WASTE EXCHANGE: State program helps people find alternative ways of getting rid of waste

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Most of us throw our waste in the trash. But, a state run program is helping people across Iowa find alternative ways of getting rid of what they don't need.

The Blank Park Zoo started a vermicomposting program at their facility after hearing about the program through the Iowa Waste Exchange. Blank Park Zoo Conservation Coordinator Jessie Weeks says, "It's called vermicomposting. Otherwise known as worm farming."

Weeks says the Zoo started worm farming about four years ago to turn their trash into treasure. Weeks says they started with 35,000 worms. Now, about 250,000 worms eat their weight in trash every day, keeping tons of fruits and veggie scraps, animal hair, cardboard, even blue jeans out of the landfill.

Shelly Codner with the Iowa Waste Exchange introduced the zoo to a worm farmer to start the program. Codner says, "Our main objective: reduce waste from Iowa's landfills."

Codner helps companies, individuals and organizations find alternative ways of getting rid of waste. She says, "Our main goal is to assist industrial manufacturers in reducing their landfilled waste and save them money."

The Iowa Waste Exchange started in 1990. Program statistics show it has kept more than three million tons of trash out of landfills and saved Iowa companies nearly $72 million by finding alternative uses for things that would otherwise be thrown out.

Codner says, "Matching up some bibles written in Spanish to Cuban missionaries, textbooks to Hurricane Katrina victims. Some of the ones that are most memorable are those that are local."

She says other memorable matches include water from last summer's flood victims in Ames. She says the leftover bottles went to fundraising events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. And, the program got 50,000 square feet of carpet to tornado victims in Parkersburg.

Codner says, "A lot of my job is networking, meeting people and getting to know who could use what."

Weeks says they're using the worms to help keep trash out of the landfill, while using the rich soil the worms create to help grow their gardens.

The Iowa Waste Exchange is paid for by fees from waste haulers, per Iowa code. Click here for more information.

If you're interested in vermicomposting, The Blank Park Zoo has information on how to do it at home on their website. Click here to learn how.