By Sarah Tippit
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (Reuters) - Thousands of
worms began devouring leftovers from a college cafeteria here on
Monday in a novel project aimed at recycling food waste into natural
The "vermicomposting project" at Santa Monica
College in suburban Los Angeles is the second of its kind in
California and one of only a handful in the United States, Britain
and Canada, officials said. Manufactured by Toronto-based Original
Vermitech Systems Ltd., a machine uses a bin filled with 300 pounds
of slithering, elongated invertebrates to consume up to 150 pounds
of food waste deposited into it each day.
Worm droppings then fall through a sifter and are
collected for use as a clean, odorless, organic fertilizer,
officials at Santa Monica College said. The droppings can also be
used as a pesticide for certain types of plant-devouring
While the college has been recycling about 37
percent of its trash, this is its first attempt at recycling food
waste, which makes up about 7 percent of overall refuse at the
"The college is looking for ways to reduce waste
in an ecologically sound manner, and we are eager to see what the
results of the vermicomposting project will be," SMC President
Piedad Robertson said.
The seaside city of Santa Monica next door to Los
Angeles is also watching the project closely and may consider
installing a machine behind its restaurant-lined Third Street
Promenade tourist district, Bruce Smith, a spokesman for the city,
The $50,000 Vermitech shreds food and paper waste
before dumping the trash into a wriggling mass of worms. The
droppings fall beneath the machine and are collected.
"It really is odorless. It just looks like nice
soil," Smith said.
The machines are considered economical. An initial
load of Compost Worms -- cousins, incidentally, of ordinary Earth
Worms -- replenishes itself over the years so additional shipments
are not needed, Vermitech scientist Rodolfo Brugger said.
But will the worms escape?
"No!" Brugger said. "They like to stay in the dark
mulch. They shy away from the light."
However to allay fears the Vermitech machine comes
outfitted with special precautionary lights to keep the worms at
bay, Brugger said.
"This is nothing new. This is done by God's
creatures, and it's an absolutely natural process," Brugger said.
"The only thing we do is to help the process speed up, nothing