermicomposting as the units lack backyards, and residents produce 40% compostable material within their waste stream, indicating a need for some form of composting. The long-term goals of this project are to reduce campus costs regarding waste disposal, reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers on campus and increase the overall sustainability of the University of Waterloo.

The scope of this project involves CLT as a representative sample of all residences at the University of Waterloo, and it is hoped that vermicomposting will eventually be implemented in all residences on and off campus. The studied system follows the waste stream at CLT and shows how food waste will be diverted from landfills through the use of vermicomposters. The core actors associated with this project include the group members, CLT residents, the Waste Management Coordinator, and the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project (UWSP). Supporting actors include CLT administration, WATgreen. The UW finance committee is the specified shadow actor. Limitations of this project consist of time, low survey response rate and the personal environmental bias of group members.

The methods that were used to assess the feasibility of vermicomposting at CLT included a literature review of vermicomposting at other University and College campuses as well as applicable information for a pamphlet regarding vermicomposting. In addition, three research methods were used to complete the process of triangulation. These include a quasi-experiment involving personal use of vermicomposters, a survey of CLT residents and their attitudes and interest towards vermicomposting and key informant interviews involving the experiences of long-term users. The results of the literature review indicate that vermicomposting has been a success on other campuses throughout Canada and the US and would therefore be feasible at the University of Waterloo. The quasi-experiment gave group members first hand knowledge of the process of vermicomposting, and indicated that it is a feasible method of composting for student residences. Although the survey resulted in only a seven percent response rate, it still shows that there is some interest of CLT residents, and many of their suggestions were relevant to the project. Through the key informant interviews we found common successes and difficulties of vermicomposters, and all informants believe that vermicomposting is feasible at CLT as long as residence are educated.

The data collected resulted in four main recommendations by the group members. These include information sessions to increase education and awareness of vermicomposting, the involvement of UWSP in distribution and care, increasing cost-efficiency by not purchasing directly from a commercial supplier and the recommendation of a follow-up project on industrial sized vermicomposters on campus.

In conclusion, vermicomposting is a worthwhile initiative as it coincides with the environmental, social and economic imperatives of sustainability. Through the education of faculty, students and staff, vermicomposting can be a feasible method of achieving sustainability on campus through organic waste diversion.

1.0 Introduction

Vermicomposting is the process by which red wiggler worms are used to aid in the decomposition of organic material. Besides helping to divert the amount of organic waste that is sent to landfill sites, the final product of vermicomposting is an excellent organic fertilizer. Vermicomposting is ideal for those who do not have enough space for an outdoor compost pile, but who still wish to contribute to waste reduction (Washington State University, 1998).

Waste management on a sustainable campus deals with waste issues at the source, before it arrives on campus. Unfortunately, there will always be some waste produced through basic food consumption. If this waste is to be dealt with in a sustainable manner, the university must employ a method that would both process the waste and use the end product on campus. Vermicomposting is one method that could effectively manage organic waste at the University of Waterloo (University of Waterloo, 2000). Administrators interested in reducing the cost of off-site disposal of waste would be wise to consider the implementation of composting in residences across campus.

2.0 Purpose and Rationale

The purpose of this study is to assess the feasibility of vermicomposting in the Columbia Lake student residence at the University of Waterloo. Using a methodological approach based on both quantitative and qualitative design, the expected results would convince University of Waterloo administrators that vermicomposting is a cost-effective way to manage the organic waste generated by the student residences on campus.

