With bins full of slimy red worms, Associated Students Environmental Affairs Board plans to digest wasted food from Isla Vista restaurants and turn it into fertile soil.
Several campus environmental groups, in conjunction with the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, are sponsoring the creation and placement of compost bins in all I.V. parks and possibly on campus. The 6-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide and 6-foot-long bins – to be constructed by EAB volunteers – will contain red worms to break down unused food from I.V. eateries into topsoil. Alisha Dahlstrom, third-year environmental studies and aquatic biology major and EAB co-chair, said the grand opening of the roughly $5,000 project – dubbed the “Department of Public Worms” – will begin with five bins in People’s Park later this month. Aaron Gilliam, fourth-year environmental studies major and EAB co-chair, said EAB plans to put about 15 to 20 bins in each I.V. park, which will be maintained by volunteers and potentially paid for in part by the Santa Barbara County solid waste management division.
Gilliam said worm composting would help solve a commonly overlooked problem in Santa Barbara.
“The Santa Barbara landfill is reaching capacity, and the people in Santa Barbara are trying to figure out what to do with our waste,” he said. “It’s a huge issue that not that many people know about.”
Gilliam said the composting bins will contain soil, red worms and unused food from Super Cucas, Java Jones, Blenders in the Grass and hopefully several other I.V. eateries. After the worms have eaten and digested the food, the worm output – which Dahlstrom said can equal nearly 16 pounds per day – will be filtered through a mesh bottom. Gilliam said worms reduce the size of food waste to one-fortieth of its original size to create “worm castings,” which are marketable as a soil fertilizer.
Dahlstrom said the fertile soil, after composting, would be allotted to different places within I.V.
“Part of the worm output goes to the IVRPD because we are using their land,” Dahlstrom said. “We’re also going to sell it to local businesses, and it will be used for community and area gardens as fertilizer.”
Gilliam said there are many benefits to worm composting versus simply throwing food away.
“It can be contained in boxes, which you could even have in your house,” Gilliam said. “[Composting bins] don’t smell, which is the case with regular composting, and it yields a high-quality product of worm castings. When you compost, you’re not just reducing waste, but creating a product …”
Ed France, fourth-year environmental studies major and former EAB chair, said EAB would like to increase the composting service for on-campus food service. Currently, food waste from university dining halls is sent to composting piles near the Santa Ynez Apartments, but food waste from the UCen is not composted, he said. EAB is trying to set up a program wherein the UCen’s food waste would go to composting bins near A.S. Recycling. For the I.V. parks project, however, he said Estero Park is the next location for composting bins.
“Composting is incredibly important for rebuilding topsoil and agriculture,” France said. “And another great thing about it is that you can do it in urban places.”
France said he hopes to see I.V. residents participate on a large scale.
“It would be great when someone in Isla Vista can bring a bucket full of their kitchen scraps to an I.V. park to compost and come home with a bucket full of rich soil for their garden,” France said.