The idea that worm droppings can make the world a better place may seem downright ludicrous to those unfamiliar with vermicomposting, but compost enthusiasts and many environmentally-conscious homeowners everywhere embrace worm composting because they believe it does just that. Vermicomposting involves placing red worms in a bin full of moist bedding and providing them with a variety of food scraps for them to consume and process through their digestive systems. This unique composting process causes multiple intriguing effects, ranging from the mundane to the amazing.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average U.S. citizen disposes of 4.5 pounds of waste in the trash each day. Vermicomposting reduces the amount of waste you put in your garbage because the compost worms consume the majority of kitchen food scraps, including fruits, vegetables, grains, paper tea bags (minus the non-biodegradable sections, such as metal staples) and coffee grounds.
You can even crush and sprinkle eggshells in your worm bin to dispose of them; according to Loren Nancarrow, co-author of "The Worm Book," this practice helps your worms digest food waste more quickly. Just as important, your compost worms live in a bedding of moist, shredded cardboard, newspaper or leaves--all materials that many people routinely send to landfills.
Like traditional composting methods, which use oxygen-loving bacteria to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment, vermicomposting drastically enriches soil nutrients. The compost worms have various chemicals in their bodies that break down organic matter during digestion. The resultant worm droppings, commonly referred to as castings, contain increased levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and essentially are a super food available for immediate consumption by your plants. Not only does vermicompost result in increased plant yields, but it also conditions soil and can decrease the rate of erosion when you add it to your garden soil.
In a study published in the April 2006 issue of the Indian Society of Hospital Waste Management Journal, a group of researchers led by Umesh Mathur, Principal Medical Officer at the Air Force Hospital in Bangalore, India, investigated the effect of vermicomposting on infected biomedical waste. Results from the study indicate that the vermicomposting process breaks down potentially dangerous biomedical waste matter containing pathogenic microorganisms, such as E. Coli and Staph aureus, into an "innocuous waste." After 12 weeks of vermicomposting, human pathogens ceased to survive in the compost product.