The primary goal of this project was to assess the feasibility of vermicomposting in student residences at the University of Waterloo. To be feasible, the implementation of vermicomposting must be suitable for the site, easy to implement and cost efficient. Columbia Lake Townhouses (CLT) was chosen as a representative sample of all residences on campus for several reasons. First, the WATgreen project entitled Recycling at Columbia Lake Townhouses, showed results supportive of a composting program at this site (Boate et al., 1997). According to waste audits done at CLT in 1997, compostable material accounted for 40% of the waste stream (Boate et al., 1997). The approximate weight of waste collected per week for CLT is 2.367 tonnes (Cook, 2002). Using these numbers it can be calculated that 0.98 tonnes of organic waste per week could be diverted from the University of Waterloo waste stream with the implementation of vermicomposters at CLT (2002). The second reason for choosing CLT can be attributed to the layout of the residence (Figure 2). This layout, being apartment style and lacking a backyard, was of importance to the study in that traditional forms of backyard composting would be difficult. Thirdly, four of the units at CLT form Kaizan, an environmentally friendly residence. The results of this study will therefore be relevant to other projects working to enhance the sustainability of Kaizan.

Due to it’s documented success as a feasible form of composting on other campuses across Canada (University of British Columbia, 2001; University of Calgary, 1991), vermicomposting was chosen as the best method of composting to be assessed at CLT. This small-scale method of composting also provides an opportunity to directly involve students, staff, and faculty in the process of waste diversion (University of Calgary, 1991).

The long-term goal of this project is to increase campus sustainability through the effective management of organic waste on campus. The completion of this project would ultimately result in the diversion of organic waste from Regional landfills, thereby reducing the cost to the university for waste removal. The use of the composting soil on campus would further reduce costs associated with the purchase of chemical fertilizers. These goals coincide with those of WATgreen, which aim to make the campus at the University of Waterloo a more sustainable environment.

3.0 Research Objectives

Primary Objective

Secondary Objectives

 

 

 

 

4.0 Boundaries of Study

4.1 Definitions of Key Terms:

Vermicomposting - The process of using red wriggler worms and other microorganisms to convert organic waste into a nutrient rich soil conditioner (Appelhof, 1997).

Compostable Materials - organic food waste that can be broken down by red-wriggler worms and other decomposers.

Organic - Derived from living organisms, of compounds formed from carbon, includes food waste (Collins, 1989).

Sustainable environment - the ability of an environment to maintain ecological process, functions, productivity and biodiversity over time (Draper, 1999).

Waste Audit - The act of separating waste contained in a specific garbage bin, to analyze the proportion of organic waste to other forms recyclable and/or non-recyclable material.

Implementation - To put into effect (Collins, 1989).

Feasibility - The level of difficulty of implementing vermicomposters in CLT, in terms of cost-efficiency and demand.

Traditional Composting - a composter that is placed out side, where organic waste is decomposed naturally by biological organisms other than red-wriggler worms.

Qualitative - Research methods that tend to be constructionist, cautious about numbers, and is characterized by an inductive perspective and a predominately phenomenologist approach to research (Palys, 1997).

Quantitative - Emphasis on numerical precision and a hypothetico-deductive approach (1997).

WATgreen - A University of Waterloo group focused on making the UW campus environmentally sustainable (WATgreen, 2002).

4.2 Scope

This project will focus on the Columbia Lake Townhouse student residence. Due to the limited time frame of this project we will only be examining this residence. The CLT will therefore act as a representative sample of all residences in the greater campus community. Although the overall scope of this project is narrow, it is our intent that the results and recommendations will be used on a broader scale. It is our hope that the completion of this project will ultimately result in the diversion of organic waste from Regional landfills and therefore lower cost to the university for waste removal. The project could eventually lead to the implementation of vermicomposters in apartment dwellings throughout Waterloo region.

4.3 System

Our system begins with the Columbia Lake Townhouses waste stream, which lies within the larger University of Waterloo waste stream super system. The system then follows the route of waste disposal at CLT. Food and other products are inputted into the CLT, and outputted as waste.

Currently, all food waste created is being sent to landfill, and the rest of the waste is recycled or land filled as necessary. By implementing vermicomposters into the CLT, the food waste currently being sent to landfill will be diverted into the composters, where the worms will digest it and output it in the form of castings, a rich soil. The castings of the worms can then be used in the form of organic fertilizer for potted plants, gardens, and lawns around campus. Figure 1 illustrates the current waste system and how it will be altered through the implementation of vermicomposters, which is indicated by the dotted line.

