Backyard bin image by Pete Baugh; worms by kafka4prez at flickr
It's amazing, but in a completely unscientific survey, it was found that quite a few people have fear of compost. I empathize, being of lazy disposition and a low 'ick' threshold. But the benefits of composting are so big - solid waste reduction, shrinking your home's carbon footprint, and making your own ready-to-apply garden soil - that it behooves us all to conquer that ick. Here's an inspiring compost stat: Going from a 60-gallon trash container or equivalent to a 35-gallon container means an annual "savings" of 2,650 pounts of CO2! (That stat is from the Low Carbon Diet by David Gershon)
Composting: Where to start
At TreeHugger we've written plenty about composting, and Collin's Green Basics is a great place to start. Once you are ready to compost or even expand your compost production, the choice of which type of system to use is fairly personal. There really isn't a best, but rather a best for you. Sometimes simple, simple, simple is the best way to transition, especially for beginners, and in that case the backyard black (or green) bin purchased from a well-stocked garden store might be the way to go. The advantages are that it is very little work and the bin can be abandoned during the winter when it may get too damp to really process much vegetable waste. For apartment dwellers, NatureMill is a really good choice - but do read Part I of this post for some possible downsides.
If you are however the type of person or family that for whatever reasons feel you want richer compost (or you are into pets and pet projects) than worm composting might just be the system for you. Worm composting: Is it for you?
First, an admission: worm composting is not for me, so I have not personally tested Can-O-Worms. There are also lots of different worm systems besides Can-O-Worms, including do-it-yourself bins. But TreeHugger likes Can-O-Worms for its use of 100% post consumer recycled plastic, and its layered structure.
TreeHugger Tips for worm composting
And TreeHugger's Petz Scholtus provided some personal testimony on Can-O-Worms. Petz worked with Barcelona-based domestic composting specialists Compostadores, and in testing the Can-O-Worms found that it worked magnificently when paired with the NatureMill. That's a spendy combination (approximately US $450), however, so if you are choosing one or the other and opt for worms, Petz suggests to be very consequent with completely covering the worms with coconut fiber or sawdust in order to discourage fruit flies. The layering also helps protect the worms against excess moisture, which can even be fatal to worm populations.
Worms do produce superior compost material because the mucous discarded in their poop (yup, high ick factor) helps lock nutrients into the resultant casings/soil. Plus many people grow very fond of their hard-working worms.
And now for a final word to those that don't yet have access to a personal domestic composting system. Even if neither an outdoor bin, nor an indoor NatureMill nor a worm system seems like it will work for you, don't despair. More and more urban municipalities are going to provide curbside composting - San Francisco was the leader, and Portland just started a system. In addition, new compost systems such as the Swedish Big Hanna and the Korean eCorect will make it easier for larger apartment complexes and industrial sites to compost. With approximately 23 percent of compostable waste making up the solid waste stream, all solutions are welcome.