As the Worm Turns

“Our goal is to waste nothing.”
— Jorge Haros, manager of Safety, Health and Environment
DENSO Manufacturing Mexico

Sitting alone under the Mexican sun having lunch, the temperate air soothing his thoughts, Jorge Haros came upon an idea almost the same way the Cerro de la Silla mountains come into view along the eastern foothills of the Sierra Madres– as an inspiration.

A pioneering use for the heaps of food scraps tossed out daily from the cafeteria at DENSO Mexico’s Apodaca plant, thought the manager of Safety, Health and Environment, would lessen the burden on the growing number of landfills in the Monterrey region – Mexico’s second most important industrial area.

While researching solutions, Haros came across a fellow DENSO employee in India, S. M. Aggarwal, who was experimenting with an organic recycling method known as vermicomposting. Haros went to DENSO India to study with him.

What he brought back to Apodaca is a can of worms.

This is a can like no other – a farm, in fact, crawling with some
150,000 California Redworms, which daily consume their own weight in garbage, the organic variety, of course.

Besides the cafeteria’s hundreds of discarded chicken bones and other food refuse, DENSO Mexico’s sewage sludge, garden waste and sanitary paper – all previously designated for a landfill – are converted into a highly rich fertilizer as a result of the worms’ work, or vermicomposting.

The worms, scientifically referred to as eisenia foetida, collectively polish off about 3 ½ tons of junk food a week, saving DENSO Mexico more than $33,000 in annual disposal costs.

While the global target for DENSO companies is to reduce landfill waste from manufacturing operations by 75 percent, DENSO Mexico’s target is zero emissions.

“Our goal is to waste nothing,” says Haros. His thinking: “We’ll have to get to zero eventually, so why not start now?”

At one time such an ambitious goal might have been called a whole lot of trash talk, since a company would have to find a reuse for just about everything, including organic refuse.

For years, communities have been able to recycle such items as plastics, metals, paper and batteries, while even printing inks, chemicals and oils can be processed into supplementary fuels.

But organic waste has always been sort of a recycling quagmire for environmentalists because there are few items that organic materials can be converted into that offer any real value.

Now, the worm farm changes matters, says Haros. Besides producing a useful fertilizer, vermicomposting gives Apodaca plenty of wiggle room to meet its stringent zero emissions standards.

Apodaca’s organic waste recycling yields about 18 tons of fertilizer a year. Some goes to DENSO employees for home garden use and the remainder is distributed to local municipalities for tree planting.

The Apodaca plant holds on-site on vermicomposting workshops for employees, students and environmental groups.

“We want to turn others into pioneers, building their own worm farms at home, at school and places of business,” Haros says.

Feature Story: Reclamation Fever

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