Our vision of sustainability on the University of Waterloo Campus
Goals and Objectives: What we hope to accomplish and the scope of the vermi-campaign crew
What is Composting?
What is Vermicomposting?
Project Rationale: Why vermicomposting was chosen as our topic
Background: Past practices and studies of vermicomposting of the UW campus
System Study: The components and boundaries of waste and education system that our project deals with
Actors: The people who are involved, or should be involved, in the system
Research Diagram Diagram of our research questions and how the answers flow through the system
Questionaire Description and Results Description of our three questionnaires and their results
Implementation of Vermicomposters
Checklist Description and Results Description of our checklist and the results
Follow Up Questionaire and Results Description of our follow-up questionaire and its
Discussion In depth dicsussion about the vermi-campaign and its results
Limitations and Solutions: Limitations of our project and how they could be solved
Recommendations: What we feel should be done on campus to assure the continued success of vermicomposting.
Vermicomposting Trouble Shooting: Problems that may arise when vermicomposting and how to solve them
Conclusion: Conclusions about our project
The purpose of both the Environment and Resource Studies 285 course and the University of Waterloo Watgreen projects is to help the University of Waterloo campus move towards sustainability. There have been many definitions and interpretations of sustainability and sustainable development. One of the more widely used meanings is provided for us by the United Nations Bruntland Commission:
"sustainability refers to meeting the needs and aspirations of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
University of Waterloo campus would therefore be one that replaces
current practices and ideologies with environmentally sound alternatives.
To do this, changes in the attitudes throughout the campus and surrounding
communities need to be made.
A practical example of such an attitude change would be the recycling of
organic food waste by composting. In this project, vermicomposting
is suggested as a means of working towards sustainability.
WHAT IS COMPOSTING?
Composting is the decompostition of organic materials into nutrient rich soil. Through composting the process of decompostition speeds up due to a controlled environment. The process is "started by bacteria and fungi which break down organic matter for their own food" (The Real Dirt by Mark Cullen and Lorraine Johnson, 1992).
WHAT IS VERMICOMPOSTING?
Vermicomposting is the process by which red wiggler worms are used to aid in the decompostition of organic materials. The worms consume the materials placed in the vermicomposter and excrete them in the form of worm castings. The amount of organic waste consumed by a single red wiggler on a daily basis can equal the weight of itself. The final product that these red wigglers produce is an excellent organic fertilizer. The main components in a vermicomposter are the bedding and the worms. At first the bedding is made up of a mixture of peat, shredded newspaper and water. The consistency of the bedding should feel like a wrung out sponge. This bedding is placed in to vermicomposting bin and then the red wiggler worms are added. The bins can be made from any Rubbermaid type container with very small holes drilled in the bottom. The worms can be obtained by spliting up the worms in someone elses vermicomposter or by finding someone who supplies them.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The purpose of this project was to evaluate the use of educational tools
to increase the success of vermicomposting throughout office areas.
Through this education we hoped to create campus wide awareness of the
benefits of vermicomposting.
Vermicomposting was chosen because we feel that the successful use of vermicomposters in office areas would contribute to our ultimate goal of a sustainable campus community. Also, vermicomposters are more convenient than conventional back-yard composters as you do not continually have to take the organic waste outside. More importantly, they encourage personal responsibility and provide an interactive way to contribute to the environment on a individual scale.
We chose offices as our implementation site because they are small areas producing relatively small amounts of organic material. Cafeterias on the other hand, can serve a large number of people in one day thereby generating much larger quantities of organic waste. Thus, there is a higher chance of the vermicomposters becoming overloaded and disfunctional.
Assessment of past and present vermicomposter users is imperative to our research as it will show us common problems encountered in the past. This will aid in the creation of an educational package for interested people to use when vermicomposting.
Little information is available about vermicomposting on the University of Waterloo campus. As of January 1998, there had been only one study done regarding the use of vermicomposting on campus. This study was another ERS 285 project called The Implementation of Vermicomposting in Selected Offices on Campus, It was completed in the summer of 1994 and has been an important resource for our project study. From this report we gained an understanding of what limitations they experienced and what recommendations they suggested in order to minimize these limitations. We also contacted the individuals who had vermicomposters implemented into their offices as part of this project to see what education the were given and if it was effective. This report is available to the general public at the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) office in the Student Life Center.