 

 








 

 

Figure 1: Systems Diagram

4.4 Actor Groups

Core Actors

Supporting Actors

Shadow Actors

 

 

4.5 Limitations

There are a few limitations inherent in this project that may have affected the outcome. The main limitation of this project was the limited time frame. This affected the amount of time allotted for survey completion by the CLT residents. It also influenced the time available to observe our personal composters as they took a few weeks to establish. A second limitation is the low response rate from the surveys, which left us to form valid conclusive results from them. A final limitation may be the bias within our group towards environmental sustainability and the innate benefits of vermicomposting.

5.0 Methodology

5.1 Literature Review

The literature review was an integral component of our research, as much information was needed to develop a sufficient knowledge base with regards to vermicomposting. In order to ascertain validity and reliability, a review of the literature was conducted for sources recognized by the scientific community (Palys, 1997). Journals such as BioCycle: journal of waste recycling, Tropical Ecology, and Compost Science and Utilization provided technical information for review. In addition, both government and non-government websites were searched for relevant information. Mary Appelhof 's Worms eat my garbage: second edition (1997) was reviewed and found to be cited frequently throughout the literature.

In reviewing previous WATgreen projects, the research group was able to assess the kinds of composting projects that had already been carried out on campus. The recommendations set forth by these projects were helpful in determining the focus of our research. The University of Waterloo’s Waste Management Coordinator, Patti Cook, provided data pertaining to the solid waste stream on campus.

After compiling information on the University of Waterloo’s composting initiatives, a search for composting in residences at other colleges and universities was conducted. The focus was to ascertain whether other educational institutions had investigated, or were in the process of investigating, feasible forms of composting in residences. The University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, and Simon Fraser University have completed the greatest amount of work in this area and proved to be valuable resources for this study. It should be acknowledged that some information from other schools may have been overlooked as the navigation in each website differs and the complete studies were not always available in full-text on-line.

Lastly, the book Research Decisions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives (Palys, 1997) was consulted throughout the project to both guide the research and analyze the data effectively.

5.2 Triangulation Methods: Quasi-experiment, Survey’s and Interviews

The process of triangulation is achieved when three different methods of research are used to achieve specific information on vermicomposting (Wismer, 2002). This is important in this type of exploratory research to attain a high level of validity in the final data (2002). The first method of research used in this project to triangulate the data was a quasi-experiment involving vermicomposters. A quasi experiment is defined a modified laboratory experiment in which the researcher does not have complete control over all aspects of the experiment (Palys, 1997). In this case, each group member received a vermicomposter of exactly the same size with the same weight of worms, a filtered food waste collection bucket, and a scale with which to weigh the food (Figure 2). A student-made vermicomposting pamphlet was issued to all members to aid in any problems that may arise. Each member was then given the freedom to feed and care for the worms as they would normally; each feeding them whatever food waste was created in their particular household. The types and weights of food put into the vermicomposters was recorded by each member, as well as the date, time, observations, and any problems that occurred and how they were dealt with. By carrying out this experiment the benefits, disadvantages and difficulties of vermicomposting were experienced first hand by the group members. This knowledge can be used in the creation of user-friendly information packages and information sessions to aid new users when implementing vermicomposting in residences.

Figure 2: Vermicomposter bin and compost collection bucket

The use of mail out questionnaires made up the second aspect of triangulation. The questions asked on the survey were mainly qualitative, and focused on the attitudes and knowledge of Columbia Lake Townhouse residents towards vermicomposting (Appendix A). After receiving clearance to administer the survey from the Office of Research Ethics (ORE) at the University of Waterloo, a pre-test was performed to roommates and friends of group members to ensure that there were no ambiguities or common misunderstandings in the questions being asked (Palys, 1997). This led to no changes in the wording of any questions and 100 surveys were delivered to CLT, one placed in the mailbox of each unit at the residence. The incentive of a $35 value prize draw for each unit that responded was put in the introductory letter in the hope to overcome the limitation of low response rates that traditionally occur with mail out surveys (Palys, 1997). A drop box was placed in the communal building at the residence for completed surveys, and ten days were allowed to the residents for completion due to the short time frame of the project. The drop box was emptied twice in the ten day time period.

