The worm circuit - a mini organic waste processing plant

Not needing money to recycle organic waste, thanks to small, affordable, odor-free waste processing plants. Published research demonstrated that processing waste through earthworms is odorless (aerobic) and time-efficient. Currently, only capital intensive, industrial-scale equipment is available, and it still requires labor-intensive earthworm separation from the finished product. As an alternative, UFO, Inc. developed the Worm Circuit where earthworms self-separate due to a circular design (details in video). It's also a self-assembled unit, easier to handle and ship. Each 3 x 3 m unit can process up to 20 liters of waste per day, which is the capacity of a restaurant. Several units can be aggregated to process the waste of a first nation village, or any community.

About You

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About You

About Your Organization

Organization Name

UFO, Inc.

Organization Country

Canada

Country where this project is creating social impact

Canada, ON

Is your organization a

For‐profit

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation

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Entry Form title

The worm circuit - a mini organic waste processing plant

What change do you want to bring to the world?

Not needing money to recycle organic waste, thanks to small, affordable, odor-free waste processing plants. Published research demonstrated that processing waste through earthworms is odorless (aerobic) and time-efficient. Currently, only capital intensive, industrial-scale equipment is available, and it still requires labor-intensive earthworm separation from the finished product. As an alternative, UFO, Inc. developed the Worm Circuit where earthworms self-separate due to a circular design (details in video). It's also a self-assembled unit, easier to handle and ship. Each 3 x 3 m unit can process up to 20 liters of waste per day, which is the capacity of a restaurant. Several units can be aggregated to process the waste of a first nation village, or any community.

What are the primary activities of your project?

- Designing and building prototypes
- Identifying test users, communities, native communities or small institutions
- training users to generate vermicast, a nutritious potting mix, from the worm circuit, and using it to grow local (possibly free) organic edible plants.
- following up with users to measure the impact of the worm circuit
- Analyzing impact data to evaluate and fine-tune the prototype
- Outreach to partners that can help UFO increase local capacity; the ability of communities to use and propagate Worm Circuits, mini waste processing plants, independently of UFO, Inc.

What is innovative about your initiative? How is it a new contribution to the field?

UFO's initiative is innovative because it uses adobe engineering, engineering using minimal and affordable resources, to replicate what expensive waste processing plants do.
UFO is also creating behavioral change by making people in vulnerable (and more affluent) communities realize that their food waste is a resource, it’s a form of nutrients for their future food, that is yet to be grown. Much like recycling bins, this approach is about teaching people to handle food waste in a new way, that is economically rewarding to them. The properly engineered processing of organic waste through earthworms results in vermicast. vermicast is a nutritious potting mix, an organic fertilizer without societal side-effect (odor, visual pollution). The odorless fertilizer in turn results in high-yielding local edible gardens, which offset food costs. The odorless and Class A (low pathogen count, safe) biosolid that is vermicast can also be sold for profit, as can be food produced in local gardens.
UFO's founder, Hala Chaoui published 2 popular science articles following her scientific publications. One is title "Why urban farms need to be organic", in Innovative Science.com and the other is an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture factsheet on vermicasting. The factsheet details the properties of vermicasting, references to scientific research, and explains why vermicasting, an aerobic process, does not produce odors as in partly anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) processes like composting.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

I started to engage community gardens in Toronto, and to reach out to First Nations communities in Ontario. People of all economic status and cultures produce food waste, and this resource is rarely utilized to boost their life standard, yet it could do exactly that. Urban communities in affluent societies would buy the Worm Circuit to generate local food. The Worm Circuit generates fertilizer in a socially acceptable manner, which boosts the productivity of urban gardens. These gardens filter city air, boost moral (in office buildings) and increase local food production.
More vulnerable communities around the world would use the Worm Circuit to mitigate the environmental health hazards of land filling organic waste, to create, and to produce local food. This food would be potentially free, healthy, toxin-free organic edible plants. Jobs are created by installing small-scale waste processing plants and assigning operators to them in these communities.
With the help of UFO and partnering organizations, these communities would either build an adobe Worm Circuit (plans supplied by UFO) or find funding for one.
Businesses in societies that pay municipal organics collection fees, would buy the Worm Circuit to alleviate these fees.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

UFO, Inc. is founded by Hala Chaoui, PhD in Agricultural Engineering and published in waste and biomass conversion (cited 60 times). During her PhD, Hala Chaoui noticed that the industry manufacturing Agricultural equipments caters to a marginal portion of society, and is not affected by the views of the mainstream. Hala decided that if Agriculture and waste processing were miniaturized, the public would have a say in how well these technologies meet certain environmental and social standards. This way agriculture would no longer happen out of sight and out of mind, while contradicting the aspiration of modern, humane, ecologically aware societies. After a PhD, 2 postdocs research jobs and governmental research jobs in the US and Canada, Hala started her own company to commercialize inventions that would miniaturize and bring agriculture to the mainstream. She published an attached article, "Why urban farms need ot be organic" in Innovative science to explain her motivation. Giving city dwellers control over how food is produced and waste is processed was Hala's original motivation to develop appliances that process organic waste on miniature scale (kitchen counter-top, or balcony scale). Along the way, and after brainstorming with faculty in Toronto colleges and other creative individuals, Hala realized that the technology she is developing would empower small vulnerable communities by allowing them to turn their food waste to a resource; a source of new food, and a product they could commercialize.

