A bin full of worms may sound like a prop in a hair-raising reality TV show challenge, but to Ed Hubbard it represents the future of the green movement.
Hubbard is a software guru turned earthworm wrangler. He launched Nature’s Little Recyclers almost a year and a half ago. NLR is a vermiculture composting company where earthworms turn municipal level waste into organic top soil and fertilizer.
Hubbard is traveling from Chicago to Jacksonville for One Spark 2014. He has entered NLR as a creator project in the festival.
Hubbard developed NLR after coming to the realization that he wanted to do something disruptive that would make a difference and affect a lot of people.
He said that clean air, water and energy are all areas that are already being addressed but soil quality was being neglected.
“This was the fourth important piece,” Hubbard said, “and I decided this was a business worth getting into.”
Dr. Courtey Hackney, the director of the coastal biology department at the University of North Florida, said there is a huge market in verimculture composting.
“What he’s doing is really important as far as plant nutrition,” Hackney said. “People have found ways to create the organic part of the soil. It’s an old concept that has been resurrected.”
So Hubbard purchased earthworms and started feeding them organic materials and in return they excreted “vermicast,” a natural fertilizer that forms the basis of most soil.
“If we eat it, they’ll eat it and if we wear it and it’s cotton, they’ll eat it,” Hubbard said, “we’ve even fed them T-shirts, they’ve eaten right through them.”
In particular Hubbard is interested in coffee – it’s the most compostable thing he’s found that earthworms love to eat. NLR is partnered with different coffee companies for materials.
“Ninety-eight percent of the material that’s left over from coffee is all compostable and in most cases it’s in a landfill,” said Hubbard. “We can take that and turn it into top soil.”
The company currently has 1,000 pounds of worms, and Hubbard said he wants to increase to 3 tons as fast as possible– a feat not out of reach considering worms double in quality in as little as three months.
There are a few different ways NLR brings in money. The company sells compost and worms. African Night Crawlers can be sold for as much as $32 a pound. Farmers and people interested in composting buy NLR’s worms.
They will also soon start to charge a “tipping fee,” this is a similar fee companies may pay to a landfill but it will instead go to NLR for recycling of organic materials.
Hubbard envisions NLR as a highly replicable concept.
“I’m hoping to inspire people and then be able to document, show and supply these new other factories across the country is my hope,” Hubbard said. “But my big hope is to finish the proof of concept, build a real factory, show everybody that they can work.”
Recently NLR has moved from a 600 square foot work space to a 1,500 square foot work space and Hubbard hopes for NLR to grow even more from the exposure and possible funding he may gain from One Spark.
“Money is important but the biggest thing that we’re looking for is technical talent and inspiring people with the idea, that this can be done. I want to change the way people look at green tech.”
Urban Grind Coffee Company will be NLR’s venue during One Spark. Hubbard said his creator project was selected within 12 hours of the matchmaking process.
“While [vermiculture] is an ancient technology, it’s been treated like the red-headed orphan of the green movement,” Hubbard said. “I want people to look at green tech the same way they look at tech.”
This story was reported by Ignite Media, an independent news bureau created by University of North Florida students.