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The worm turns – waste into compost at UC

10 October 2023

Food scraps at the University of Canterbury (UC) are being converted into nutrient-rich compost thanks to a new project by enthusiastic UC staff and students.


Enthusiastic staff and students show off the new worm farm at UC: (left to right) Jess Lamb, Chelsea Lewis-Greenham, Kaitlyn Lamb, Imo McRae, Dougal McEachen from Earthly Delights, Jam Kelly, Ollie Dunshea and Tilly King.


The team of dedicated composters, from Te Ngaki o Waiutuutu | UC Community Gardens, UC Sustainability Office and UC Compost Club,established a worm farm in May as part of Compost Awareness Week. 

The new worm farm helps to educate people about using food scraps wisely, with the wooden box farm located in a high foot-traffic area outside the Undercroft foodcourt.

SDG 12 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production.

Globally, food waste contributes to methane-gas emissions, and in Aotearoa New Zealand over 100,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year. As UC Compost Club founders Jess and Kaitlyn Lamb explained to a national audience on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp earlier this year, with just a small amount of effort some of this food waste can be converted to compost gold. 

“We have a very enthusiastic team of sustainability stars who focus on high-impact projects that contribute to a more sustainable campus, in this case turning food waste into compost to grow more vegetables in our community garden,” Sustainability Office coordinator Chloe Sutton says. 

Built by Dougal McEachen from Earthly Delights, the worm farm now houses some 1000 hungry worms, whose numbers are expected to increase with the warmer weather. The worm farm provides another way to create compost, alongside the campus community gardens, which produce many kilos of compost a year. 

“We collect a bucket of food scraps from the Undercroft kitchen weekly and give it to the worms. Along with the bacteria and micro-organisms, the worms break down the food into worm castings, which is a nutrient-rich compost that can be used on your garden,” UC Community Gardens coordinator Jam Kelly says.  

The project serves as a model for home farms, Kelly says. “We wanted to promote composting on campus andinspire people to set up their own worm farms. The advantage of worm composting is turning waste into a useful, nutrient-rich product for your garden. It is a quick process and can be contained and small, so it’s good for people living in small spaces. The castings retain water well and can be used to make a seed-raising mix.”

At UC’s worm farm, the worms have already munched through some 15kg of food scraps. Hold the onions when feeding worms though, as well as citrus, meat and avocado. These foods don’t suit worms, but they will happily chew through anything else. 

  • Listen to Kaitlyn and Jess Lamb’s interview about composting on RNZ here.

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