There have been a few other individual vermicomposting initiatives taken on the University of Waterloo campus. In the autumn of 1993, the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) set up a homemade vermicomposter. It was used successfully by staff and volunteers for an undetermined period of time. Other vermicomposters such as the one at the Federation of Students office and the Turnkey Desk were not used to their full potential and are no longer active. An important component of our study will be to assess why these vermicomposters did not last and to use this information to produce a set of guidelines for potential future users.
We have also obtained information from the Region of Waterloo about their vermicomposting program but our main source of research information has been from the internet. The following is a list of educational sites that gave us information about the basic principles of vermicomposting. They also showed how to maintain and harvest a vermicomposter successfully and how to avoid or solve any problems that may arise when vermicomposting. These sites helped us to make the vermicomposters that we implemented in the selected University of Waterloo offices.
Worm Digest: Current issues of the magazine Worm Digest
Worm World: Describes what vermicomposting
is, gives resources (books, videos)
and what the worms do in a vermicomposter bin (worms are recyclers)
Worm Composting: Types of conditions that are best for vermicomposting
Worm Composting at Home: Problems
and solutions of vermicomposting
City Farmer: Why compost, why with worms, how to get started, maintenance
Happy Worm Ranch: About vermicomposting, products they offer and prices
Soil Solutions: What vermicomposting
is, how to make one, price list
The Real Dirt by Mark Cullen
and Lorraine Johnson has been an excellent source of information.
It provided us with information on constructing and maintaining a successful
vermicomposter. The authors discuss common pitfalls, how to prevent
them from occurring and how to solve them if they do occur. Overloading,
poor air circluation and air temperature extremes often result in one or
more of the following: infestation of pests, mold, bad odour, too
wet or too dry conditions and too acidic or basic conditions. All
of these problems can lead to worm mortality. Their solutions can
be found in our Trouble Shooting
section. This book also helped us to put together our educational
package. Details about this package can be found in the Implementation
of Vermicomposting section.
This system shows how the
vermi-campaign crew obtained information from people who have had experiences
with vermicomposting on the UW campus. This education, along with information
provided by Patti Cook, was used to educate the participants in our study.
Insight into vermicomposting was also collected from the people in the
UW offices who tried vermicomposting for the first time.
The components of this system are the UW offices, Patti Cook, those who have had, still have, or want vermicomposters, and the vermi-campaign crew. The offices of the vermi-campaign participants in this system are located in different faculties. Vermicomposters will be introduced into their offices thereby reducing a portion of the organic waste component in the UW waste stream.
Food is an input from employee homes, local restaurants and cafeterias on campus. The organic waste is placed in the vermicomposters while all other waste is dealt with directly by the Waste Management Department and sent to the landfill.
This system can be viewed from two perspectives: social and biophysical. This project focuses mainly on the social perspective, as our main goal is to provide education to successfully implement a vermicomposting program. The biophysical perspective of this system is not as relevant to our goals of this project but is the background reason for why vermicomposting should be implemented. This perspective deals with reducing the amount of organic waste that is in the UW waste stream by vermicomposting.
Vermi-campaign Crew - We are the educators in our system. The information that we gathered was used to help us to successfully implement vermicomposters in selected UW offices.
Office Participants - These were the participants in the vermi-campaign project. The informational package that we gave them was used to maintain their vermicomposters successfully.
Patti Cook - Patti maintains her own vermicomposter in her office. She supplied information to us on the topic of vermicomposting as well as the actual composters and the necessary materials to start them. She continually educates others about the proper techniques behind vermicomposting as well as about the importance of vermicomposting in reducing the amount of organics in the UW waste stream.
Past and Present vermicomposter users - These actors helped us understand what went wrong with the past vermicomposters, how problems were handled, and what some of the positive impacts of vermicomposting were . This will help us to teach the people involved in the vermi-campaign project how to deal with problems that may arise with their vermicomposters.
Supporting Actors :
Gazette - This school newspaper promoted the vermi-campaign through an article written about our project.
WatGreen/WPIRG - These two organizations continually educate the actors in our system as well as those who should be actors. They educated and made others aware about vermicomposting on the UW campus as well as within the communities surrounding the University.