The third and final research method to obtain triangulation was the use of key informant interviews. Three informants from UW faculty and staff were chosen based on a previous WATgreen project by Christian et al (1994) concerning vermicomposting in offices at the university campus. The three interviewees were specifically chosen because they previously or currently had vermicomposters in their offices. Open-ended questions were created to find the attitudes of the informants towards vermicomposting, as well as their likes, dislikes, and experiences (Appendix B). Open-ended questions are beneficial for this type of exploratory research because they allow for a wide range of responses that may not have been anticipated otherwise (Palys, 1997). As with the surveys clearance on the interview was received from ORE. Informed consent was also obtained from each of the interviewees by attaining their signature on an approved consent letter. Answers given by the informants were recorded by the interviewing group member as a means of acquiring outside opinions and experiential knowledge on vermicomposting.

6.0 Results

6.1 Literature Review

In reviewing previous WATgreen projects, it was found that past initiatives in the area of waste management have focussed on large-scale composting for areas on campus such as the cafeterias (WATgreen, 2002). Other projects have assessed the success of vermicomposting in the Environmental Studies coffee shop as well as in various offices across campus (Fetterly et al., 1994; Christian et al., 1994). No previous study has been done with respect to vermicomposting in student residences at the University of Waterloo (WATgreen, 2002).

Of great significance to our research was the WATgreen project Recycling at Columbia Lake Townhouses (Boate et al., 1997). This study performed waste audits at CLT, which determined 40% of the CLT waste stream to consist of compostable material. A survey was then conducted to assess the residents’ attitudes with respect to composting. It was found that 67% of the residents thought that composting at CLT would be feasible, 62% would be willing to separate their waste, and 60% would be willing to take their organic waste out to a central compost bin. Based on the results of this study, it was a recommended that composting be implemented in Columbia Lake Townhouses (Boate et al., 1997).

When reviewing the work that other universities and colleges have done with regards to composting, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, and Simon Fraser University proved to have had the greatest amount of progress. In the year 2000, the University of British Columbia successfully implemented industrial-size vermicomposters at three of their residences (University of British Columbia, 2001). These residences included apartment-style, townhouse units and high-rise housing (2001). At the University of Calgary, two unique composting projects have been established in the student residences (University of Calgary, 1991). "Project Worm" is an initiative in the Family Student Housing Units, a residence that consists of 250 housing units arranged in blocks of 12 (1991). All organic material is diverted to a centralized vermicomposter and the soil is used on gardens at this residence (1991). In addition, "Project Edu-Compost" is a student-run initiative, which aims to promote composting to Grounds staff, Food Services, Housing Services, staff, faculty, and students (1991). Finally, Simon Fraser University has made considerable progress in the introduction and expansion of composting programs in campus residences (Simon Fraser University, 1998). After nearly six months of attempting to convince administrators, the university installed their first vermicomposter for the residences at Hamilton Hall in September 1997 (1998). The project has since garnered widespread support, with donations from the president’s office, the facilities management, the Marriott Management, and campus organizations (1998). The vermicomposter is now available for use by students living in any of the university’s residences (1998).

