Can Earthworms Replace Your Garbage Man

Posted by Marc at 10:37 am on 15 February 2010

by Amity Hook-Sopko

Ever stop to think about what it means to throw something away?

Where is “away”?

Just because you throw itaway from where you are, does that mean it’s gone?

What if there were no weekly garbage pick up?  If we were responsible for our own waste disposal, would the average American family still throw out more than a hundred pounds of food a month?

Would we have a mini-landfill in our backyard for all the food scraps, plastic wrap, and other product packaging we toss each day?  Can you imagine what an eyesore that would be?  Not to mention the smell…

No, I don’t think we’d actually stand for that.  After all, Americans are notorious for our Not-In-My-Backyard attitudes.  Most likely, we would become a nation of recyclers and composters.  And since recycling is getting easier all the time with curbside pickup and e-waste drop offs, the one we might need a little convincing on is composting.

Why Compost?

Homeowners choose to compost for a variety of reasons.  Some do it because it’s the least expensive way to get the greenest lawn on the block.  They’d rather nourish their soil for free than spend money or risk their family’s safety with chemical fertilizers.

Some people use compost to fertilize the soil for houseplants, or vegetable and flower gardens.  Pretty soon, it becomes a self-sustaining process.  And that’s a big plus for those of us who value self-sufficiency.

Others choose to compost to avoid contributing to the 30%-40% of household waste that unnecessarily ends up in the landfill.  On Oprah’s Earth Day 2008 show, Julia Roberts shared that she started composting because her food waste had grown tremendously with three children.

Composters Do it with Worms

The most common question about composting is, “Food breaks down anyway.  What’s so bad about throwing food in the landfill?”

The EPA tells us the problem is “the decomposition of food and other waste under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States, accounting for 34% of all methane emissions.”

The more crowded the landfill, the slower the breakdown of waste.  Proper composting doesn’t produce harmful amounts of methane, and the most efficient way to compost is to add the power of worms.

Recycle up to 40% of Waste You’d Typically Throw Away

If you caught the same Oprah show, you may recall those rowdy earthworms competing for their 15 minutes of fame as Gorgeously Green author Sophie Uliano explained what these little guys do for your compost.  You may have missed the fact that some worms can eat and digest as much as their own body weights in waste each day.

Elsie Konzelman of Cascade Sales in Bellingham, WA, says composting with worms is growing in popularity.   Thanks to today’s convenient and efficient composters, homeowners are now recycling up to 40% of the waste they used to throw out.

With no more than 15 minutes maintenance on your part, these creepy crawlies can dramatically reduce the number of garbage bags you fill each week.

How To Start Worm Composting

Amy Stewart, author of The Earth Moved – On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, says, “There are plenty of Do-It-Yourself plans to make your own worm composter.   A plastic tub, some scrap lumber, a trip to the hardware store, a stop at a bait shop and about 40 bucks and you are in business.”

If you’re not interested in DIY, Stewart says, “A single investment of about $100 gives you a commercially made worm composter.  The worms are self-sorting, and excess moisture is easily managed.  You need a special worm found on that may cost another $30.  But that’s the extent of your investment.”

Some composters can make effective use of more than just food waste.  Elsie Konzelman says easy-to-use products like The Worm Factory allow paper, cardboard, coffee grounds, dryer lint, and vacuum cleaner dust to be safely recycled.

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