Social Impact

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Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

The success of the Worm Circuit will be measured through on one more of the following factors, depending on whether the user pays municipal collection fees, exports waste to a landfill, and uses a local garden as a sink for the produced fertilizer. Otherwise these criteria apply to users in both affluent and vulnerable communities.
- number of Jobs created
- Amount of fertilizer generated
- % food purchases offset by growing local free food from the produced fertilizer
- % municipal waste collection fees offset by processing organic waste in-house
- % reduction in organic waste stream to landfill

How many people have been impacted by your project?

Fewer than 100

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

1,001-10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

My plans over the next 6 months is to grow organically:
- Build self-assembled Worm Circuit units from off the shelf parts (existing design), place these with test users such as community gardens, and sell units to First Nations, Toronto restaurants, and small farmers.
- Publish an operator’s video and instructions for a home-made adobe Worm Circuit.
- Develop with industrial designers at OCAD and MacMaster, a self-assembled Worm Circuit that can be mass-produced. Adobe instructions would empower people to build their own worm circuit, and UFO will make profit through a market were users would pay to save time and effort.

UFO will scale up globally through partnerships with Think Tanks and internationally-minded product design. All populations, urban and rural, produce food waste.

Sustainability

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What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Funding is the main barrier, which I am trying to overcome through self-sustainability. The Worm Circuit is a commercial product that can sell to small institutions, and also one that governments have a reason to subsidies in vulnerable communities, to create jobs and improve life standards. This is done by generating a free organic fertilizer that supports locally grown free organic food, in community gardens.

As a start up I’ve received requests for an alternative to expensive equipment. I already know of a market, such as restaurants and hospitals, looking for in-house equipment to process their waste, to avoid expensive municipal collection fees. This product will sustain itself from sales, but should also be accessible to communities that cannot initially afford it.

Tell us about your partnerships

UFO's partnerships are a work in progress. One type of partnerships will help introduce the Worm Circuit to vulnerable or cost-conscious communities. I am in contact with adobe homes advocates like the earth institute since my product complements theirs. I am also discovering institutions that reach out to Canadian natives to plan collaborations with them.
A second type of partnership will allow to commercialize the Worm Circuit to affluent markets. These include the Ontario Center for Excellence and IRAP, two Canadian government institutions that fund product commercialization if a business has an academic partner. My planned academic partners include Harry Mahler, industrial designer and faculty at OCAD and McMasters.

Current annual budget of project, in US dollars

$10,001‐50,000

Explain your selections

I qualified for potential product development grant, which do not cover building prototypes from off-the shelf parts or reaching out to communities in First nations or elsewhere. The latter is what I hope to fund through a Changemaker grant. I otherwise fund my project with my savings.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

By partnering up with outreach organizations, industry partners, and by moving on from a prototype made from off the shelf parts to 2 products: One is instructions to create an adobe home-made Worm Circuit and the other is a commercialized (mass produced) Worm Circuit.

Challenges

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Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Other (Specify Below)

SECONDARY

Other (Specify Below)

TERTIARY

Other (Specify Below)

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

The Worm Circuit, a mini waste-processing plant creates employment by creating the facility that would require, and employ an operator. It's an innovation that creates a new micro-industry, and therefore employment.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

SECONDARY

Grown geographic reach: Within host country

TERTIARY

Grown geographic reach: Global

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Assembling Worm Circuit units made from off-the shelf parts.
Selling or placing the Worm Circuit with users in Fist Nations reserves.
Developing a outreach plan with organizations that serve vulnerable communities. Obtaining an OCE grant to develop a Worm Circuit that can be mass-produced. I also plan to scale up globally. All populations, urban and rural, produce food waste. The product offers an odorless way of processing food waste, and fits in urban and rural settings. The fact the the Wrom Circuit is self-assembled simplified its shipment. It’s also not labor intensive but does require following instructions. I can express these in drawings, with the help of communication expert. I would partner up with Agriculture-focused think tanks around the world.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

IRAP and OCE, governmental grant managers in Canada, are guiding through the process of obtaining grants to develop my product into a model that can be mass-produced.
Academic experts, namely faculty at OCAD / McMasters are guiding me through the industrial design process, and how to discover appropriate markets.
NGO's are the partners I am planning to acquire once I have the resource to create enough units, in order to create an education program that initiates various communities to deriving a resource from their food waste, withotu compromising on hygiene or comfort.

153 weeks ago Anonymous submitted this idea.