A number of other schools have done a substantial amount of work with respect to composting on campus (Royal Roads University, 2002; Cornell University, 2001; Ithaca College, 2000). Most of these efforts have focussed on food waste generated in cafeterias. For example, Royal Roads University initiated a composting system in January 2001 that has been estimated to divert 20,000-26,000 kg of cafeteria waste per year, and the end product of Grade A topsoil is sold to local businesses (Royal Roads University, 2002). A review of campus initiatives in the United States consistently acknowledged that by implementing composting on campus, colleges saved up to $15,000 (US) in tipping fees annually (Ithaca College, 2000). Using the end product on campus also reduced the amount of water needed for irrigation and saved roughly $1000 (US) from the yearly fertilizer budget

One specific outcome of this literature review was to compile information to develop a pamphlet which could be included as part of an orientation package for future small-scale compost initiatives on campus (Appendix C). Several on-line sources were used to accomplish this goal. Some specific websites were: Ministry of the Environment (1998), Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (2002), Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture (1999), The Composting Council of Canada (2002), The Compost Resource Page (2000), and Worm Digest (2000). These sites provided similar information on various aspects of vermicomposting.

6.2 Vermicomposter Quasi-Experiment

By maintaining our own vermicomposters, all of the group members discovered some important facts that would make it easier for other students to have their own. In this experiment each participant was representative of an average student just starting out with vermicomposters, as none of the members had previous experience with vermicomposting, and each had our own expectations of the outcome. None of the group members anticipated how long it took for the vermicomposter to become efficient in breaking down waste. The worms could only be fed small amounts of organic waste in the beginning, with the amounts gradually increasing over the course of the experiment. Figure 3 indicates the average amount the worms were fed over the course of the experiment as well as projected feedings after project completion. After six to eight weeks the worms began eating more as their microclimate improved.

Figure 3: Weekly Amount of Organic Waste Fed to Worms

It also took constant work to maintain the correct levels of moisture within the composters, but they became easier to maintain over time. The most common problem observed was fruit flies, and was found to best be dealt with by keeping the bin closed for a week and covering any exposed food within the bin. Mould was another common problem and was dealt with by removing the mould, covering any exposed food, adding additional paper to reduce moisture levels, and by not excessively feeding the worms. By sharing our common successes and difficulties within our group, it was easier to work through any problems with the vermicomposter. It was found that the vermicomposters were relatively easy to use and could be successful if implemented in student homes. The information we collected in this quasi-experiment can be used in the pamphlet, as well in the creation of student information sessions.

The internal validity in this experiment is relatively high, as all of the information we discovered is relevant to our research question. As students, we have experienced first hand the benefits and drawbacks of vermicomposting. This first hand knowledge will ultimately aid in the implementation of vermicomposters in student residences. The external validity in this case is also high, because our experiences can be generalized to other new users of vermicomposters, as many common problems exist. There wasn’t a high level of reliability as this was not a controlled experiment and results would vary depending on many variables, such as food types administered to the worms. Overall the quasi-experiment was very useful in understanding the process of vermicomposting, and helped us understand the feasibility of implementing it in residences.

6.3 Surveys

Of the one hundred surveys delivered to CLT residence, only seven completed surveys were returned. This seven percent response rate is significantly lower than the amount anticipated based on the typical ten to forty percent response rate of mail out questionnaires (Palys, 1997). This could be the result of a number of factors. First, the incentive of the prize draw for completed surveys was placed within the introductory letter, which may not have been read by many recipients. Also, the surveys were not well promoted to CLT residents. This may have been averted by the placement of signs around the residence to promote the survey and the draw. Second, the drop box was placed in the community centre on campus, and residents may not have visited the centre within the ten-day time frame. This may have been avoided by door-to-door collection of the surveys, or providing separate drop boxes per block of units. Finally, the short time period allowed for the surveys may have also led to the low response rates. Had there been time, at least two weeks would have been allowed, and reminder letters could have been sent to the units to allow for a second wave of respondents (Palys, 1997).

Due to this low response rate, we can conclude that we do not have a representative sample of CLT residents, but pertinent information can still be drawn from these surveys. The volunteer bias can be adequately assessed, as all respondents were interested in the implementation vermicomposting at CLT, and responses indicate that all respondents had a high level of environmental awareness even though they were all from different faculties. Five of the respondents had heard of vermicomposters, and three had previously used them. All respondents had composted in some form in the past. Almost half of the respondents suggested that there is a need for information sessions on vermicomposting before they could be implemented. It was also suggested that someone outside of the residence be given the job of providing summer care for vermicomposters and making new beds for the worms at the beginning of each school year if they were applied. If vermicomposters were given to these seven residents, it may create interest in other residents to obtain vermicomposters of their own. In this way, the evidence of interested residents could lead to implementation of vermicomposters in all of CLT over time.

