Local businesses are thinking outside the box by throwing their waste into one – complete with slimy worms, of course.

Members of Associated Students Dept. of Public Worms (DPW) recently set an eight-foot tall by four-foot wide compost box in Isla Vista’s People’s Park as a place for I.V. businesses to dispose of their food waste. Red worms inside the box decompose the food, turning it into rich soil that can be used as fertilizer.

“I think the worm box is a really great step for composting in Isla Vista,” said Aaron Gilliam, DPW operation coordinator and fourth-year environmental studies major. “I hope it spreads, and that students and other members of the community join in our contribution. It’s also really cool that parks are open to something really green like this.”

Currently, Java Jones and Super Cuca’s are the only participating businesses, but DPW hopes to see that number increase in the near future, Gilliam said. He said the community effort will cut back on the amount of waste going to landfills.

Gilliam said the first steps toward DPW began a year and a half ago when members of Associated Students Recycling (ASR) and the Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) began collecting food waste for a smaller worm box behind the Newman Co-Op on Madrid Road.

As the private venture progressed, the group started construction on the larger box, now located in People’s Park. ASR and EAB each donated $2,000 to continue the project under the name the A.S. Dept. of Public Worms.

“We turned it into an A.S. endeavor to make it more official,” Gilliam said.

The box cost $1,000 and took all of last quarter to build, Gilliam said. Volunteers built the box entirely out of trex – a material made from sawdust and recycled grocery bags – in Gilliam’s backyard on Abrego Road. While the lumber alternative is more expensive, the downside of trex is its density: the box was so heavy that it required a forklift to transport it to People’s Park, Gilliam said.

DPW began their project with the help of five pounds of red worms, purchased online, Gilliam said. After continuous breeding, there are now 30 pounds of worms ingesting 15 pounds of food a day. In about four to six months, volunteers will harvest the decomposed food.

“Route Riders” bring the worms their meals via bins attached to a tricycle, Gilliam said. The group paid for the $600 tricycle with part of the $2,000 dollars donated by ASR, he said.

Currently, the pick-up service is free of charge, but as the organization grows, it may have to charge in order to compensate the riders, said Scott Bull, Shoreline Preservation Fund grants manager.

To make the program sustainable, DPW may also need to start charging for the service because it will not make a profit on the soil it collects – an option that was vetoed by the I.V. Recreation and Park District (IVRPD), Bull said.

The group has not yet determined how it will distribute the soil, but it will more than likely donate the compost to the IVRPD for organic landscaping projects, Gilliam said.

In addition to increasing the number of participating businesses, DPW hopes to increase the number of worm boxes in People’s Park and around the community, Gilliam said.

“Now that we have the box for people interested in worming, it seems like we are open to many possibilities, and we have a lot of room for growing,” he said. “I see multiple boxes coming in around the span of four years.”