Vermicomposting is one of the greatest ways to fertilize plants. it’s a better solution than manure and its environmentally responsible. Best of all, it’s a process that just about anyone can do at home with minimal impact on their daily lives. But recently I had a discussion with a vegan who was adamant that vermicomposting isn’t consistent with vegan practice.
Why not? It’s a way of creating organic fertilizer, its in keeping with a sustainable lifestyle, and you aren’t eating the worms. After doing a lot of research, I came to understand that there is a spectrum by which vegans identify themselves and the vegan lifestyle. Depending on how strict you are in your beliefs, vermicomposting can either be an acceptable practice or not.
Is vermicomposting vegan? Vermicomposting is not vegan in the strictest definition of the word. Vegans do not consume or use anything derived from animals or animal by-products, whether it be for health, ethical, or environmental purposes. From this perspective vermicomposting is not vegan.
Read on for more on exactly why vermicomposting doesn’t go along with the textbook vegan beliefs – but also why some vegans do it anyway. After all, sustainability, environmental responsibility, and veganism often go hand in hand.
To really answer this question objectively and completely, I turned to a study titled Veganism as a Cultural Phenomenon written by Emma Frawley at Bucknell University. The author interviewed vegans, their core beliefs, and practices.
Why Vermicompost is NOT Vegan
There are several different points to be made for exactly why composting with worms is not vegan. Here are a few reasons. Again, this is looking at it from the strictest sense (we’ll discuss more practical considerations later in this article).
The Worms are Working for You
If you’re using worms for the sole purpose of creating vermicompost, they’re working for you. The worms are not your pet like a dog or even a fish.
My friend took this one step further by explaining that because they are not free to leave, they are more like slave labor than employees.
When you get right down to it, if an animal is being used for labor, they’re being exploited. According to the textbook definition of veganism, this is not okay. According to The Vegan Society, one of their core beliefs is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose” (source).
Of course, we can also argue that we are providing food and shelter in exchange for services provided but if you really want to nit-pick the details, this does not align with strict vegan values.
The Compost Bin is Not Made of Vegan Materials
In order to create your compost bin for the worms, you’ll need to create a space for the worms to live and eat and do all the necessary worm work. The most common receptacle is a plastic storage bin, which may or may not be in line with your vegan beliefs.
Strict vegan practices often involve the avoidance of non-sustainable products that pose harm to animals. Plastics have been shown to have a significant impact on marine life (source) Depending on where you define your vegan position on this environmental scale, this may be in conflict with vegan beliefs.
If you’re able to find a label for the bin you plan to use, then you can determine whether or not it was made with any animal products. However, there are some things that aren’t required to have a label or disclose the ingredients used, so these may not be vegan. In any case, the simple fact that you are using plastic may be a deal-breaker for you. As an alternative, you can consider an outdoor worm farm that does not require a plastic bin.
The Worms’ Diet is Not Strictly Vegan
Unless everything that goes into the compost is vegan, then the worms might be consuming animal products or animal by-products. Worms aren’t exactly the pickiest eaters, so they’ll eat whatever they’re given.
If the worms aren’t eating vegan, they’re not producing vegan waste. Therefore, the vermicompost itself is not vegan. Although red wiggler compost worms can consume moldy or even rotten food items in reasonable quantities, if you are including food items that aren’t a part of your diet as a vegan then this could be in conflict.
Fortunately, you have a great deal of control over this aspect of the equation. If you manage your worms indoors where you can control their diet, you can ensure that the food that they consume is strictly vegan.
How the Worms are Acquired
Red wiggler worms are often obtained for the purpose of vermicomposting. How you obtain those worms may not align with the strictest of vegan principles.
Worms that are sold in stores are typically raised for the purpose of being used for something other than living their best worm life. These worms are usually from worm farms and raising animals in this element to be sold is not the vegan way as it equates to the “exploitation” of animals.
Removed From Their Original Habitat
Taking a worm from their existing home and putting it in your own compost bin is in direct violation of vegan beliefs. If we follow the tenants of The Vegan Society, worms colonize and develop their own communities and removing them would be taking them from their natural habitat. Even if you believe your compost bin is an ideal living space for that worm, it still does not go along with strict vegan ideals.
The Worms are Trapped
If the worms are being held captive in your worm farm, many vegans would see this as the worms suffering. They may try to escape from living within the confines of a container that they didn’t originally choose to live in.
