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[GreenYes] Hotel pampers worms to cut waste

Hotel pampers worms to cut waste

*CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) -- Thousands of earthworms guzzle tons
of scrap food left over from the tables of the rich and famous at South
Africa's plush Mount Nelson hotel, quietly doing their bit to save the

Cape Town's oldest and most famous hotel -- a pink temple to pampering where
visiting celebrities are welcomed by doormen in traditional colonial-era
pith helmets -- has its own worm farm to help slash waste and, ultimately,
tackle climate change.

"This may seem simplistic but it was simply the right thing to do. We're
taking responsibility and actually producing something of value out of the
waste," Sharon Baharavi of the five-star Mount Nelson told Reuters.

The worms are kept out of sight of patrons enjoying the opulent surroundings
and gourmet treats, but they bask in pampered luxury in a backroom a short
slither from the presidential suite.

Up to nearly 6 inches long, the worms, commonly known as red wrigglers or
tiger worms, are housed in specially designed crates and fed vegetable
leftovers from the kitchen and pricey restaurant tables.

Their fluid excrement, or "worm tea," is carefully harvested and used as a
prized fertilizer in the hotel's rolling gardens, where peacocks parade on
manicured lawns. Their other by-product, vermicast, is a rich compost.

"They are a specific species. They love food. They love eating decomposing
food and they are really good at it. They've got a ferocious appetite," said
environmental activist Mary Murphy.
Worms to the rescue?

Murphy, one of the drivers of the project, said the potential of such
projects was huge.

"If we think really big ... if everybody took their organic waste and
processed it through vermiculture or worm farms and we stopped organic waste
going to landfill sites, it would have a dramatic impact on climate change."

"It's incredible. They reduce waste by 70 percent (and) there is no smell
here," she says, wearing an "I dig worms" T-shirt and surrounded by
thousands of the munching critters.

The worms neutralize harmful bacteria, such as Ecoli, and produce beneficial
bacteria while increasing the levels of nitrogen and potassium in the soil
-- elements that help vegetables grow.

"It is exactly what we need to feed the soil and therefore feed vegetables
and feed people," Murphy said.

Organic waste in rubbish dumps releases carbon dioxide and methane,
greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, adding to global warming.

"Methane is particularly bad because it has about 20 times greater affinity
for heat than carbon dioxide," said environmental scientist Roger Jacques.

The worms prevent this by devouring the waste and turning it into stabilized
organic matter.

The Mount Nelson project is the first of its kind in South Africa, and
Murphy wants to expand it to the hotel's competitors as well as schools and

The hotel is processing about 20 percent of its organic waste through the
worm farm but hopes to extend that to 100 percent within the next nine
months, as the earthworms reproduce and the farm expands.

Under the right conditions, two worms can become a million in just one year.

The project may also help South Africa work towards a goal of stopping waste
going to landfill sites by 2022 by encouraging people to find other ways to
deal with refuse.

"Without a doubt, organic waste on landfill sites is what's producing a huge
bulk of our methane gas that's contributing significantly to climate
change," Murphy said.

"Worms can save the world!" she said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters <>.
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