Earthworm Farms: Solving China’s Food Waste Challenge

“Food waste is a HUGE issue and hard to tackle, but (for us) we see it as a resource and opportunity.”
– Earthworm Farm Manager

With China’s population explosion, the ever-growing food waste has become an increasing pressure for cities.

One innovative solution is earthworm cultivation. During our research on food waste, we visited one earthworm farm in Shanghai, who officially help dispose food waste. We want to share their ideas, practices and passion, to show a bright side of food waste.

China Earthworm CompostEarthWorm Farms In Shanghai: What Are They Doing

Located at Baoshan Area, this worm farm has officially collaborated with government to dispose local food waste. During peak season, around 50-60 ton of food waste will be sent to them every day. Once received, food waste will be stored and fermented underground. When using them, staff will take some out and reduce the concentration of salt first, through dilution, grounding and mixing with soil and wood bits. Then, processed food waste will be spread for worms to eat, as a great feed rich in protein. Then worm dungs will be applied as organic compost for agriculture and soil improvement, which is the value-added link in their business.

Food Waste Is a (Great) Business:

“We believe that if we succeed in our experiment, we will introduce our compost into local grape business, which is a promising market. Also, earthworm selling will be another market opportunity as we grow.”

As a waste recycling business, this worm farm has been supported by environmental department, with regular food waste supply and 115 yuan subsidy for one ton food waste disposed. What’s more, food waste also bring them market opportunities.

The area this farm located is known for grapes and is now challenged by soil pollution, and through the addition of worm castings, they are finding that they are able to improve the quality of the soil.   Currently, they are experimenting on grapes planting with their own worm dungs compost in order to open local market. With 6 worm cultivation sheds (around 120m2 per shed), they’ve owned over 30 acres of grape garden and some vegetable patches, which is expected to apply worm compost once their test succeed.

China Earthworm Tomatoes

Challenges and Opportunities for Earthworm Farms

“Many farmers are discouraged by the process of spreading our earthworms. Sometimes even when we offer our worms to them, they will not accept because it cost time to spread them. However, we don’t think it will be a big problem for us, once our grapes have a good turn out this year, which will be the most powerful branding.”

Land is one major challenge for them. As a food waste disposal site, it is hard to get approved for new land. Usually, they are supported by the environmental department, but less accepted by district government and residents due to the smell or pollution of food waste. Thus, they are considering to buy low quality soil, recover and use it.

Another challenge for their business is licensing. Currently, there is no authoritative standard for their products, so they are not allowed to sell on the market. How to develop and sustain stable client groups become a key point for them. For now, the local market still wait and see their experiment results.

However these challenges, we still believe that, as food waste recycling industry grows, a more mature and favorable circumstance will be presented for them to better achieve their vision. Also, more innovations will be expected on China’s food waste management in the nearing future.

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