‘Sports car’ wigglers are changing garbage into gold By Amy Fendley In a dimly lit corner of the shipping and receiving area of the Chateau Whistler Resort, a new batch of red wigglers is preparing to become the resort’s newest labourers. The Chateau, in collaboration with the Food For All Foundation, is working to build a medium scale worm composter which will eliminate the majority of the hotel’s food waste. The composting will eliminate approximately one bin of garbage a day. In addition to the hotel’s full-fledged recycling program, the Chateau Whistler is the first Canadian Pacific Hotel to incorporate the worms. This is also the biggest project thus far for Food For All. The Chateau and Delta Whistler Resort are the Whistler hotels which have received the most accolades for their efforts in recycling. Both hotels recycle their clear and coloured plastics, steel and aluminium cans, toilet paper rolls, glass and paper. And both donate partially used soaps and mini shampoo bottles for use at half-way houses and other mid-city shelters in the Lower Mainland. Stephen Bowack, manager of receiving and recycling at the Chateau, said the idea to initiate a worm composting program for the hotel came up as a suggestion during an environmental committee meeting. "The idea was put forth on the environmental committee table and I did some leg work on it," said Bowack. "We know how much a big complex in Whistler can generate. Our little efforts will help to eliminate what we’re putting into the dump... and you lead by example, right? "We’re not going to say ‘hey, we’ve got worms on site, want to come down and see them?’, recycling isn’t new, but it evolves and you find better ways of dealing with things." In a normal period, after pulping — a process which removes 30 per cent of the water from food waste — the Chateau produces approximately 675 to 900 kilograms of food waste per day. Bowack, while declining to reveal the cost of the worm project, said that if the Chateau can recycle its food waste and some paper, it should begin to recover costs in less than five months. Canadian Pacific’s mandate to recycle is coupled with the fact that landfills are rapidly filling up and the cost to dispose of every load keeps rising. Government legislation and municipal bylaw require hotels — and most everyone else — to be more responsible for their waste disposal, and rightfully so considering that a hotel is probably the greatest potential polluter in a resort, ahead of restaurants. "We’re changing garbage into gold," said Dean Lamont, a vermi-composting technician who works for the Vancouver-based Food For All and is setting up the bins as well as helping to educate the staff who will be minding the composters. "It’s not waste until it’s wasted." The composters themselves, are built using old telephone poles. There are six of them, with three sections in each. Each bin will contain 20,000 worms and will convert approximately three cubic metres of food waste, newspaper and leaf mulch into fertilizer. While it takes a while to get going, all the little hermaphrodites really need is to be fed and have their "litter box" emptied. "Our little friends are pretty busy getting settled in," said Kevin Gockij, a receiving and recycling employee looking after the composters. "It’ll be about a month until they start to reproduce, so for now we’re only feeding them once every two days. Once they’re reproducing, we will feed them every day and remove the castings every six months." The compost, or worm castings, will be spread on the gardens and the golf course. The material is known throughout the horticulture industry as the best organic, animal-resistant fertilizer available. Lamont said there is nowhere in the Lower Mainland to purchase large amounts of composting worms, so all 67.5 kilograms — 150,000 wigglers — were flown in from California to take on their new positions as full-time composters. "These are not your average dew worms," said Lamont. "They’re the ‘sports car worm’. They eat more, are more active and prefer to be kept at a higher temperature. "This is a big savings, because the worms do most of the work, turning the compost for us and they don’t bark at night or have to be taken for walks. But there’ll always be alpha worms that don’t go along with the system."