Sustainable Practices Lab at Washington State Reformatory

By Officer Jeff Swan

Within the last year, Washington State Reformatory (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex has consolidated its wood shop, bike shop, and Worm Farm, and added wheelchair and black soldier fly programs to create a thriving Sustainable Practices Lab.

Joni and Friends’ Wheels for the World: We work with this non-profit organization to restore wheelchairs and for individuals in need in 3rd and 4th world countries. WSRU started the program in May of this year, and now has more than 275 wheelchairs nearly ready for our first shipment container, set to sail to Nigeria at the beginning of November. Our goal is to restore more than 1,000 wheelchairs every year.

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Representatives from Wheels for the World pose with SPL program inmates and staff and two of their restored wheelchairs.

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A Wheels for the World representative discusses wheelchair restoration with the group.

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Worm Farm: Our Worm Farm is a full-scale waste management operation that uses vermicomposting to convert food waste into prized fertilizer. Technicians feed food waste to worms housed in “flow-through” bins, and collect the castings (worm manure) produced at the other end of the process. The Worm Farm houses 7 million worms in commercial-style bins, and has the capacity to handle more than 20,000 pounds of food waste per month. Food waste disposal from the WSRU has been cut by half so far, and we are on track to attain zero waste from the kitchen. (Editor’s note: The program now serves as an international model for worm composting.)

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Based on consultations with leading experts for vermiculture and vermicomposting, available materials, and trial and error, the team has built many kinds of worm bins, and continually makes improvements to the operation.

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The BSF program space is a relatively small enclosure within the much larger Worm Farm—the enclosed space is easy to heat (these insects need a warm environment), and keeps flies from flying away!

Black Soldier Flies: Animal-based fats and oils cannot be fed directly to the Worm Farm worms, and the team sought a solution for handling meat and dairy waste. In August of 2015, we received approval and funding from the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) to conduct a six month trial with Black Soldier Flies (BSF). The pilot showed that BSF processing is an efficient and highly productive method for converting meat and dairy waste into a beneficial product. At the conclusion of the six month trial, from more than 3 lbs/foot3/day of food waste, we had a sustained harvest of 80 ounces of larvae/day. We donate excess larvae to nearby zoos as high-quality animal feed. Building on this success, we are expanding the BSF operation.

The Bike Shop: This program provides a way for inmate to give back to their own communities by helping nearby kids and families in need. The local Sheriff’s Office and police donate unclaimed bikes to the program. Technicians assess each bike, and restore them to excellent working order. We deliver the refurbished bikes to the Snohomish Boys & Girls’ Club and local food banks for distribution to families who couldn’t otherwise afford a bike.

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The wood shop, bike shop, and Wheels for the World share space in the SPL, and the productivity in each program is clearly visible!

Wood Shop: In the SPL’s wood shop, you will find inmates making wooden toys, cars & trucks, jewelry boxes and games. We will deliver some of these items to local fire and police departments for distribution to community members. We will donate others to local food banks and the Children’s Hospital. We retain a small portion of the creations for fund-raising; we auction them and proceeds are put back into the program to keep it self-sustaining.

 

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