Worms and Waste: Understanding Composting

Written by Bella Funk
 · May 26, 2022

Food waste has always been a massive global problem, especially in America. According to “Food Waste in America in 2022,” a report by Recycle Track Systems, America discards more food waste than any other country in the world — wasting an average of 40 million tons (or 80 billion pounds) per year. Food is one of the largest components that make up U.S landfills, and it makes up 22 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) according to statistics by RTS. There are multiple reasons why Americans seem to have a food waste problem, some of which include impulsive purchases, lack of education, composting, and overproduction in the food system. Californians alone produce 6 million tons of food waste annually. 

Starting January 1, 2022, the state of California passed a new composting law called SB 1383, one that provides people in all cities and counties with “Organic Waste Collection”. This law requires local governments to provide houses and small apartments or condos with “green bins” for curbside collection. Basically, you put all your organic trash into these bins, the city comes and picks it up, and they compost it for you without having to worry about all your waste ending up in a landfill. According to CalRecycle, generally you’d put in landscaping waste such as yard trimmings, wood, paper, or even textiles (only clothing made of natural fibers). The number one thing that you want to put in these bins is food waste. Regardless, every family has the responsibility to sort through their waste before throwing it away. If you don’t have a green bin yet, there’s no need to worry. According to Rachel Wagoner, director of CalRecycle, “You should see bins showing up within the next year”. 

So what do you do in the meantime if you haven’t received your green bin? The number one thing I’d recommend to anyone is composting at home, specifically, vermicomposting, or composting with worms. If you have any back patio or shaded outdoor area around your home, or even indoors, consider getting a composting bin with bedding material. Some suitable bedding material would include dried leaves, shredded paper, brown leaves, or rotten horse manure. There’s plenty of research you can do on your own to get started on vermicomposting. Although this type of composting is all done by the worms, there are still key things to pay attention to on your part so that everything goes smoothly. Pay attention to the temperature inside the bin, what you’re putting in the bin, how much you’re feeding the worms, the amount of shade, and other key components. 

photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on unsplash

Now, where do you get these worms? A really quick search will give you loads of details — but typically, people will buy them from professional breeders. There are so many out there, you’re bound to find a worm breeder near you. Earthworms do poorly in captivity and they don’t breed well so the most popular worms used for vermicomposting are red worms. Not many worms are necessary when you start your composting bin, since these worms breed on their own. This article from Gardening Channel will give you good insight on this topic. 

Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce your natural food waste and it’s pretty cool. You’re taking advantage of the natural process of decomposition by worms to produce fertilizer. With vermicomposting, you’re using the tools of nature — the worms — to take your natural waste (which once came from the earth) and turn it into something beneficial. It’s an all-natural process, which is amazing, since it’s going back to the ground where it came from. The worms won’t be harmed in the process if you do it right.

photo by conscious design on unsplash

If you happen to be in a situation where you’re unable to compost with worms, there are alternative ways to compost. As with other California cities, San Jose and other South Bay areas are following the new law called SB 1383 (mentioned earlier), which aims to increase food recovery to reduce landfill emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas which is a major contributor to climate change. San Jose’s garbage and recycling program is in accordance with SB 1383 due to organics already being composted, which means you don’t really need to do anything different. Just make sure organic material from landscaping (like yard trimmings) stays out of the recycling. Food scraps and products covered in food residue can be put in the trash and will be sorted for composting later, at the facility. Make sure to check the laws for your city or area because laws and regulations change depending on your location.  If you live in San Jose, you can read more about composting and SB 1383 here. Information for business owners is here.   

Bella Funk

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