Students to plant vermicompost bin on-campus

By Caroline Young |
Photo by Matthew Boyle

PHOTO CAPTION: Students are working on a system that will turn waste from Bugg’s Bistro into a soil amendment.

Ideas and projects are sprouting up all over campus, with one common goal: make Flagler “greener.” Student Government Association recently approved four environmental science students’ final class project, which is a fully functioning on-campus vermicomposting system.

Vermicomposting differs from traditional composting in that it uses worms to feed on organic materials to provide nutrient-rich soil amendment. The system is faster and will also reduce paper waste since it is commonly used as bedding for the worms.

Every semester, Professor Barbara Blonder has her Environmental Science students construct a service-learning project in lieu of a final exam. One class, Blonder mentioned vermicomposting as a possible project idea. Intrigued, junior Lauren Belcher did the research and convinced her group to pursue it.

Belcher is ready to see a change in Flagler’s waste systems. “I work at Bugg’s Bistro and I see how much food and paper waste we have and I know that composting is an easy way to prevent this,” Belcher said. “The landfills are filling up way too fast and taking up way too much space.”

The students are planning to prove their case starting with Bugg’s Bistro. They will use the organic food preparation scraps to fuel the compost. Once this system is implemented, they hope to expand the system into the dining hall’s food waste and eventually students’ food waste.

Belcher is aware that getting the system off the ground may be a longer process than preferred. She presented SGA with a trouble-shooting chart, including all possible problems, diagnoses and remedies for the vermicomposting process.

“As soon as students hear worms or composting, they think of smells and things like that,” Belcher said. “We have done our research and are completely prepared, it’s all fixable.”

Blonder finds it interesting how composting has gotten a bad reputation over the years, because it is an easy process. She hopes vermicomposting will cause people’s views to change and that it will be an effective “showcase” or demonstration project for the new Environmental Science minor and Flagler’s effort to go green.

Blonder has agreed to purchase the redworms necessary for the project. “Vermicomposting is a way to reduce environmental footprint, so it is money well-invested,” she said. “It will help get the ball rolling.”

Blonder believes the system will be beneficial for our campus on several levels. With vermicomposting, there is complete reduction of the waste stream. No organic matter is going into landfills and nutrients will be going back into the earth.

“Basically they’ve [Bugg’s Bistro] agreed to separate their garbage for the Green Committee to collect daily, if approved,” Belcher said.

“It is the ultimate recycling — reusing the nutrients,” Blonder said. “It could benefit everybody.”

Dean Stewart thinks vermicomposting could be a great way for Flagler to be more eco-friendly.

“Anything that will keep less garbage out of the landfills is worth it,” said Stewart.

Stewart hopes that the vermicomposting project will be approved, but he says it could be a difficult process. He applauds the students in their efforts, but wants to make sure that there will be a consistent group that will keep it going long after the creators graduate.

“My concern is that I have seen three recycling programs start during my 16 years as dean,” said Stewart. “Two failed and the one now is starting to limp.”

The original two possible locations, with one being directly behind the student center and the other, next to the palm garden near the pool, were rejected.

The location near the pool would have to be approved by the city historical architectural review board and the Flagler Board of Trustees has been adamant about keeping that area as is.

The area behind Ringhaver is a problem, because it is a drainage retention area.

“They came up with a way to bury the drainage retention under the ground and put the nice patio on top so we can’t put anything there that would penetrate into that area,” said Stewart.

Stewart and President Abare put their heads together and decided upon two alternate locations and presented them to Chuck Riffenberg, First Chair of SGA Green Committee.

Stewart is currently waiting for their response, but he expresses concern that transportation will be an issue if either the Oveida or Riberia location is chosen.

“It is a lot of work on whoever is going to be responsible for getting the composting there and you’re talking about constantly hauling it all down there,” he said.

Stewart hopes to see ARAMARK, our campus food provider, take responsibility for the transportation for the vermicomposting system.

According to, ARAMARK, works with over 600 colleges and universities throughout the U.S., helping them to reduce their environmental footprint.

Riffenburg and Belcher, who is an employee at Bugg’s Bistro, met with the bistro’s retail manager and food service director to discuss the vermicomposting process.

“ARAMARK is very interested in green initiatives and this is an excellent model for how college campuses can do this,” Blonder said. “If they implement it here, ARAMARK may take it and run with it.”

Supporters and volunteers for vermicomposting on-campus include: Lincolnville’s CitySprout, Service Club, SGA and their Green Committee, Flagler’s Greenpeace Student Chapter and several Bugg’s Bistro employees.

Since Riffenburg’s Hunger Initiative has been approved, the location of the vermicompost bin will be adjacent to the gardens that Riffenburg plans to build. This location is most likely going to be at 74 Riberia Street, alongside the Sports Management building.

Blonder is excited. She knows vermicomposting will have positive repercussions for the school if everything goes according to plan.

Now that Blonder’s enthusiasm has rubbed off on her students, they are taking on their own green initiatives to change our environmental surroundings for the better.

“These students are really making a difference at Flagler,” Blonder said. “Their enthusiasm is infectious.”

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