Kitchen Compost: Turning Food Scraps Into Organic Fertilizer Without the Stink

Dear EarthTalk: I’d like to get into turning my food waste into compost for my garden, but I don’t want a stinky pile of table scraps lingering in a pail in my kitchen or backyard. Are there any new high-tech ways to expedite the process?

—Billy A., San Francisco, CA

Composting is a natural process of recycling food and organic matter and exposing it to oxygen so it can decompose into a nourishing soil amendment. Whether you let your municipality process your food and yard waste into compost, or do it yourself at home, you’re doing right by the environment.

The problem with dumping food and plant waste into the regular garbage bin is that it won’t decompose in a landfill where it’s buried under layers of inorganic matter, unexposed to oxygen. When organic waste is trapped in a landfill it can generate large amounts of groundwater-polluting leachate and potentially flammable methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as bacteria try to break it down in the absence of oxygen.

Given how easy it is to compost these days, it’s hard to believe that food and yard waste make up as much as 30 percent of the waste we send to landfills. Luckily if you want to make your own compost at home or don’t have curbside food/yard waste pickup, there are plenty of easy, low-cost ways to get started.

The Epica Stainless Steel Compost Bin is a great way to starting recycling food waste right from your countertop. The Epica’s airtight lid and replaceable charcoal filter work together to confine any harsh smells. Another plus is the attractive stainless steel exterior, designed to last a lifetime and warrantied against scratches, cracks or chips. And all you need to clean the Epica is water, soap and a sponge.

Other products can speed up the process of making garden-ready compost right in your kitchen. For instance, the Worm Farm Composter ($139) uses an innovative tiered tray design and the power of real live worms to turn your kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer right in your kitchen or mudroom.

For even faster composting using electricity instead of worms, turn to the Food Cycler CS-10 ($299), which employs motorized agitators to break down cooked and uncooked food waste into small particles which are then heated and sterilized. The dishwasher-safe, countertop-sized unit makes ready-to-use compost within three hours.

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Composting your food scraps in something like Zera’s Food Cycler can cut way down on the waste sent to landfills while helping to produce nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden.

If you want to go even bigger, Zera’s new appliance-sized Food Recycler ($1,199) reduces food waste by over two-thirds its original volume and can handle a week’s worth of kitchen scraps. It makes usable compost in 24 hours, and is also connects to your home’s wifi network so you can monitor and control it remotely via an app. Yes, there’s even an app for that!

Old-school (outdoor) composters might want to check out Yimby’s low-cost, worry-free Tumbler Composter ($81). Just insert your food scraps and/or yard waste, close the door and turn it manually 5-6 times every 2-3 days. The exterior is a recycled plastic bin with a steel frame, and can stay outside all year in any weather. The Tumbler Composter has a 37 gallon capacity, but takes two weeks or longer to turn your scraps into compost.

Composting is great for fertilizing your home garden, and it’s satisfying to make something useful for free out of waste that you would otherwise just discard. However, if you just want to make a difference but don’t need the compost itself, municipal food waste curbside pick-up is probably a better way to go. Whether you outsource the compost-making to your town or do it yourself at home, you can feel good that you’re doing the right thing by the environment.

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