Learning to compost, part 5: conclusion

The process of starting a household vermicomposting system has been really fun, rewarding, and relatively painless. The idea of keeping worms in your house may seem daunting or intimidating at first. I think this is the same case when it comes to caring for or managing any living system, such as having a pet or growing a garden. Living things are dynamic. They have needs. They change over time. They may behave in unexpected ways causing you to worry about what if something goes wrong.

On the other hand, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way in dispelling these concerns. And when it comes to worms, its pretty easy to get up to speed on everything you need to know. Resources abound, and after reading a couple short books, I felt like a complete worm expert. Realistically, a simple one-page-guide like this one is enough to get you up and running, because after all, worms are incredibly resilient, low maintenance creatures, with very simple needs.

Once I knew what I was dealing with, it didn’t take much effort to put together a proper worm habitat. Although it was easy, I have to to admit that I’m rather proud of my worm bin, and especially the fact that I was able to make use of 2 repurposed materials––used plastic bins and some junk mail––that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Maintaining a vermicomposting system does require a bit of change to my daily behavior. Instead of throwing scraps in the trash, I need to remember to set them aside in a bucket. Then once a week or so, I head down to the basement to feed the worms, add some soaked, shredded paper, and check to make sure everything looks ok. Eventually, I’ll need to take the time to empty the bottom bin of its finished compost. And if things go well and the worms keep multiplying, then I’ll eventually need to thin the population and either start a second bin or give some worms to a friend.

Overall, these new routines are a pleasant and welcome change from the alternative. The result is that I don’t need to take out the trash nearly as often, which eliminates labor, not to mention unpleasant odors. I definitely consider the shift to vermicomposting to be a small, but meaningful improvement in the aesthetics of my everyday life.

It may seem like a small change, but is rewarding on multiple levels. First, there is a clear environmental benefit. Diverting food waste from the trash reduces the amount of plastic trash bags consumed. It reduces the amount of fuel needed to truck garbage to a landfill. And perhaps most importantly, it reduces the amount of methane produced in landfills. According to the EPA, “Food waste is now the No. 1 material that goes into landfills and incinerators.”

On a more philosophical level, I think this project is really representative of what the movement toward sustainability is all about. The practice of landfilling food waste is an outdated industrial model that uses resource-intensive technology to work against the processes of nature: take something organic, wrap something in plastic, ship it far far away where it is out of sight and and out of mind.

Vermicomposting, in contrast, is exemplary of sustainable design. It requires working with natural processes in a smart and symbiotic way, shaping them to our benefit, keeping the flow of resources local so that nutrients can be returned to where they originated. It is low-tech, low-effort, it just requires a little bit of careful planning, design and attention. I feel like I have a brought a little bit of nature into my home. It is a small wonder to observe the useful transformation that the worms perform. In the end, the result is an improvement of quality of life rather than a lot of work or sacrifice.

Leave a Reply