Master Recyclers Dig Hanging with the Worms at PCC Rock Creek

On May Day, 2010, a lucky dozen Master Recyclers toured PCC Rock Creek Campus’ vermicomposting closed-loop system. Hosted by Erin Stanforth, PCC Rock Creek Sustainability Coordinator, Master Recyclers learned about the innovative efforts employed at the school. Later this year, 200 gallons of weekly post-consumer waste from the school will become feedstock as part of an innovative UK-developed composting effort on campus. Stay tuned for more details this fall.

The Loop Tour began inside the cafeteria where a post-consumer waste system is underway, and students are being trained to separate compostable dining ware from food waste and other recyclable containers.

After touring the cafeteria, the group went outside and grabed buckets of kitchen scraps and coffee grounds to be transported to an 8’ x 5’ vermicomposting bin teeming with worms. Fats, oils, meat, dairy and citrus are excluded from the kitchen mix. Participants asked many questions including evaluating soil texture, caring and feeding of the worms and how to harvest the compost.

The group learned that all food is chopped into very small pieces and begins to decompose in a “hot rot” pile before it’s fed to the worms. After bleached coffee filters are removed as an art supply, the remaining coffee is added to the compost. It’s even alleged that java grounds invigorate the worms as they travel six to eight inches below the surface. During cold spells, worms are kept warm under a Styrofoam cover and heated from below by a lamp. Temperatures are monitored in multiple locations throughout the bin to ensure there are no hot spots and the worms continue to thrive.

When it’s time to harvest the compost, an electronic winch, located at the base of the bin, scrapes the bottom to dump fresh compost onto the ground. This harvest is then transported to the PCC greenhouse and Learning Garden, areas where students learn to grow plant starts and vegetables. PCC staff tends their communal garden, and students execute gardening experiments. Vegetables grown in the Learning Garden are harvested and returned to the cafeteria to be served to students.

It was exciting to see the variety of sustainable practices at the PCC Rock Creek campus, of which the closed-system composting is just one example. Sharing this information with the group and providing this tour to interested groups is Erin Stanforth’s way of demonstrating PCC’s interest in bringing the community together. A great big thanks to all who attended!