The latest addition to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility means its population has jumped by about 120,000, but not inmates. In this case, the new residents are worms. They are doing a dirty job that will give the prison a cleaner environmental report card.

Since August, a corner of the RJD yard has been turned into a worm “ranch” where food waste is converted into useable compost. Using worms to convert the waste will help the prison comply with state environmental laws that require diverting at least 50 percent of its waste from local landfills. In the last two years, the institution has taken big steps toward meeting that mandate by turning its bakery waste into cattle feed and its cooking oil into grease. “That has gotten us closer to our goal,” said Ross Lee, recycling coordinator.

The first phase of the “worm ranch” composts about four tons of food waste a month. When the entire 7,500 square-feet is in use, it will process an estimate 100 tons of waste a year. “We should be able to divert all of the prison’s food waste,” said Ross.

The project eliminates emissions of methane – a greenhouse gas – from landfills and also reduces air pollution by requiring fewer trucks on the road. “In the long run, this is where our state is headed anyway,” he continued. “It’s a good thing for us to be doing. Every prison could do this.”