As a 22-year-old and recent college graduate, I have rapidly entered into the process of awakening to the harsh and beautiful realities of growing up. No one prepares you with an all-encompassing guidebook to student loan debt, credit scores, taxes, the constriction of freedom, cooking, cleaning out the stove when you drop an egg yolk into the burner, and existential aloneness. But out of all the uncomfortable realities of adulting, the hardest by far to accept has been my increasing awareness of the overwhelming amount of food waste produced by the world and the lack of compost support offered by cities, towns, and local governments (existential aloneness is a close second). It’s frustrating, to say the least.
I spent my first year of college at a small liberal arts schools in Olympia, Washington called the Evergreen State. Evergreen attracted environmentally-minded, artistic, activists (total generalization), and living there was like existing in an environmentally sustainable paradise. On our first day of freshman orientation we received a talk on hydroponic farming, and on any given day I could literally walk out of my building and into the forest.
What I loved most about living at the school was the in-dorm compost system; any time I had food scraps all I needed to do was walk down the hall and toss them into a little canister, where I could trust that someone else would deal with the dirty work. Basically, I was spoiled beyond belief.
Unfortunately, my time in compost heaven was cut short when I moved back to Chicago after freshman year (as great as the forest was, the alternative education approach of only taking one class per quarter didn’t work for me). I enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago where my Dad was on faculty (half-tuition say what!), and although sustainability was a minuscule focus of the University, I charted my own course by interning with different sustainability organizations and integrating climate change and the environment into my English studies as much as possible.
Even though I was no longer in an eco-bubble, I committed myself to living as sustainably as possible, because beyond concerns of my global impact and the future of the planet, I found that lessening the amount of waste I produced simply made me FEEL better; walking outside and throwing my food scraps in a compost bin gives me a subtle feeling of being connected to nature and supporting healthy systems. Compost is spiritual!
So I bought an outdoor bin as soon as I could after moving back to the windy city.
But like I said, I live in Chicago, and compost loses its charm when it requires walking outside to dump food scraps in 10-degree winter weather. So when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she needed someone to adopt her indoor worm bin, I without hesitation shot up my hand and grabbed the box of red wigglers.
And let me tell you – my fetish for compost has reached a new weird; if I could marry my worms I would. They are incredible! They are super low maintenance, and only require the occasional addition of bedding. They also help with existential loneliness; I wasn’t raised with any pets, so these lil things are the closest I’ve come to owning a dog (worm lady status reached).
Worm bins are perfect for any and all living situations, as they have:
- No stink
- Take up little space
- Can be stored anywhere
So whether you are in a one-room apartment or a mansion, worm bins offer a convenient way to keep your food waste away from the landfill and into the land.
Here is a basic starter guide for anyone who wants to minimize their landfill waste and get wormy:
What you need:
- A bin (fancy versions can be bought online, but mine is a Rubbermaid tub)
- Red worms (can be purchased online, but check for dealers near you)
- Bedding (cardboard, shredded newspaper, coconut fiber, fall leaves, peat moss)
- Waste materials
Setting up the Bin:
Check out this video – it will be easier to follow than my rambling.
Bedding provides the habitat for the worms to live in. Worms need homes too. Ideally, you want lots of bedding with some waste material (and small amounts of water to maintain moisture conditions). In terms of moisture, the ideal amount is that of a wrung-out sponge. You don’t want your worms to be swimming, but you don’t want them to be in a desert, either.
When choosing your bedding, here are a few words of advice from my bin experience: my worms LOVE coconut fiber. My friend who generously donated her bin gave me a big container of it to give to the worms, and they ate it all up. Once I ran out and didn’t have enough bedding, the worms started to climb up the sides, trying to escape. So I put fall leaves all over the surface, which they seemed to love (love ratings are based on their not trying to escape).
Lesson: ALWAYS have some type of bedding on the surface of the bin. You don’t want it to just be dirt. Again, I recommend coconut fiber.
While worms will digest most food, they are a bit picky when it comes to certain foods. Also, it’s easier for the worms if the food is in smaller pieces (word of advice for outdoor compost, as well). My worms also love frozen food, especially frozen pulp leftover from juicing.
Someone told me that a good rule is to never put in anything that you wouldn’t put on your eye, like vinegar, as worms have very sensitive skin. It’s a weird rule because I would not put anything on my eye.
- Fruits and Vegetables (except citrus)
- Coffee Grounds
- Tea Bags (without the paper attached)
- Ground Up Eggshells (they won’t eat these, but eggshells are good for the soil as they add calcium)
- Starchy Foods (pasta, bread, etc. – but add in moderation)
- Shredded Newspaper, Paper Towels, Cardboard (add these when you add wet materials)
- Potato Skins, Onions, Garlic (individual to my worms – they run up the walls if these are present)
- Once you set up the bin, the worms take care of the rest. You’ll find that it’s fun to check up on the worms and see how they’re responding to certain conditions and foods.
Though I have not gotten to this point yet, once spring comes you can sift out the worms from the compost, use the compost for your plants, and start over! Your worms will have reproduced like crazy, so you can even give some away to a friend to start their own (or become a dealer yourself).
For more information on your worms and setting up a bin, check out the website Red Worm Composting: