Well, there could be, if you want them. You probably won’t find them invading uninvited, but if you chose, these creepy crawlers could help to significantly eliminate your own food waste and the university’s carbon footprint. Bwog’s Slime Specialist Liz Naiden reports on the initiatives to bring worm composting technology to students in the first installment of GreenBwog; a feature on cool green stuff students are doing around campus. 

There are currently nine worm boxes at Columbia: two in the Greenboro special interest house and seven in the rooms of members of the Food Sustainability Project, which co-sponsors The Worm Initiative with the EcoReps. There used to be a tenth box, says EcoRep Todd Nelson as he sets down his box o’worms for show and tell. The girl who kept it developed a phobia of the creatures’ undulation early in the year and had to give up her own box. They undulate like snakes, she said. 

Sad, says Nelson, considering how cool the critters are. Worms are essentially eating and pooping tubes – food goes in one way, poo comes out the other. But their poo smells way better than ours – in fact, Nelson’s composting box smells positively like nature. Well, it smells like soil, because worm poo is the fertilizer found in natural dirt. The fertilizers produced by these particular worms will go to Columbia’s Community Garden Project.

But perhaps more important than what comes out is what goes in. Mixed in with a layer of wet newspaper is various vegan food waste from the house – the worms, as well as many Greenborough residents, are devout vegans. It’s possible that the worms are conscious of the worldwide impact of their diets, but more importantly, non-vegan material would make the box smell like a lot more like a city garbage can.


The composting boxes help Greenboro keep their overall waste at a minimum, as well as preventing any food waste from going into landfills. When food waste goes into landfills and decomposes there, the bacteria that do the decomposing use anaerobic processes (no, landfills aren’t airy joints, except on the very top). One of the byproducts of anaerobic decomposition is methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 22 times more harmful than CO2. Worms, on the other hand, produce no methane because the bacteria in their little stomachs decompose food aerobically. Nelson says 25% of American production of methane comes from landfills; all of that is from food waste, meaning a lot of it could be prevented.

The worms are here to help us out. Plus, they’re the lowest maintenance pet you can get. No feeding, walking, or barking involved. And they, er, regenerate on their own. Nelson tells us that while he started with a pound of worms, the population of his bin has grown substantially this semester. The hermaphroditic worms can be seen “being fruitful and multiplying,” as Nelson puts it, on the walls and lid of the box, sometimes in large orgies groups. Picture, blurred to protect the subjects’ privacy, below.


The Lower East Side Ecology Center sells “worm condos” like Nelson’s, plus worms by the pound if you’re interested in doing your own composting. For more information contact Kristina Gsell of the Food Sustainability Project at ksg2116@columbia.edu, check out the Eco Reps or Food Sustainability Project websites, or head to the Eco Reps informational event this Thursday night in John Jay bearing the foreboding titled “The Night of No Waste.”