September 22, 2011

Overheating wigglers cause composting delay

Students who have been waiting for Knox to utilize composting are going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Although a composting system has been purchased and installed for use in Dining Services, the “red wiggler” worms, agents in the process, are doing more overheating than eating.

“Composting was originally, as many things are in the college, a student idea,” Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer said.

Over a year ago, a student survey revealed the desire for composting to come to Knox, and a Composting Committee began looking into various systems that could be put into place.

The current system, set up at the beginning of the summer, is a two-part process. First, a machine called a somat dehydrates and sterilizes post-consumer waste, which is whatever is left on a plate after a meal. The end result is a soil amendment.

This, along with old newspapers and pre-consumer waste, which is thrown out before it has been eaten, all goes in to the worm bin. It is this second part of the process where the trouble begins.

“As food waste decomposes, it generates heat, and worms don’t like heat. So if it gets too hot, it gets so that we can’t feed them for a few days,” Mayer said.

Once the bin has an adequate volume of waste, the heat from decomposing waste at the top layers will not affect the worms, which live in the bottom layers. Until this happens the composting system will not be able to operate to its fullest potential.

“The capacity for the composting system is 500 pounds a week, and they’re not operating at capacity. They’re doing maybe 300 pounds a week,” post-baccalaureate Maxwell Galloway-Carson, ’11, who played a key role in bringing this system to Knox, said.

Although the composting system was expected to be in full operation by the beginning of fall term, the overheated worms have pushed this deadline back to winter break. As a result, student workers employed to assist in the process have had significantly less work to do. Instead of having two students working every day, it is currently only necessary for one student to work every other day.

Regardless of the initial delays, the composting system is still expected to be effective.

“I don’t think the delays are going to affect the outcome. It’s just taken longer than expected to be fully up and running,” sophomore Eli Mulhausen said. Mulhausen is one of the student employees hired to maintain the composting process.

Once the system is in full working order, there should be no further delays, according to Mayer. The compost produced will be available for use by students, faculty and staff.

Chelsea Embree
Chelsea Embree is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in art history. She previously served as co-mosaic editor and as an arts and features reporter for TKS. During the summer of 2013, she served as a content intern at The St. Louis Beacon. Chelsea has studied under former Random House copy chief Sean Mills and taught writing as a teaching assistant for First-Year Preceptorial. An avid blogger, she has written extensively about youth in St. Louis and maintains a lively poetry and nonfiction blog on Tumblr. She is also the director of communications for Mortar Board and co-president of Terpsichore Dance Collective.

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