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Charlotte to Install First Airport Worm Composting System

By Lesley Lammers

While it seems logical that many restaurants have already begun to reap the benefits of installing onsite worm composting operations, airports may not be the first place people would think of to have such systems in place. The Charlotte Douglas International Airport will change that fact when they open a $1.1 million recycling center in February 2012, to include a vermicomposting system that will use 300 pounds of worms to chow down on up to two tons of airport patron waste per day.

Charlotte Douglas Airport Director Jerry Orr explains to the Charlotte Observer, "When you can do something that is good for the environment and make it self-sustaining, that strikes me as something we should pursue."

Not only will this endeavor save the airport money by not having to pay for the gathering and ridding of waste, but the subsequent compost created will be used as free fertilizer for the airport’s 6,000 acres. Whatever worm castings are leftover will be packaged and sold, which could be lucrative as such material has a reputation of being the ‘black gold’ of composts. The entire recycling center, which will sort and sell plastic, aluminum and paper in addition to the vermicomposting system, is anticipated to save the airport roughly $1 million over the course of five years. Go Green will supervise the center and provide ten new jobs to manage the initiative.

Consider all of the organic material that folks go through on a daily basis at an airport – bathroom paper towels, napkins, food leftovers, plant waste, paper scraps, etc. – all of which will be thrown into the airport’s soon to be built 1,600 square foot pre-composter. After the pre-composter somewhat breaks down the waste, it will then be emptied into the “continuous flow” vermicomposting system. These $6,000 worth of worms will live in an 8,000 square foot space, happily chomping their way vertically toward the fresher food up top, while ditching their castings at the bottom to be collected.

North Carolina State University faculty vermicomposting guru, Rhonda Sherman claims this to be the first airport vermicomposting system of its kind, with Raleigh-Durham International Airport contemplating a similar program. Sherman tells the Huffington Post that vermicomposting is a budding industry, "More and more people are doing it, especially with this new green movement. All sorts of businesses are jumping on the green bandwagon and doing vermicomposting onsite. It's being used on a really large scale to handle animal manure, and on a mid-scale in places like hospitals, restaurants, universities and prisons. There's just huge interest out there." Now she can add airports to that list and perhaps others will consider following in Charlotte Douglas’ footsteps.

Lesley Lammers headshot

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

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