According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for emitting 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Wasted food is a pervasive issue that demands action. So how do we begin to tackle this problem? And what can be done by the individual?

Great questions. Here I present one rather slimy solution to this conundrum.

Squiggly, squirmy and often feared, the earthworm is frequently grouped with creepy crawlers to be avoided. It’s really quite a shame. They are never included in discussions of potential additions to the household. Sure, they won’t play fetch, they aren’t going to wait for you by the door, and they probably won’t respond well to the suggestion of a walk, but earthworms serve an even greater purpose as members of the family: They are composting machines.

Every household ends up with a few carrot tops or apple cores at the end of the day, all of which often get tossed into the trash. Well, one human’s trash is another’s treasure. That’s how the phrase goes, right? These fascinating annelids have quite the potential when it comes to dealing with kitchen scraps as they happily accept everything from eggshells to tea bags to watermelon rinds. Rarely are worms thought of for their capacity to fight food waste. A sad truth, really, given their potential contribution to the cause. Worms are an under-tapped resource for those green-minded folks living in close quarters or residents of regions that are unable to compost year-round. Under the correct conditions, red worms can turn food waste into a fertile soil amendment in a matter of weeks.

So how can you bring the earthworm’s power to transform food waste into treasure to your own home? The answer is simple: vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting is a fancy term that refers to the process of composting with the aid of some worms. Within a few weeks of presenting food scraps to the worms, your new food-waste warriors will have transformed the waste into a lush, nutritious fertile material. This is great for adding to gardens or spreading throughout your yard. The benefits of this approach to dealing with food waste are plentiful. When executed correctly, the worms regulate the unpleasant odor of food scraps, resulting in a lovely smelling potting soil. Red worms thrive at temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they are happy outside in mild temperatures but are also able to be kept indoors if the weather takes a turn for the extremes. Red worms have an uncanny ability to break down food scraps, producing a fertile material that can easily be added to any garden or yard.

If you are inspired to bring the wonder of vermicomposting into your home after learning about the amazing ability of worms, here are some concrete steps to get you started on the path to a food-waste-free home.

  1. Acquire a 10-gallon container. An old dresser drawer, a cheap dark plastic bin, just about anything will do. Find a place to keep the bin, preferably somewhere that stays cool and undisturbed.
  2. Prepare your bin. Tear up 50 sheets of newspapers and place the strips into the bin being sure to leave lots of air in the strips when you fill up the bin. Sprinkle the newspaper with a few handfuls of soil.
  3. Add your creepy crawlers. Composting worms, Eisenia fetida, can be purchased online or you can check to see if your local tackle shop sells them as bait.
  4. You’re ready to add food scraps! Be sure to break it up to make it easier for the worms to break it down, and avoid contaminating the bin with dairy or meat products. Load it up with all sorts of plant-based food scraps.
  5. You can use the resulting mixture in your yard or garden. Plants love it!

Local stores like GreenThumb in Ventura, Armstrong Garden Center in Thousand Oaks, and Cal Flora in Ojai sell the materials required to start your own vermicomposting set-up. If you want to learn more, check out these local resources: Resource Conservation Partner’s composting shop, the City of Ventura’s Food Waste Resources, and Ventura County’s resources on how to reduce.

Paige Wagar is a student at Cornell University studying environmental science.