City Slithers: Worms Deliver Fresh Compost to Urbanites

Dutch organization Buurtcompost had an idea to encourage neighborhoods in Amsterdam to recycle their organic waste in bins, and - with a little help from worms – use the compost to grow vegetables and fruit. They were told that the project would never take off. But now 40 of these so-called ‘Worm Hotels’ are spread around Amsterdam with a waiting list for many more.

Artikel Wormen-hotel

Compost heap

Image: Oregon State University-Flickr

‘Worm Hotel’ is not a new idea. Municipalities in the Netherlands have tried to encourage urbanites to separate their organic waste - Worm Hotels were yet another attempt but, it never took off.

Worm Hotel

Buurtcompost (in Dutch) tried a different approach. Instead of the city collecting organic waste, why not collect the waste in special compost bins on the street, add some worms and let them do their magic. The local community can use the compost to grow their plants. It can also be used as an educational tool to teach urban kids about nature, recycling and about circular economy.

Peter Jan Brouwer is one of the founders of Buurtcompost. He placed the first Worm Hotel in front of his Amsterdam apartment block back in 2015. At that time 5 families deposited their organic waste in the bin, it soon expanded to 20 families for that waste bin alone. They deposit 2,000 kg (4,409 lbs.) of organic waste per year, resulting in 200 kg (441 lbs.) of compost after the worms did their thing.

Seeing that Buurtcomost’s Worm Hotel project was a success, the city of Amsterdam decided to invest in the experiment. They placed 25 Worm Hotels on streets where people signed up for the trial run. With this pilot project, Amsterdam wants to find out if this manner of organic waste collection is viable in an urban area.

Going underground

While the city concentrates on installing compost bins above ground, Buurtcompost has started to experiment with subterranean waste bins. These are placed at locations where old containers for collecting paper, bottles and plastic have fallen into disuse. Worms prefer being underground, especially when it gets colder to stay warm. In addition to that, underground containers produce better compost.

Amsterdam is not the only Dutch city incorporating Worm Hotels. Cities like The Hague, Delft and Leiden have similar organic waste disposal projects.