A sustainability initiative worming its way into University (vermi)culture

March 16 / 177

Claudia Gash with her worm culture compost system
Claudia Gash with her worm culture compost system

The University of Melbourne holds a valuable resource and it dwells at the bottom of a stairwell on the Parkville Campus.

Following a successful application for the Green Innovation Fund (GIF), Claudia Gasch, a Research Officer from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences started up an on-campus vermiculture (worm) compost system in August 2015.

“There are lots of areas at the university where people want to do something like this, but there’s probably not a budget or they don’t feel supported. GIF helped us do it,” Ms Gasch says.

In the four months since it was installed, this worm farm system has saved 750 litres of vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and other compostable items from going to the landfill.

“We don’t call it organic waste, we call it organic resources.

“Composting is about reducing waste and thinking about what you do. Most things that you eat during the day can be reused and turned into something valuable.”

The core team involved in managing the project comprises both professional and academic staff, including Dr Tony Weatherley, Professor Jean-Pierre Scheerlinck, Sue Burdette and Kerri Runnalls.

“Projects like this work because you have relationship building. That’s the core part of it. You can get the knowledge anywhere, but it’s really about walking around and spending time talking to staff. The number of people who are helping is growing.”

Small bins to collect food scraps for the main worm bin are placed throughout kitchens and kitchenettes in the Faculty’s buildings and also at Medley Hall.

The main vermiculture bin is uniquely triangular in shape and was developed by Worm Lovers, a New Zealand company. The shape of the bin encourages worms to eat food scraps at the top, while worm ‘juice’ and castings can be accessed below.

“Staff and students are able to take home the worm juice produced by the worm farms to put in their own gardens at home,” Ms Gasch says. “We can’t collect castings yet, as it’s a new system. They can only be collected once it is actually full.”

Ms Gasch says they hope to extend the program to other campuses such as Werribee and Dookie, and also collaborate with other campus groups such as the Community Garden.

For more info on worm farms or composting, contact sustainable-campus@unimelb.edu.au.

Story by Monique Edwards.

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