Internal and external validity are important factors in determining the relevance of these research results. The internal validity of the questionnaire results was relatively low, as the results of the surveys cannot adequately answer our research question due to the low level of response. The external validity is also low because the results of the surveys cannot be generalized to the larger population of all students in residences. Reliability of this research method is also low, for to obtain a high amount of reliability repeated testing should return the same results (Palys, 1997). In this case repeated testing may result in different amounts and types of responses, depending on which of the four residents in each unit fills out the survey. Although validity and reliability of these results are relatively low, the data obtained from these surveys is still relevant to the project, as legitimate suggestions and ideas were put forth which will aid in the assessment of the feasibility of vermicomposters being implemented in CLT.

6.4 Key Informant Interviews

Three key informants were interviewed for this project concerning their experiences with vermicomposting (Appendix B). All of the interviewees had an overall positive experience with vermicomposting, and two of them are still participating in it. The advantages noted by the informants were that it diverts organics from the landfill and acts as an efficient waste reducer in small spaces, such as offices. The main disadvantages stated by the informants were the fruit flies and the consistent amount of work required to maintain the composters. Each of the informants also believed that implementation of vermicomposters in CLT was feasible, as long as education and assistance was provided to the residents. In addition to aiding in the assessment the feasibility of vermicomposting at CLT, the information obtained from the interviewees will be used in the creation of a user-friendly information pamphlet on vermicomposting.

The internal validity of the key informant interviews is relatively high, because the information collected is applicable to our research objectives by providing us with common advantages and disadvantages of vermicomposting by long-term users. External validity is low in this case, as these interviews cannot be generalized to a larger group of vermicomposter users on campus. We were not looking for a representative sample in these interviews, but were looking for specific information that would be helpful in assessing the feasibility of vermicomposting. Reliability of the key informant interview results is high because we choose people specifically who had experience with vermicomposting. These informants would likely give the same answers if the interviews were repeated, as all were knowledgeable in the area of vermicomposting.

7.0 Recommendations

7.1 Information Sessions

There are several recommendations that can be presented as a result of our research, all of which would aid in the successful implementation of vermicomposters at CLT and other student residences. First of all, there seems to be a demand for information sessions regarding vermicomposting for residents. This is indicated in the survey responses (Appendix A). These sessions could be run by UWSP, and should provide information on the set-up and maintenance of the vermicomposters. It was also discovered through the maintenance of our personal composters that it is critical to talk with others about the problems and successes that are being encountered. This greatly reduced frustration and increased the success of our personal composters. Information sessions would promote the sharing of ideas and knowledge and greatly increase the success of the composters. It would also be useful to have a contact such as Patti Cook or a UWSP representative that could be reached regarding any complications a resident may be experiencing. It is clear that having as much information as possible available about vermicomposting is very important to the success of their implementation at student residences.

7.2 Involvement of UWSP

One of the greatest difficulties we experienced with our personal composters is that they take a significant amount of time, over a month in some cases, to become efficient in decomposing waste. As our second recommendation, it would be very helpful to issue students vermicomposters that have already been established, so they do not have deal with the hassle and frustration of starting from the beginning. This would also potentially lower the number of abandoned or neglected vermicomposters. A University of Waterloo group such as the UWSP could take on the responsibility of establishing the composters. It is also recommended that each composter start with more then the pound of worms we received, as this would greatly increase the effectiveness of the composters and ensure that the students see results quicker. UWSP could also be responsible for harvesting the castings for use on campus, as well as the annual preparation of new beds and summer care for units that are empty in these months. Furthermore, excess worms from working vermicomposters can be harvested annually by UWSP and used in the creation of new vermicomposters for campus residences and university students.

