Urban Composting: Why It’s Time To Get Your Worm On

Frustrated by food waste? Want to compost in a compact space? Anna De La Vega from The Urban Worm fills us in on why worms are miraculous creatures and how they might hold the key to combating climate change in your kitchen.

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The two words Urban Worm don’t automatically trigger visions of a symbiotic relationship but the introduction of worms and wormeries into city households is proving to be a solution to the pollution, and you don’t even need a garden to get your squirm on (yes a group of worms is actually called a squirm).   

The urban environment certainly has its challenges for those of us looking to tread lightly on the earth: lack of outdoor space can limit our capacity to grow our own vegetables and composting kitchen scraps without a garden is considered nigh impossible. 

However, nature holds all the solutions and by harnessing the power of the humble earthworm we can transform our food waste into the world’s most nutrient-rich fertiliser, even whilst living in an apartment. 

Why do we need worm composting?

Being responsible for our personal kitchen waste is the single most powerful form of direct action we can take against climate change, natural resource depletion and food insecurity. 

Rotting food waste in landfills emits the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide that are respectively 31 and 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide. 

Reliance on fossil fuel driven vehicles for the transportation of waste to landfill sites further exacerbates the issue.  

Coupled with the crisis of climate change we are faced with the reality of global top soil depletion, with warnings from the United Nations that if we continue with the status quo we will have only 60 years of soil fertility, in the UK the figure is alarmingly less with only 30-40 years.  

“To destroy the health of the soil is to destroy ourselves”

The widespread loss in soil fertility is due to intensive chemical farming practices, dating back to the 1850s when the first fertiliser company was established in the UK.  

The soil is the living breathing skin of the earth, and if we were to spray harmful chemicals on our face everyday it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the unhealthy state we would be in. 

The soil feeds us, our nutrient uptake comes from plants that receive nutrients from the soil; to destroy the health of the soil is to destroy ourselves. 

With this in mind, considering 98% of our food comes from the soil, dedicating our efforts to the production of healthy soil is fundamental to the survival of humanity, and with the assistance of the earthworm we can all get down to business: we can all be heroes – all in the comfort of our own homes.  

“Earthworms are makers of the earth, they are the vessel transforming death and decay into new life”

How tiger worms make compost

Worthy of their name, earthworms are makers of the earth, they are the vessel transforming death and decay into new life. Earthworm manure is the foundation of life, teeming with beneficial microorganisms, minerals and essential nutrients for healthy plant growth and disease suppression. 

Fortunately the voracious appetite of the composting tiger worm lends itself to a highly efficient waste management practice. The surface dwelling tiger worm that thrives in rich organic matter has the capacity to consume up to half its body weight in organic waste a day, whilst reducing the volume by up to 90%. 

Although the full potential of composting with worms, otherwise known as vermiculture (vermis from the Latin for worm) has failed to really take off in the UK, the process is being utilised in every corner of the world for waste management and regenerative farming practices from the USA to India, Cuba to the Philippines. 

One of many exemplarily case studies is Monroe Correctional Facility in Seattle where organic waste is processed onsite and then the worm manure supplied to the local authority for use in public gardens. The process is successfully managing agricultural and zoo waste, paper pulp, catering waste and even human waste, to give but a few examples of the beneficial uses of the earthworm. 

How to make your own DIY wormery

Getting started with your own DIY worm farm for your kitchen waste is very simple and can be put together on a budget of less than £10. 

You will need two plastic buckets (one lid), no smaller than 10 litres, a drill, some shredded paper, a handful of composting tiger worms and your kitchen scraps.  

Full guidance on this and general worm care can be found here and pre-made wormery starter kits are available from the shop. 

If there is one thing you do for the earth, feed the earthworms. 

Anna De La Vega is the founder of The Urban Worm and runs workshops on how to make a DIY womery and worm care.