Should-be Actors :
Visiting Profs/Guest Speakers - Their role in our system involved learning about vermicomposting through the participants offices. They could then implement such a program in their own office area and spread the education to others.
Students/Professors/Staff - Their role
in this system was to learn how vermicomposting is one method of reducing
the amount of organic waste in the UW waste stream. They could then
educate others about the positive impacts that vermicomposting has on the
This research diagram shows the three groups of
people that are involved in our study. These are the people who have
had vermicomposters in the past, those who want vermicomposters and those
who have currently them. Through the use of questionnaires,
these three groups give us the knowledge that is needed to make our vermicomposting
educational material. Patti Cook is also a source of information
for us and for the three groups of people that our system looks at.
Other information was obtained by personal conversations and interviews. Again, we took this knowledge and educated the participants in our study about the correct way to vermicompost. This leads to people who are well educated about vermicomposting in office areas across the University of Waterloo campus.
The most practical way to assess the effectiveness of vermicomposters is through collection of qualitative data. During the week of March 16th information was collected from those individuals who have had a vermicomposter in the past, those who are presently using one and those who want one.
People who currently have vermicomposters in their offices
The following people currently
have vermicomposters in their offices: Les Van Dongen in Plant Operations,
Tricia Loveday in Human Resources, Terry Stewart in Applied Health Sciences,
Kerry Mahoney in Career Services, and Patti Cook in Waste Management.
During personal interviews with these people they filled out a questionnaire
about their vermicomposting experience. They were asked how they learned
about vermicomposting and who introduced them to it. These were important
questions because they helped us to understand their level of knowledge
about vermicomposting and where most people acquire this knowledge. (ie:
internet, word of mouth, television etc.) They were also asked what
type of education they were given before they began vermicomposting and
if this education was sufficient.
The answers to these questions helped us to design our own form of education. The questions about what types of problems they have run into with their vermicomposter helped us to put together our trouble shooting pamphlet. This pamphlet was given to all of the participants in the vermi-campaign as a tool for them to use. What the person liked about vermicomposting helped us to understand and emphasize the benefits of vermicomposting. The full questionnaire for people who currently have vermicomposters is available for viewing.
Click here to view the results for people who have vermicomposters in their office
The results from the questionnaires
given to the people who currently have a vermicomposter in their office,
produced only positive remarks about vermicomposting. The 1994 ERS 285
vermicomposting group introduced the concept of vermicomposting to many
people on campus including Patti Cook, the UW Waste Management Coordinator.
Patti Cook then took the education that these students gave her along with
the knowledge she had acquired through vermicomposting herself to educate
others on campus. The people who have had success with vermicomposting
all feel that education in the form of pamphlets and personal consultations
would be sufficient. This is the type of education that we decided
to provide to the participants of the vermi-campaign. Those who are
currently have one in their office feel that because of their education
about vermicomposting and the availability of Patti Cook for consultation,
they were able to avoid or correct any problems that may have arisen with
their vermicomposter. When problems did arise they were minimal and
easy to correct. Overall, the people who currently have vermicomposters
in their UW office, said that they would be happy to pass along any
information and educate anyone who was interested in vermicomposting.
People who used to have vermicomposters in their offices
The following offices have
had vermicomposters in the past, but no longer do now. The Turnkey
Desk in the Student Life Center and The Federation of Students (FEDS) Office
in the Student Life Center.
The questions we asked to these people consisted of: what kind of education they were given before the vermicomposters were implemented and if they thought this education was sufficient. This helped us to understand what areas of vermicomposting education needed more attention in order to make vermicomposting more successful. Again, the amount of time that they maintained their vermicomposter is an important finding that helped us to understand when the main problems. Discussion of specific problems helped us put together our trouble shooting pamphlet. The full questionnaire for people who had vermicomposters in their offices is available for viewing.
