Suffering from cost overruns and broken equipment that injured an employee, Charlotte Airport executives brass are looking for another vendor to run its recycling program, which features an 8,000 square foot vermicomposting bed.
So it sounds like your small-scale worm bin is run more competently than the vermicomposting and recycling operation at one of the nation’s busiest airports.
But maybe this shouldn’t surprise you.
Normally, larger operations enjoy a significant edge in efficiency to smaller ones, but I think vermicomposting is one area where small and (more importantly) simple operators can beat the pants off more complex outfits. Smaller vermicomposters enjoy the following four advantages, even if they’re not trying to turn a profit:
- Vermicomposting is not necessarily capital intensive
- Simpler food source to manage
- Little to no transportation cost
- Problems are more easily managed
Capital is more or less the aggregate of cash, equipment, and material a business owns. Some businesses, like Apple, are very capital intensive, constantly requiring investment in research and new manufacturing as their products change. Others, like Coca-Cola, require far less. Conventional recycling is extremely capital intensive as the equipment is sophisticated and requires constant maintenance. Nobody has a plastic recycler in his home. You need a massive operation to make recycling plastic economical.
Not so with vermicomposting, which can be done on an individual basis using materials already present in the home (minus the worms.) No equipment is needed to compost food scraps on a small scale. Anyone can have a food recycler in his home.
The Food Source
Smaller vermicomposters have simpler food sources, reducing or even eliminating any need to sort “vermicompost-ables” from other waste. Jack Chambers runs the Sonoma Valley Worm Farm, which is is NOT a small vermicomposting business. But his food source is incredibly simple: waste from a nearby cattle farm. A home vermicomposter can have a similarly simple food source, whether it be from his own home or the neighborhood coffee shop. But CLT’s waste stream is so diverse it requires a Herculean effort to separate worm food from recyclables to simple trash, a costly enterprise in terms of equipment and labor.
A massive vermicomposting effort often requires significant transportation cost, not just to take the food to the worms, but to take the castings to market. A home vermicomposter’s transportation cost might top out at 5 calories taking the scraps to the basement and the castings to the garden.
Problems Are Easier to Manage
And finally, when problems arise in a home worm bin, it is not a disaster. If a home bin goes “sour” due to overfeeding or excessive moisture it can normally be rectified by adding fresh bedding or removing some food. And the problem is specific to that worm bin. If conditions deteriorate in a massive flow-through reactor due to environmental or mechanical problems, there are thousands of dollars of worms and labor at risk, which might take months to recover from. A large Australian worm farm lost over $100,000 in European Nightcrawlers when they began using a cheaper peat moss for bedding. (Stick with the Canadian stuff, by the way). A smaller vermicomposting bin means smaller problems.
Now I applaud CLT officials for having the initiative to vermicompost as much of their waste stream as possible and despite their difficulties, it sounds like they’re at least getting some free fertilizer while they figure things out. But this should give anyone pause who is thinking about expanding their vermicomposting hobby into an industrial enterprise. It IS a different animal, requiring more than just a greater amount of worms.