Contact: Ellen Bank


January 20, 2000

Worms Turn MUSC Cafeteria Waste to Useful Compost

CHARLESTON, SC -- The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has become the first institution of higher education in the nation to start a full scale food composting operation using the ultimate composter, worms.

"MUSC is known for being on the cutting edge of biomedical research and health care, but we are also on the cutting edge of recycling technology," said Christine von Kolnitz, MUSC recycling coordinator.

Composting with worms is called vermicomposting, explained von Kolnitz. "We chose vermicomposting because the worms are space efficient, they do most of the labor, and they're fast," said von Kolnitz.

The Medical University's main cafeteria, run by Marriott Food Services, separates their organic waste material for collection. On July 13, the recycling team started collecting 32 gallons of organic waste a day from this location. A recycling assistant, weighs the organics, shreds them and then uses a conveyor to spread the shredded material on the top of the worm bed.

"We have fed more than 250 pounds of worms 5,085 pounds of food and 385 pounds of newspaper since July," said von Kolnitz. On December 17, the container was emptied for the first time by turning on a hydraulic device that pulls a blade along the very bottom of the bedding (the worms stay in the top four inches of bedding). Six hundred and sixty pounds of castings (worm excrement) were collected and a sample was sent to Clemson Extension for nutrient testing. Once the test results are back, the grounds crew will use the nutrient information to determine where to incorporate the compost on campus. Castings will now be retrieved every two to three weeks.

The goal of this project is to use a sustainable waste reduction method to reduce the amount of garbage being sent to the incinerator. "Additional benefits achieved by this project will be reduced waste disposal costs and compost for MUSC's beautifully landscaped grounds," said von Kolnitz. "In the future, we will also be conducting studies on using the worms to compost lab animal bedding." This project was funded by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling, the Sustainable Universities Initiative, and the MUSC Office of Recycling and Solid Waste Management.