By Stephanie Kane
Carrboro Commons Writer
Muriel Williman, wearing a “Compost Happens” shirt at the Weaver Street Market lawn, hosted an interactive demonstration on the importance and ease of at-home composting on behalf of the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department March 22.
About 30 local residents came out for the presentation, which focused on motivating residents to compost, using outdoor and indoor methods.
“It’s phenomenal when you see the amount of waste we can reduce when we’re being conscious of the material that passes through us,” Williman, an education and outreach specialist, said after the event.
According to N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina’s estimated 420,000 tons of food waste are buried or burned each year at considerable financial and environmental costs.
Williman brought examples of compost-friendly materials to the demonstration in addition to her personal at-home compost bins. She also distributed literature to highlight the benefits of composting such as the decrease of household garbage, reduction in odor and fewer pests that arise with garbage containers. Composting also conserves water and energy used by kitchen sink garbage disposal units and waste management trucks.
Rhonda Kott, a resident of Chapel Hill who attended the event, was intrigued by indoor composting because of her wooded backyard, which falls prey to foraging deer in the area.
“We are interested in composting mostly to reduce our landfill waste and garbage,” Rhonda’s husband, Don Kott, said.
Indoor composting, also known as vermicomposting, consists of keeping a small bin in any dark, ventilated household place at a consistent temperature between 50 and 84 degrees, although between 55 and 77 degrees is ideal. Popular spaces include kitchens, laundry rooms, pantries, mudrooms or basements.
The bin is filled with a base of shredded, moist newspaper, and worms. Williman cited coffee and tea grounds; food scraps such as fruit and vegetable cores or egg shells; manure; and leaves or natural wood chips as excellent sources for organic compost. Materials to avoid include dairy products, meat and bones.
In ideal conditions, the matter will develop a clumpy, soil-like composition in as little as a few weeks, though three to six months is a more reasonable expectation.
Others wanted to learn how composting can benefit their gardens.
Composted material serves as excellent nourishment for houseplants or small-scale gardens, top-dress for seed-starting mixes and fertilizer-like spray when diluted with water.
“I love using it as a gift for friends and family,” Williman said during her presentation, as a large handful of earthy material from her display writhed with dozens of red worms.
The worms for these low-maintenance ecosystems can be purchased from bait shops or online suppliers. Williman suggested local farmer John Blythe of Twin Spruce Farms who can be found on Saturdays at the Farmers’ Market.
One attendee, Anita Hicks, came in search of professional advice for her efforts with the new Greenbridge Developments being built in Chapel Hill. To ensure that the development becomes green certified at a LEED gold level through the U.S. Green Building Council, Hicks wants to feature a building-wide compost pile for resident contributions.
“It will be two years before anyone is living in Greenbridge … but I would love to see some sort of chute for every floor that ends in a community worm bin that people can add to daily,” Hicks said.
Composting is a labor of love, and a Greenbridge vermicompost pile would involve a weekly or monthly caretaker, but Hicks is eager about the idea and hopes Williman will come to educate residents if the project materializes.
Because of the nature of the decay process, Williman said, vermicomposting can be ignored for weeks at a time.
“The worms do the work,” Williman said. Vermicomposting is also apartment-dweller friendly because of the relatively clean, odorless process and small amount of space needed.
Williman, whose love of the natural world developed at a young age through her mother’s organic gardening, earned a degree in environmental studies and ecosystems.
Eventually her work brought her to the waste management field because of the opportunities to educate on a local level and combat commercial recycling and composting obstacles.
“The municipal composting permit process is a real barrier,” Williman said. Developing the infrastructure and finding funding for the equipment and maintenance on a town-wide scale are the most daunting obstacles that prevent the issuing of permits.
Williman has turned her energy toward what she considers the solution: education. She visits schools, churches and other civic organizations such as the Chapel Hill Community Center and the Chapel Hill Garden Club to promote conservation efforts.
“Each one of us can make a difference, and it doesn’t take that much,” she said. “People can get discouraged and think that what they do doesn’t matter, but I really vie against pessimistic attitudes like that.”
Worms Eat My Garbage