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Again, this depends on just how strict you follow the tenants of The Vegan Society. If you are simply defining yourself as vegan meaning that you only eat vegetables, then this may not be a conflict for you.
Other Technical Issues with Vermicomposting Being Non-Vegan
The above reasons outline why vermicomposting is not a vegan act. However, the issues with its vegan relationship don’t stop there. Below are a few more concerns that can arise for vegans and vermicompost.
Fertilized Plants for Your Own Consumption
If you’re eating plants that have been fertilized with vermicompost, this can compromise vegan morals. These plants have been contaminated by an animal by-product, worm castings, which are the results of vermicomposting. Depending on your convictions, this may violate your views as a vegan.
Obligation to the Worms
If you choose to move your worm farm or decide to not keep up with it, you’re abandoning all of the worms that are living there. If the worms chose to live there or not, they’re still living inside of your bin and now that you’re not feeding them, they will most likely not survive.
Why Some Vegans are Still OK with Vermicompost
As previously mentioned, vegans steer clear of animal products for ethical, health, and/or environmental reasons. Some vegans adhere to all three of these, others do not.
You Aren’t Actually Eating The Worms (I hope)
This may be an assumption, but it’s probably safe to assume that you aren’t going to eat the worms. When you really get down to the intent of most people who adopt a vegan lifestyle, it’s the elimination of animal products from your diet.
The Worms are Getting a Better Home
Some vegans don’t have an ethical concern with re-homing worms and see it as a betterment to the worms’ wellbeing. Saving worms from an undesirable location and giving them a new home in your compost bin is arguably actually helping the worms.
According to some vegans, the worms are consistently being fed a proper worm diet, they’re protected in their compost bin habitat, and getting to do what makes them happy. That’s a worm win and some vegans don’t see an issue with that.
Worms are Not Being Exploited
It can be argued that the worms aren’t being forced to work to compost. Therefore, they’re not being exploited. Because it’s natural for worms to eat and produce worm castings, many vegans see this as an animal-friendly and sustainable way of composting; allowing the worms to do what they’re meant to do.
Keeping them from composting would actually be hurting the worms by this philosophy.
If Your Worms Are Content, Then You Are Doing No Harm
In most cases, if you provide your worms with what they need, they will be content to stay in their worm bin and steadily compost your scraps. If your worms are trying to escape the bin, however, something is out of balance. Be sure to read my article Why Are My Composting Worms Trying To Escape?
Many vegans accept vermicomposting based on providing a safe home and a steady food supply to those red wiggler worms.
It Doesn’t Hurt the Worms
An argument can be made that worms don’t sense pain. But we’ll operate under the assumption that we do. And, if worms do feel pain, there’s nothing they’d do within a compost bin that would hurt them. Worms eat and poop in nature, so doing it in your worm farm is nothing different.
It’s also arguable that you are providing a safe environment for them. Although rodents do not actively hunt worms, they will eat them if they come across one. Click here to read Do Worm Farms Attract Rats?
It’s Just Better for the Environment
Vermicompost is a natural and healthy form of fertilizing. Many vegans agree that the pros to vermicompost really outweigh the cons when it comes to composting with worms. When deciding for yourself, consider these benefits:
- Fewer Chemicals – By using vermicompost, we’re reducing the need to produce and use chemical fertilizers. This prevents those dangerous chemicals from getting to our plants, by not directly using them. Also, this keeps our air a little cleaner, as the factories used to produce these chemicals won’t be operating as much.
- Reducing Landfill Waste – In addition to using fewer chemical fertilizers, we’re also helping the environment by sending less waste to landfills. Feeding worms compost is taking something that would go in the trash and tossing it in the compost bin. It will then double as worm food and later, plant food.
- Providing More Efficient Clean Air – The cleaner air, the better we breathe. And I think I can speak for everyone when I say, breathing is great…right? Plants are so important in keeping our environment clean and healthy for us to live, and vermicompost is such a great way to help improve our plant life.
Watch this short video to really gain an understanding of the beneficial aspects of vermicomposting from an environmental perspective.
Vermicomposting is not vegan by the strictest of standards but it is conducive to a vegan lifestyle where embracing nature, creating organic fertilizer and reducing landfill waste are valued. Depending on how you prioritize it is possible to justify vermicomposting as a vegan.