In the above diagram for people who have had vermicomposters,
the main question asked was what problems they faced. Again the answer
to this question helped us to put together our trouble shooting pamphlet
as well as helping us to provide the correct amount and type of education
Click here to view the results for the people who had vermicomposters in their office
The reasons why some people would stop vermicomposting
can be seen in the results from the people who had vermicomposters at one
point in time but now do not. The main reason why was the lack of
proper education. Both the FEDS and the Turnkey Desk were given
only a short presentation about how to vermicompost. Neither office
received a pamphlet or weekly monitoring from the group that implemented
it into their office. The problems encountered were minor ones (ie: fruit
flies, and mold) but they became serious when they were not solved properly.
People who want vermicomposters in their offices
During the week of March
2nd we searched for and found three people who wanted to try vermicomposting
in their offices. These people could be first time vermicomposters
or people who have vermicomposted before but for some reason stopped using
it. The three participants were given an information letter
and a consent form. The information letter
provided background information about vermicomposting, the goals of the
vermi-campaign, and what they will be doing as participants. The
consent letter was to ensure that we have their
consent to use them as participants in the project.
These people were asked what they presently know about the process, to determine what level of education was needed to implement successful vermicomposters into their offices. We also asked them what they wanted to learn about vermicomposting. This question was directed towards those who had some background knowledge about vermicomposting. As an example, if everyone participating in the vermi-campaign knew how to vermicompost but not how to deal with problems that may arise, our education would then be based heavily on trouble shooting. The full questionnaire for people who want to implement vermicomposters in their office is available for viewing.
In the above diagram for people who want vermicomposters,
we were asking them why they want one. The answer to this question
as well as the other ones that we asked them helped us to understand what
direction our education should be going in.
Click here to view the results for the people who want to have vermicomposters
We found that none of the particpants had ever vermicomposted before, but were familiar with the term; therefore, we decided that trouble shooting as well as introductory vermicomposting pamphlets were needed. All of the participants expressed a interest in learning as much as possible about vermicomposting.
On Monday March the 23rd vermicomposters were successfully implemented into three UW offices. They are located in the following offices: Jane Lang's in the Earth Science building, Anne Ross's in B.C. Matthews, and Subject #3 in the Chemistry II building. When receiving their vermicomposter each participant was given a trouble shooting pamphlet as well as one all about vermicomposting. These pamphlets were made by the vermi-campaign crew.
Click here to view the vermicomposting fact sheet
Click here to view the vermicomposting trouble shooting pamphlet
Click here to view
the general vermicomposting pamphlet
The assessment of the effectiveness
of our education was based upon a three week study period of the implemented
vermicomposters, ending on the 13th of April. The vermicomposters
were checked twice a week during this three week period. The purpose
of checking the vermicomposters was to ensure that problems were being
identified and corrected promptly and that our educational literature is
The first thing that we checked for was odor coming from the vermicomposter. The following can cause a vermicomposter to smell and will be checked regardless if there is an odour present or not: The moisture level can be checked by moving the soil. If there is a puddle of water in the bottom of the vermicomposter then appropriate actions will be taken.
The second thing that we checked for was pests around or in the vermicomposter. This was done visually by quickly looking into the soil. Common pests include fruit flies, bees or ants.
The third thing on our checklist included the type and amount of organic waste that was being put into the vermicomposter. This helped us to determine if the vermicomposter was being overloaded, and if a reduction of a certain type of food was needed.
Worm health was also assessed. This was done by digging away a small hole into the soil of the vermicomposter. Red Wigglers do not like light and therefore the live ones would burrow to the bottom of the vermicomposter. The worm health was measured as high, low, or none. The full checklist is available for viewing.
Click here to view the results of the checklist for all three vermicomposters
The results show that some small problems did
arise but were taken care of immediately with the assistance of the vermi-campaign
crew. The most common problem was having the soil either too dry
or too wet. This was solved by simply adding water when it was too
dry, or removing the lid and turning the compost when it was too wet.
When mold or fruit flies did show up in the vermicomposter we explained
to the participants the importance of burying food completely and not overloading
Anne Ross' vermicomposter became severely overloaded by many office employees, which resulted in a presence of mold. We instructed Anne to refrain from adding organic waste for approximately one week. The mold was removed and the lid was left off for a few days. The result of this was that the worms were better able to decompose the majority of the organic waste.
