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Sunday, 04 December 2005
Worms Eat Away at Air Force's Waste

2/3/2003

Waste News

By Bruce Geiselman

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has put a new group of recruits in charge of food waste disposal, and they've managed to cut costs dramatically.

But all these recruits do is eat, reproduce and turn out rich compost.

The base launched a vermicomposting program in July, using earthworms to consume a daily average of 500 pounds of solid waste. The worms digest vegetable matter and old newspapers. That saves the base about $25 per day on transporting and disposing of waste.

As the number of worms grows, so does the amount of waste they consume.

The base acquired 250,000 worms and their climate-controlled home at no cost from another base that found it didn't produce enough food waste to satisfy the little guys' voracious appetites.

At Wright-Patterson, which produces more than enough fruit and vegetable waste from its commissary, the California red wigglers have flourished, now numbering more than 300,000.

Their numbers eventually could top 1 million, said Tim Clendenin, chief of Wright-Patterson's environmental management quality branch. ``They're in there eating and multiplying like crazy,'' he said.

The worm casings replace chemical fertilizer at the base's golf course, which saves additional money. It also reduces contamination from fertilizer runoff.

But in order for the worms to perform at their peak, their environmental conditions need to be carefully controlled.

“For the worms to do their best consumptionwise, the worm farm has to be at a 70-degree [Fahrenheit] constant temperature, which means the machine itself has air conditioning and heating capabilities,” said Charles McCreary, environmental manager for the base's recycling center. ``It's kind of strange, but for some reason, at 70 degrees, the critters love to eat.''

The worms handle about half of the commissary's food waste, but that could eventually grow to 100 percent. The base already is lining up other sources of food in case the commissary eventually can't produce enough food waste.

``If they can't provide us with enough once we hit our peak, then we can go to one of the [base] restaurants and get their salads and leftovers and stuff like that to compensate for any difference that we need,'' McCreary said.

Initially, some base personnel expressed concern about odors, but that hasn't been a problem. The worms are kept in a box that is 16 feet long, 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall, and the odor emanating from it is minimal, McCreary said.

``The only smell from a unit like that, since we don't mess with meats or anything like that, is a kind of wet, dirty, mildewy smell,'' he said. The unit is stored indoors so it can operate year-round.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 04 December 2005 )
 
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