A Wiggly Way To Reduce Waste

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - January 13, 2010
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Mindy Jaffe

The average family, says Mindy Jaffe, owner of Waikiki Worm Company, creates about four pounds of waste each week.

Jaffe’s shop serves as the headquarters for her mission to help the environment by getting people to use worm bins to get rid of their paper and food garbage. She says 34 percent of Oahu’s organic waste can be recycled, and Oahu residents generate 50,000 tons of food waste a year.

“This is where you come if you want to start a worm colony or you are ready to upgrade to a bigger system,” says Gaffe of her worm and soil boutique.

She says this is conservation at its best.

“Eat a banana,” she explains. “Put the banana peel in, the worms make vermicast (worm poop), you use vermicast to feed your banana plant so it grows. And you get to eat the banana again. It goes around and around.”

Jaffe, who studied environmental education, shows customers how to take care of the squirmy worms: Shred paper and cardboard for the bottom of the bin. Put in the worms. Feed and water worms - they eat paper, cardboard, egg cartons and leftover food. Six months later, harvest the vermicast, which can be used in the garden. She has several sizes of worm bins: 10-gallon, 10-foot and 5-foot bins, and a mini-bin.

“It’s not for everybody,” admits Jaffe, who is in her sixth year at Waikiki Worm Company. “There’s no odor. If it is well-managed, it should be great. Garbage doesn’t have to be bagged and put in the dumpster and hauled away, using fossil fuels, labor costs and then processed using water, electricity and money.”

She knows people who put the bins wherever they can find a spot - on the lanai, on the kitchen counter, under the sink, on a bookshelf and even under their bed. She has about 5,000 people doing vermicom-posting in Hawaii so far, which means that 20,000 pounds of waste a week processed 52 times a year equals 520 tons of waste that is not going to the dump.

Jaffe launched Waikiki Worm Company in 2004 from her Waikiki apartment, and in March 2009 established her storefront location.

She’s grateful for the support of her family, friends, customers and colleagues. And with the help of two part-time employees, she accomplishes her goal of sharing her passion for diverting waste from landfills and reducing pollution by reaching out to schools, workplaces and businesses. She beams when she discusses teaching students about the scientific process, the bugs and the decomposer organisms.

“It’s a fun, hands-on project,” she says.

Among the many schools continuing the vermicom-posting after attending Jaffe’s workshop is Hokulani Elementary, which started vermicomposting in 2007. The following year, the students upgraded to a commercial-sized bin to turn more than a ton of cafeteria waste into 260 pounds of vermicast, which they sold for $5 a pound. “They are generating money out of their garbage,” says Jaffe.

Jaffe designed the commercial-sized bins, which are shaped like a drain pipe and can empty into a bucket with an optional cover. Her commercial customers include Calvary By The Sea Montessori preschool, Windward Community College, Kapiolani Community College’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific and more. She hopes to see more restaurants, hotels, hospitals, correctional facilities and corporate offices start using the system.

Other facets of her firm include selling organic fertilizers and holding private workshops. She also offers a work service contract, where the customer feeds the worms and she takes care of the setup and the harvest.

“In a town like this, where we can do it all year round,” says Jaffe, “there is no reason why you can’t have one.”

Waikiki Worm Company is located at 1917 King St. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. For more information, call 945-9676, or log onto www.waikikiworm.com.

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