Advocates Dig Learning, Teaching Sustainable Practices
March 22, 2017
Eco-Reps learn about worm composting bins so they can spread the word at UT Dallas. From left: Aasya Peera, Samantha Manuel, Fred Traylor, Delaney Conroy, Emily Stinnett, Sustainability Coordinator Evan Paret, Associate Director of Energy Conservation and Sustainability Thea Junt and Kelsey Lyle.
For Emily Stinnett, a sophomore at The University of Texas at Dallas, recycling is about to get a bit more personal.
The international political economy student has been committed to recycling ever since she can remember. Now Stinnett is taking it a step further: She is stowing a worm composting bin beneath her kitchen sink to track how well she recycles food waste.
“This makes it a part of your lifestyle. Every day you can check on how your worms are doing,” she said.
Stinnett learned about worm composting when she signed on as one of the University’s first Ecology Representatives, or Eco-Reps, a new student internship opportunity through the Office of Sustainability, part of the University's Facilities Management.
It’s just one of the projects Eco-Reps will tackle this semester as they work to engage their fellow students in sustainability issues.
Emily Stinnett, an international political economy sophomore, explains the process. If you don't see the video, watch it on Vimeo.
Eco-Reps also have been tasked to help plan Earth Week activities, collect data for Recyclemania, update the Sustainability website, build beehives for campus use, plant milkweed plants for monarch waystations, and make shadow boxes to illustrate what items can be recycled.
Worm composting sounded like an easy way to start. Sometimes called vermicomposting, it’s a simple way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings. It saves space in landfills, and provides gardeners with a steady supply of rich nutrients and organic matter to feed and nurture plants.
When done right, the vermicomposting bins shouldn’t smell, because the worms digest any food waste before it rots.
Eco-Reps recently built their own worm composting bins for use in their apartments and residence hall rooms. They researched the process and watched YouTube video demonstrations together. Then the students drilled air and drainage holes in bins before placing each one inside a larger bin to catch worm castings and liquids. The interns then put scraps of wet newspaper and compost at the bottom of the bins before placing a handful of fresh worms inside.
“We don’t want to drown our worms and we don’t want to suffocate them,” Stinnett said.
“I hope to be able to show students that practicing sustainability doesn’t cost more or take a lot of effort. There are easy changes we can make to help the planet and, in turn, ourselves.”
Students will add food scraps only every few days so they don’t overwhelm the worms’ ability to digest or disturb their natural habitat. Compostable items include vegetables, fruit skins, bread and greens, but no fatty meats, dairy products, acidic fruits or onions.
The worm composting recycles food waste faster than regular composting, said Thea Junt MS’16 MBA’16, associate director for energy conservation and sustainability.
“Any organic food waste will be unrecognizable in two to three weeks, and it’ll be gone in a month,” Junt said.
Eco-Reps will showcase their worm composting bins and explain how to build them at Earth Week in April.
Aasya Peera, an interdisciplinary studies junior, said she will keep her composting bin in the garage at her family’s home in Richardson.
“I’m hoping it cuts down on what we throw away,” Peera said. “This is an easy way for students to compost their own food waste.”
Sociology sophomore Fred Traylor said he’d been interested in sustainability since he attended a summer camp while in high school. He found out about the Eco-Rep internship when he toured campus with his sustainability communities class in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
“I hope to be able to show students that practicing sustainability doesn’t cost more or take a lot of effort. There are easy changes we can make to help the planet and, in turn, ourselves,” Traylor said.