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Meet the Mighty Whitworms

By Trisha Coder

They may be tiny, but they're a giant part of Whitworth's new recycling program.

The "Whitworms" wriggled onto campus last summer after then-Turf and Landscape Specialist August Weil (now Whitworth's employment manager) made a pitch to acquire red wigglers composting worms. Weil's vermicomposting idea helped secure a $9,000 grant from PepsiCo.

The red wigglers live in a big bin, where they ingest shredded napkins and food products from the dining hall. The worms' castings are then turned into a tea-like substance that may eventually be used to replace chemical fertilizer on the university's athletics fields.

Meanwhile, different types of worms are hard at work underground. Students are encouraged to put their food waste and napkins down "worm tubes" located throughout campus. Worms will ingest the food particles over time and then spread their castings, producing healthier soil.

"All this work the worms do makes many things possible like clean water, clean air, healthy plants, and it leads to good water flow through the soil," Weil says. "We are working with the system that God created to faithfully care for His creation in our neighborhood."

The Whitworms are part of a new recycling program that earned Whitworth the Recycler of the Year award from the Washington State Recycling Association.

The program was implemented in fall 2017, after Whitworth teamed up with Spokane's Resource Synergy. The waste-reduction consulting firm identified that most of the university's waste, about 1,000 pounds a day, came from the Hixson Union Building.

The firm worked with Whitworth and its dining vendor, Sodexo, to make changes. Soon, compost bins replaced trash cans in the kitchen. Cafeteria workers began focusing on portion control, and Sodexo installed signs and plate scrape bins, making it easier for students to compost leftovers.

Within a few weeks, the HUB had decreased waste by 70 percent and was saving thousands of dollars in trash collection costs.

"We thought we were doing a good job recycling and managing waste," Facilities Director Chris Eichorst says. "But with expertise and analysis from Resource Synergy, and discoveries we made, we are now optimizing our waste streams."

This story appears in the fall 2018 issue of Whitworth Today magazine, available here.

Watch this fun video for helpful tips on making the most of your compost on campus or at home.