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‘Students and worms turn out to be the perfect combination’

Why throw out all your vegetable cuttings and other green waste when you can feed thousands of worms with it and create fertile soil? About 120 Uilenstede residents take a regular walk to one of its three worm hotels. Student Alexis Mourier (26) makes sure the hotels keep functioning.

One’s imagination starts to run wild when hearing the words ‘worm hotel’. But what is it really?
“It’s a bit of an odd name for a vermiculture system filled with thousands of hungry worms. It’s about 1.25 meter tall and 2.2 meter wide. Users put things in it like vegetable cuttings, eggs and raw food. The stuff that goes on the side while cooking, in other words. We’re used to calling that ‘waste’ but in nature nothing is waste. The worms eat it all up and turn it, by pooping, into highly fertile soil. This soil can be used to grow new vegetables and herbs. It’s quite brilliant: there’s less household waste to deal with it and at the same time you’re creating something new.”

Feed some worms yourself
The worm hotels on Uilenstede are built and managed by Compostier a company with worm hotels all over Amsterdam and beyond. Are you interested in supporting one of the hotels? There might be one open for contribution in your area. For whoever wants to work with worms on a private scale, there are plenty of small worm containers (and tutorials to build them) available online.

How did you get involved in the world of worms?
“It was quite an unusual way. I was living in Uilenstede and my neighbour was part of the student organisation Enactus VU. They were trying to set up a pilot involving worm hotels together with the company Compostier of Rowin Snijder. I thought it was a cool project and was happy to lend a hand. One thing led to another and before I knew people started reaching out to me because they also wanted a worm hotel for their building. There’s plenty of waste on Uilenstede, with so many people living so closely together. Student housing corporation Duwo and the community of Amstelveen liked the project as well, so they are financing the pilot.”

Next thing you knew you were a worm expert. What’s your role in the project right now?
“Rowin liked my energy and after getting two more hotels installed, he asked me to manage all three of them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past period: involving more people and making sure the hotels function properly. This includes the onboarding of new participants and answering their questions whenever they occur. The café on campus has recently also asked for a hotel, which we can only applaud. I’m trying to involve even more businesses on campus, to help the community of worm hotels grow.”

Alexis Mourier

Let’s throw in a stereotype: aren’t students too lazy to bring their waste to the hotels?
“At this point 120 people on Uilenstede are using the worm hotels and it’s amazing how many people have gotten in touch with me because they also wanted to help. Not much is available in Uilenstede, so people like using all they have. At the same time society is becoming more waste-savvy and nature is playing a growing role in our lives. Students are happy to do something for the environment. They’ve even been taking it a step further on Uilenstede by creating vegetable gardens around the hotels and next to their buildings.”

 What will be your next steps? Are you planning on expanding beyond Uilenstede?
“We would love to build a community of worm hotels run by students. That would be a worldwide first. That means expansion is definitely on the agenda. I’m already talking to someone in Eindhoven and plan on approaching and enthuse people in all student cities. Every city would need someone like me, a caretaker. I’ve written a business plan so they know what they’d have to do. Hopefully it will start spreading by itself as well.”

Will your future after completing your master’s be involving worms as well?
“Probably, also after I find a job. I really like being involved in this project and I would love to help in the further expansion of the hotels. Working on a better environment has always been my ultimate goal. I came to Amsterdam in September 2020 for the master’s Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science and my dream is to use AI to support the environment, a field which still has a lot of potential. The worm hotels are completely unrelated, but at the same time it’s both about supporting nature.”



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