Jane Lang's vermicomposter became too dry and she was instructed to add a cup of water to increase the moisture content. However, she added too much water and the bedding became too wet. She then left the lid off for a few days and turned the soil daily. The main component that Jane was adding to her vermicomposter was acidic fruits,such as oranges. This could have made the soil too acidic and therefore would not have been a suitable environment for the worms. She was advised to add crushed egg shells to the bedding in order to balance out the acidity.
Our third subject's vermicomposter attracted fruit flies as he did not bury his food properly. He was given a number of suggestions to fix this problem but he was not interested. The number of fruit flies was minimal and he said that they did not bother him. The soil was also found to be dry due to the fact that room was too hot. It was suggested that he add water but again he was not interested in correcting the problem.
FOLLOW UP QUESTIONAIRE
On April 13th, at the end of the study period, personal interviews were conducted with all of the participants in the vermi-campaign project. The participants were asked if they enjoyed having their vermicomposters and what they liked and didn't like about it. This helped us to understand if there was an area that we did not concentrate on enough in our education that caused the participants to become frustrated with vermicomposting. We asked them what problems they faced with their vermicomposter and how they solved these problems. This helped us to understand if our education and especially our trouble shooting pamphlet was sufficient and informative. Finally, they were asked if they plan on keeping their vermicomposter. This helped us to assess if our goals were obtained or not. The full follow-up questionnaire is available for viewing. Each vermi-campaign participant was asked 3 trouble shooting questions about vermicomposting to test if they really learned anything by our study and education.
Click here for the results of the follow-up questionnaire
Overall the particpants
enjoyed their vermicomposting experience and learned a great deal from
it. They all found the pamhlets and weekly check-ups very useful
and informative. The participants all said that the most postivie
aspect of vermicomposting was their contribution to the reduction in waste.
Both Anne Ross and Jane Lang are keeping their vermicomposters in order
to continue this contribution of waste reduction.
Jane and Anne answered their test questions successfully and without hesitation. Our third subject was unresponsive to our questions because he was no longer interested in participating in our project due to the fact that he was leaving the university.
Each participant received
a letter of thanks and a certificate at the end of the project. There
were two types of thank you letters, one for the people who plan on keeping
their vermicomposter and one for the people who will not
be keeping theirs. These letters were a way of us showing
our appreciation for their participating.
A full copy of our timeline is also available for viewing.
There were a few limitations
to our project that may have affected our results. We have offered
solutions to these limitations so that in future projects they can be avoided.
The limited time in which we conducted the project was a problem. There was not enough time to accurately assess if our education helped the participants in the vermi-campaign to vermicompost successfully. These time constraints could be due to the long duration of getting permission from the UW Research Department. This three and a half week delay also affected the time when the questionaries and interviews were conducted, causing them to be conducted later than anticipated.
The number of people participating in the vermi-campaign also limited our project. The numbers were limited because there was not enough materials and resources for more to participate. Solutions to this limitation include, finding people to participate in the project in the early stages of planning and then immediately inform Patti Cook of the numbers so that she can order any additional material that may be required. Another solution is to harvest worms from more than just one existing vermicomposter on campus. The people who have them on campus could be approached and asked if they can offer some worms for the project.
The small size of the bin was a limitation because it allowed only a few people to use it instead of a big group of people. This limitation could be avoided if larger vermicomposting bins were obtained. Therefore, more people could put their organic waste into it instead of having to throw it away because it is full.
The final limitation of the vermi-campaign was that one vermicomposter was given to a person and they were educated about it and then that person gave their vermicomposter to Anne Ross. This is a problem because she is now looking after the vermicomposter did not receive any education from the vermi-campaign crew. A solution to this problem is to be sure that the person who is being educated about vermicomposting is the one who will be monitoring it.
The vermi-campaign crew
came up with many recommendations that would make any future vermicomposting
project on the UW campus successful.
Our most important recommendation is that there be a continual monitoring program put into place on the UW campus. The results from the surveys and the implementation of the vermicomposters during the vermi-campaign show that for vermicomposting to be a success that there must be someone who is educated enough that they can check the vermicomposters on a regular basis. (ie: once a week) This monitoring will ensure that the people with the vermicomposters are vermicomposting correctly.
Besides just having a monitoring program in place on campus, a vermicomposting implementation program should be established. This would include promoting the education and awareness about the benefits of vermicomposting on the UW campus.
