If you travel through the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., next year and throw away an apple core or half-eaten sandwich, your leftovers won’t be wasted – they’ll become a feast for worms and eventually a nutritious soil amendment.
The airport plans to open a new $1.1 million recycling center in February with a worm-based composting system that can handle up to two tons of waste per day, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Compostable materials like food scraps, paper waste, bathroom towels and plant trimmings will be collected from the airport and loaded into a 1,600-square-foot pre-composter with odor controls. Once the materials are partially broken down in the pre-composter, they will be fed to 300 pounds of worms, living in an 8,000-square-foot worm bin.
The worm’s excrement – or castings – will be harvested and used as a fertilizer on the airport’s 6,000 acres. Extra castings will be packaged and sold.
The new recycling center will also sort aluminum, plastics and paper and sell them to recycling companies. Officials told the Observer that the recycling center will eventually pay for itself, saving the airport about $1 million in waste disposal costs over the next five years.
Charlotte Douglas may be the first airport to launch a worm composting initiative, according to the newspaper. Rhonda Sherman, a worm composting specialist at North Carolina State University, told the Observer that she is not aware of any other airports that currently have such a program.
The airport’s worm composting scheme is not without its critics, however.
Ron Danise, who owns a nearby company that sells castings-based soil amendments, was skeptical that the worms would be able to break down meat, bones and paper towels, given their preferred diet of fruit and vegetable trimmings.
“Worms are herbivores …they don’t like a North American diet,” he said in an interview with the Observer.