7.3 Cost Efficiency

From Pennie’s Lane to Vermicomposting, a supplier of vermicomposters currently used by UW Waste Management, the cost of the materials used in the quasi experiment is approximately $70.00. This includes the bin, one pound of worms, shredded paper bedding, and a composting collection bin (Cook, 2002). Therefore if every residence at CLT were issued a vermicomposter and collection bin from a commercial supplier such as this, it would cost roughly $4500.00. This amount could be greatly reduced, increasing the cost-efficiency and feasibility of the project. Rubbermaid and other Tupperware bins cost about $10.00 each, and holes would simply have to be drilled in the top to create a useable bin. The compost collection bins alone are less than $15 apiece. The worms would still incur a significant cost of $17.50 per pound, but if bought in bulk may be considerably cheaper. Also, after the first year, the worms from the already functioning bins can be separated to start new composters at no cost. The use of recycled newspaper or shredded office paper can be used for the worm bedding, again reducing the overall cost and reusing paper. It is apparent that the initial start up cost of the project can be greatly reduced by not buying directly from a commercial supplier, and the cost would decrease annually as no new worms would have to be bought.

7.4 Follow-up Project

Our final recommendation is based on the success that other colleges and universities have had with the implementation of industrial-size vermicomposters in student residences, such as at the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary, (University of British Columbia, 2001; University of Calgary, 1991; Simon Fraser University, 1998). These large sized bins cost between four and six thousand dollars from an average supplier, and could cost significantly less if they were made by a campus group such as UWSP (Ithaca College, 2002). Sir Sanford Fleming College has had great success with a large, hand made vermicomposter that has been in operation for several years (Holton, 2002). The layout of CLT could possibly be ideal for the implementation of a few large composters, as the units create semicircles around a courtyard (Figure 4). A vermicomposter in this courtyard would be an ideal location for easy access to the composer, as well as creating a suitable microclimate for the worms, blocked from wind and harsh weather conditions.

Figure 4: Layout of Columbia Lake Townhouses

Our final recommendation is that a follow-up project based be carried out on the potential success and feasibility of implementing a few large composting units at residences such as CLT where there is ample space and conditions for them, instead of having multiple personal composters at all of the residences.

  1. Conclusion

An important conclusion of this project is that vermicomposting addresses the social, economic and environmental imperatives of sustainability. The social is addressed by human interaction with the biological processes found within the vermicomposter, allowing for a greater appreciation of the natural environment. It could also create a feeling of community on campus by the interaction within group information sessions and a communal feeling of environmental stewardship. Secondly, the economic aspect is addressed as vermicomposting reduces costs associated with waste removal on campus and the use of chemical fertilizers. Lastly, the imperative of environmental sustainability is addressed as it reduces the amount of organic waste going to landfills, which can cause harmful leachate contamination in water systems. As vermicomposting meets all three elements of sustainability it is important that it become recognized and promoted on campus. Through the implementation of vermicomposting in residences, such as CLT, the University of Waterloo can achieve its goal of becoming a sustainable campus.

After careful analysis of our results we have concluded that the key to making vermicomposting a success on campus is education and increased awareness of the benefits of composting. We observed that upon introduction of a vermicomposter into our households, roommates with preconceived notions about the composters soon realised that their negative concepts were incorrect and a vermicomposter is easy to live with and maintain. These notions accompanied a lack of knowledge towards vermicomposting and were easily rectified with simple education and hands on experience. Information sessions would achieve these same realisations on a greater scale throughout campus, allowing for increased awareness and vermicomposting use. These results could also be replicated through the implementation of vermicomposters in units with interested residents, such as the seven respondents of the vermicomposting survey. This would allow for first hand interaction with the vermicomposters by other residents at CLT, and the interest in vermicomposting would spread. Education and first hand contact through information sessions on campus would therefore make vermicomposting a feasible initiative in campus residences such as CLT.

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