Composting for urbanites

Photo: Carter-Jackson
Condo and apartment dwellers can do their bit for the environment and start composting with some help from wiggly friends. Easy to get started Vermicomposting is the easiest way for urbanites to compost common organic household waste. All you need to get started is an aerated container that fits under the kitchen sink, bedding such as shredded newspaper, organic wet waste and the secret ingredient -- the humble Eisenia fetida or the Lumbricus rubellus, AKA the red worm. Hard working This little wiggler eats the equivalent of their weight per day in organic matter. Their digestive enzymes transforms the waste into an odour-free worm manure called castings. Worm castings are considered the most nutrient-dense compost available. In fact, several companies like Terracycle and Black Gold have packaged the casings into an excellent organic fertilizer. Once installed in your kitchen the worms works silently, avoiding bright sunshine. They are extremely low maintenance, requiring kitchen scraps and and temperatures between 16° - 28°C (60° - 80°F). Solution for pollution Vermiculture is extremely versatile and can be done on a large or small scale, all year round. It holds tremendous possibilities for the planet: eliminating smelly garbage dumps worldwide, drastically reducing the need for landfill sites, and creating mega-tons of great compost for restoring depleted topsoil across the globe. Large and small One example of a large-scale vermiculture project is in Mumbai (Bombay), India. In 2000, an organization called Clean Air Island, working with three City Councils, set up a worm farm site to process wet waste from the market. After five years, the project had clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of large-scale vermiculture in dealing with urban garbage, without mess or smell, within an urban setting. Even more impressive, the project was cost-effective, saving on the expense of garbage transportation over long distances and on the need to purchase landfill areas. As well, the resulting vermicompost gave a boost to local organic farming and soil reconstruction as well as the locals who were hired and trained to work at the farm. In response to the success, the Rotary Club of Bombay and Clean Air Island launched a vermiculture project to process the wet waste for 500 households. Now, the same team has started a third project to process ten tons of waste per day in the Govandi slum area, funded by corporate sponsors. Other companies On a somewhat smaller scale, an IKEA store in Schaumberg Illinois teamed up with the New Horizon Organics to create a vermicomposting farms housed in two trucks. The worms will be fed food waste from an IKEA store restaurant. Several MacDonalds in Tokyo are currently experimenting with vermicomposting. Montreal's Concordia University offers a Worm Swap for its students, professors and employees. Worm Swap was started in 2000 under the auspices of the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre and provides free educational workshops on worm composting. Other sources Almost every municipality offers some kind of vermicomposting kit at a reasonable price. The City Farmer offers an excellent online video on how to set up your vermicomposter as well as list of red worm suppliers. And for those who are worried about vermicomposting being smelly or messy should check out Martha Stewart's online article and video. She gives directions on how to create an elegant vermicomposter suitable for any high-end kitchen. It may be that as vermiculture becomes increasingly common, we'll find ourselves giving bags of vermicompost as hostess gifts year-round, complete with lovely, recycled ribbons on top. Joyce Nelson is a Toronto based environmental journalist.