Why Worm Composting?
When I first mention composting with red wiggler worms, and especially having worms composting inside my house, the reactions range from "wait, what" to "eww, gross" to "doesn't it smell"? The short answers are "yep", "nope", and "not really". It's actually pretty cool tossing food scraps into a bin and watching the live compost worms make quick work of the food in a few short days. And indoor compost bins, when taken care of properly, have the faint smell of earth and soil, are much less icky than cleaning up your pet's waste, and require only 15-20 minutes per week to maintain.
If you're still on the fence about worm composting, consider that Charles Darwin studied earthworms for most of his career. Darwin dubbed earthworms "nature's tillers", and in fact his last publication was devoted entirely to his study of earthworms near his home.
In that final book Darwin concluded, "it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures.".
Wow! Darwin was the first to realize that when live compost worms consume nutrient-rich organic waste (e.g., leaves, plants, fruit), their specialized digestive process converts the waste into an even more nutrient-rich compost called worm castings (aka worm humus, vermicompost). The compost worms are literally tilling and aerating the earth, and leaving in their wake a rich dirt that helps new plants thrive.
We now know much more about earthworms and their beneficial uses than Darwin did. Worm castings are coveted by the vineyard and cannabis industries, organic farms, and home gardeners because of their proven ability to increase plant yield and grow stronger, more drought-resistant plants and vegetables. And worm composting has hit its stride in other areas over the last 10 years:
- Worm composting is popular throughout the world as a hobby for home composters and as an educational tool in schools to teach kids the benefits of recycling and composting.
- Live compost worms are being used in "vermifiltration" systems to treat sewage wastewater.
- To combat the growing cost of landfills and the damaging effects of the methane gas they release, cities across the United States are leading the way with programs - including worm composting - to divert organic waste from landfills.
I know what you may be thinking - first, live worms are the reason we can grow plants and vegetables, and now compost worms are going to solve global warming? Well, maybe - when most people hear the terms "global warming" and "greenhouse gases", they think about carbon dioxide (C02) emissions. But methane, a lesser known greenhouse gas emitted by natural gas and landfills, is far more potent and damaging to the environment. Here're a few facts:
- Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide because it's more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
- Municipal landfills are the 3rd largest source (15.1%) of methane emissions in the U.S, according to the EPA. In 2018, methane emissions from landfills were equivalent to the emissions from more than 20,000,000 passenger vehicles driven for 1 year!
Landfills are also growing at exponential rates and place an enormous financial burden on cities and counties, hence the growing number of U.S. cities creating organic waste diversion, composting, and even worm composting programs.
Worm composting may not solve global warming, but it can be one more tool we use to combat the terrible effects of climate change. Plus, as highlighted above, composting with worms is:
- a fun, rewarding activity (and not gross at all!)
- a great tool for educating kids about the environment, recycling, and composting
- an easy way to produce nutrient-rich compost that will help your plants and garden thrive
- an important tool in reducing landfill waste and helping in the fight against global warming