The Worm Man Cometh

03/01/2006 12:00 AM |

Yeah, I’m a little crazy. I worry an awful lot about the amount of garbage I produce. There’s something about living cheek-by-jowl with millions of other New Yorkers that makes garbage, and waste, seem even more obscene. Which is how I came to find myself ordering a pound of worms from the Lower East Side Ecology Center, and picking them up from the Center’s Union Square Greenmarket stand the next day. “Keep them warm — don’t stay out too long — they’ll get stressed,” I was warned, as the Ecology Center volunteer handed me an old half-gallon milk carton filled with wood chips. I handed her $17 (worms don’t come cheap) and rushed home with the box under my coat, praying no one would crash into me on the subway and spill the little guys on the platform, or down my front. We all made it home ok, as unstressed as rush hour permits, and I proceeded to set up my worm bin: a little place for the lads and lasses to begin working on my salad trimmings and broccoli stems.
Thus began my career in vermicomposting. That’s the application of one pound of red wriggler worms to my household’s daily output of compostable waste, in a worm composting bin. And it’s really not as bad as it sounds, no matter what my housemate says.

The average New York City household produces about two pounds of organic waste a day, mostly in the form of kitchen scraps. Citywide, we produce a million tons a year of compostable waste. Wrap your head around that, if you can. Imagine not only the sheer volume of garbage, but the number of garbage trucks, and the quantity of gasoline to move said garbage trucks. Oy. The solution is worms, and compost bins, and places like the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which trains folks to use both, and manages to collect and compost more than 60,000 pounds of “material” a year.

Operating from three locations — their stand at Union Square, their garden on East 7th Street between Avenues A and B, and the East River Park Environmental Learning Center at Grand Street, the LESEC educates New Yorkers about both vermi- and regular composting (in a yard or garden, using a bin), collects compostables, runs programs for school-age kids, and conducts periodic e-waste collections (electronics are the fastest-growing segment of our waste stream, and the most toxic, and should never be left at the curb.) They also run regular workshops: check their schedule at, and give worming a try. Just think of them as tiny little house pets, who never need to be walked…