Sunday, November 26, 2006

Worms at EPA

Considering the return on this it’s kind of hard to believe its something actually being done, in a state office, on public salaried time.

Worm wranglers to the rescue
California Environmental Protection Agency officials have turned to some unlikely allies to help curb the amount of waste going into landfills from their downtown office building
By Edie Lau - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

In his office on the 22nd floor of the California Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Sacramento, lawyer Erik Spiess is never alone -- not even when his door is closed.

At all times of the day and night, Spiess shares the company of hundreds of "co-workers" who do their job under his desk.

His officemates are worms, and Spiess is a worm wrangler. He's one of about 70 people in the building who tend worms that turn food scraps into compost at deskside.

In its quest to keep California at the frontier of environmental consciousness, Cal-EPA's Integrated Waste Management Board promotes workplace worm composting.

"It's so attention-getting," said Andrew Hurst, Cal-EPA sustainable operations coordinator and the building's lead worm tender.

That attention may start out with an "ewwww!" but often, the "ewwww!" evolves into "ahhhh!"
Most people unfamiliar with the concept of worm composting -- also known as vermicomposting, derived from the Latin word for worm, vermi -- think it must be a stinky, grotesque mess.

Spiess, an attorney for the state Water Resources Control Board who has been worm wrangling for five years, said that in his experience, it's none of those things.

The worms live in a tidy blue plastic bin tucked under his desk. Spiess pulled out the container and popped off the lid. To escape the burst of light, the worms wriggled deep into their bedding of torn newspapers.

"It just smells kind of musty, kind of like wet dirt," Spiess said.

The worms favor fruit and vegetable scraps such as apple and pear cores and banana peels.
They also feed on the paper bedding. Over time, the bin fills with worm castings, a polite term for worm poop…

…While vermicomposting "isn't rocket science," Hurst said, there are some tricks to making it work smoothly.

For example, the worms mustn't be fed meats or fats. Citrus fruits are too acidic for them to handle. Tenders must be cautious not to overfeed. Spiess said three banana peels and two pear cores are enough for his worms for a week.