Another important recommendation is that those who currently have a vermicomposter in their office and are knowledgeable about its process and function, help other people get one started in their office. This will promote vermicomposting on the UW campus. Also, those who currently have vermicomposters on the UW campus could share their worms with others who are are going to start vermicomposting. This is a good idea because worms reproduce quickly and must eventually be harvested.
Having a workshop would be beneficial for any vermicomposting project. It would allow for the participants to see how to vermicompost first hand, how to solve problems and ask any questions that they may have. A workshop would increase the level of knowledge and confidence that the new vermicomposters have about the process.
If a vermicomposter is being used by more than a few people then appointing one or two people to monitor and maintain it would be a good idea. This would likely reduce the risk of the vermicomposter becoming overloaded which could lead to many other problems. It would be a good idea if the person/people who are monitoring the vermicomposter have a higher level of education about the process.
A list of offices and names of the people who have vermicomposters on the UW campus should be made and posted where it can be easily accessed. This list could be maintained and updated by the UW Waste Management Office. The purpose of this list would be so that people would know who to contact if they want to see a vermicomposter and how it works. It would also be a good resource for those who need help with their vermicomposter or for future students who want to do projects on it.
Having a quantitative study of the vermicomposters done would show how much waste is being diverted from the UW waste stream through vermicomposting.
Problem : Infestation of pests (ie: fruit flies)
Solution : Place a jar with beer in it beside the vermicomposter. Make a tightly wrapped cone shape out of paper (with a very small hole in the center) and place this over the opening of the jar. The fruit flies will be more attracted to the beer than they will be to the vermicomposter. They will fly into the jar through the hole and will not be able to get out again. When the fruit flies are all gone pour the contents of the jar into a sink. To prevent fruit flies from returning to the vermicomposter, make sure that the food is completely covered in the vermicomposter.
Problem : Mold
Solution : In order for mold to be produced in the vermicomposter there must be too much moisture. The mold should be removed from the vermicomposter, including any foods that may be moldy. Thin strips of newspaper should be added to the bedding of the vermicomposter in order to soak up some of the extra moisture. The bedding should also be rotated so that what is on the bottom of the container is now on top and visa versa. This will allow any extra wet portions of the bedding to be able to dry.
Problem : Too acidic or too basic conditions
Solution : Worms thrive in an environment that has a ph between 6 and 8. If the vermicomposter becomes too acidic then add powdered egg shells to counter act it. Also cut down on the amount of acidic foods that are being put into the vermicomposter (ie:orange peels and apples) until the pH becomes normal again. If the vermicomposter becomes to basic then add more citrus foods to it (ie: apple cores, orange peels).
Problem : Bad Odour
Solution : A bad odour could be caused by the food not being buried properly, too much water build up in the bottom of the vermicomposter (see mold section), or overloading (see overloading section). The best way to get rid of the bad odour is to make sure that all food is properly covered with soil and to rotate the bedding so that what was on the bottom can dry out. This may also involve draining out excess water that may have formed in the bottom of the vermicomposter (make sure no worms go out with the water). If too much food is being placed in the vermicomposter it may begin to smell because the worms will not be able to decompose it fast enough. If this is the case then no more food should be put into the vermicomposter until the worms have a chance to "catch up".
Problem : Too wet or too dry conditions
Solution : The bedding of a vermicomposter should feel like a wrung out sponge. If it is too wet then add thin strips of newspaper to the vermicomposter and mix it in. If the vermicomposter is too dry then add small amounts of water and mix the contents until the desired wetness is reached.
If any of these problems occur and steps aren't
taken to solve them the result may be the death of the worms. We
will use these ideas in order to put together our trouble shooting pamphlet
that will be given to all of the participants in the vermi-campaign.
This pamphlet will help the participants to solve any problems that may
arise with their vermicomposters such as, how much food of each type of
they can put into their vermicomposter, how to check and monitor it, and
how to tell if the conditions are healthy for the worms.
In conclusion, the vermi-campaign
has been very successful. We feel that the education that we gave
the participants combined with the weekly monitoring of their vermicomposters
contributed to their success. We feel that a vermicomposting program
should be established on campus with the purpose of being a "help desk"
for vermicomposters as well as being an information source for anyone who
wants to vermicompost.
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