The best way to compost your food scraps

EPA estimates Each person in the United States sends 200 pounds of food to landfills each year, where methane and contributes to climate change. These scraps are turned into compost soil nutrition, carbon sequestration hummus instead. If that sounds like a better option, you have a few options: compost at home, with or without a machine to help you, or let someone else do the work.

The DIY route requires a bit of science and a lot of labor, as I learned first hand necessity lives off the grid for five years. Adding a kitchen composter to the mix can help take some of the work (and the smell) out of the process. But my preference, now that I’m back in civilization, is to have someone else do the composting. It’s easy if you live there a municipality roadside composting program. I don’t, so I pay a local composting service to pick up my family’s scraps twice a month.

It’s tempting to think of composting as building a bin, throwing food in, and returning to your garden in a few weeks with something you can toss, but the reality is that it takes a lot more time, space, and effort. The hardest part of composting for me was the consistency required. Any active compost pile requires maintenance at least a few times a week, including adding to it, turning it, watering it in dry climates, or protecting it from excessive rain. In addition to time, composting at home requires space and materials to set up bins. You’ll also need a regular source of “brown” or carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves, untreated paper, cardboard, sawdust or wood chips.

Many people (with more knowledge than I) have developed how-to recommendations on this topic. i watched The Mini Farming Guide to Compostingbut these online guides will also serve you well:

  • EPA: Offers a high-level overview of the process and includes a handy diagram with examples of green and brown materials.

  • ILSR: A more in-depth guide, complete with illustrations and the reasoning behind each step.

  • NMSU: A science-rich reference with numerous methods and problem-solving suggestions.

  • Joe Gardener: A multi-page, highly detailed PDF from Joe Lamp’l, host of the PBS and DIY Network gardening shows.

Every source gives the same basic advice: set up your bin, collect your food scraps, pile up the brown stuff, maintain your proportions, monitor and change humidity and aeration levels, then let the full pile run out for six to eight weeks (yes, you usually need two piles ).

As you can see, composting correct It’s not as simple as throwing the waste in the trash and taking the time to do the rest. Of course, if the process appeals to you (and this does is quite attractive) this is not a drawback. In particular, backyard gardeners make excellent candidates for maintaining a healthy pile—not to mention, they also make the most of the finished product. And people who don’t have a yard are out of luck (unless they’re comfortable with owning a home indoor worm farm).

A bowl of leftovers sits on a blue and white countertop next to a ceramic box. A bowl of leftovers sits on a blue and white countertop next to a ceramic box.

Photo: Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Calling them “composters” is a misnomer because these devices don’t actually create compost—it requires microbial processes that take weeks. Instead, these devices chop and dry the food, creating an odorless material that is significantly smaller than what goes inside. You can even include meat and dairy products – which is superior to home compost piles, where animal products are generally not recommended. As for what comes out, it can be added to your yard pile, sprinkled in your garden, added to houseplants or tossed in a green box or bin – where it will take up less space and nothing will smell.

I haven’t tested any of these devices, but after researching them from a fairly knowledgeable composer’s perspective, I can see the pros and cons of several of the more popular devices on the market.

I like that Mill’s offers a solution for its produce and is large enough to hold the scraps an average family can generate in a few weeks. Instead of buying the machine outright, sign up for a subscription that includes a Millbox and USPS pickup for the “basics” it creates. Add food during the day and the dehydrating and mixing cycles run automatically every night. …When it’s full, you empty the contents into a prepaid box and ship it to Mill’s facility in Washington, D.C., where the grounds are turned into chicken feed.

You can also save the grounds, feed them to your backyard chickens, add them to your compost bin, or sprinkle them (little by little) around your yard where the water will begin the actual composting process. If you go this route, you’ll pay $30 or $50 per month, depending on whether you pay annually or monthly for the bin itself. You’ll pay an additional $10 per month or $15 per month on an annual plan for the grinder and pickup for the area.

Lomi also chops and dehydrates your scraps. It’s smaller than the Unit Mill, so you’ll likely have to empty it every few days. It offers three modes, one of which, Growth Mode, uses tiny probiotic capsules called Lomi Pods to create “plant food” in about 20 hours. Lomi suggests mixing the results with regular soil at a ratio of one to ten.

If you have a yard, it’s easy enough to add a little here and there to maintain the ratio, and if you live in an apartment with houseplants, you can mix a small amount into the soil. But the end product should only be used sparingly as fertilizer, so you’ll have to do something else with the excess. Lomi suggests adding the excess to your compost, tossing it in your green bin if your city provides curbside composting, or tossing it in a trash can that takes up less space and won’t smell.

All of these devices are basically blenders with a heating element, so it makes sense that Vitamix has one on the market. The FoodCycler is smaller than the Lomi, so it’s best for households with one or two people. The results can be mixed into small amounts of plants, added to your green boxes or thrown out. Either way, the treated scraps will smell less, take up less space, and won’t add more methane rot to the landfill.

Reencle is larger like a mill case and attracts microorganisms like Lomi into the process. You can buy it outright or rent it for $30 a month, but that doesn’t include pickup for results. I like that the Reencle is essentially a living fermentation stack, using low heat, grinders, and a renewable bacterial population to break down your leftover food.

Adding scraps daily “feeds” the pile, and when it’s full, you only need to remove half of what’s in there, leaving the rest to grow more Bacilli. Again, the material works like plant food or fertilizer, not like standard compost. Reencle recommends a ratio of one to four parts byproduct to soil and letting the mixture sit for five days before adding it to your monsters and gardens.

A green, square compost bin sits on wooden steps.  Instructions on what foods can go into the bucket are marked on the lid. A green, square compost bin sits on wooden steps.  Instructions on what foods can go into the bucket are marked on the lid.

Photo: Amy Skorheim / Engadget

DIY composting at home is a lot of work. Countertop machines are expensive and, according to users, noisy and often unreliable. Both methods allow you to figure out what to do with the by-product, whether it’s ready compost from your bins or dried proto-compost from your appliances.

If you’re a gardener, you’re golden—compost makes plants happy. But I farmed and now I’d rather ride my bike to a burrito stand than grow my own food. I pay because I don’t live in a city that offers organic pickup by the municipality local service and I recommend it.

Most subscription composting services work the same way: they provide you with a bucket and lid for a monthly fee. You fill the bucket with leftovers and place it on your front porch/steps/knob on pickup day. They collect your bucket by releasing a new one weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. The scraps are then composted on a large scale and the results are sold to local farms or people in the community.

Each service has different rules about what you can add, but most allow you to toss all food and food-related items (including meat, bones, dairy, and fruit pits) into the bucket. You can also usually include coffee filters, pizza boxes, houseplants, BPI-certified compostable plastics and paper towels (without cleaning products in them). All services ask you to remove the product stickers and pull the staples from your tea bags.

I have an appointment every Tuesday. Does two weeks worth of food in a bucket smell? does. To help with this, we keep our bucket outside with the lid tightly closed. i keep a canister place it on the counter to fill with scraps during the day and empty it into a bucket when the canister is full or starts to smell. I also store old food in the refrigerator until collection day.

Of course, these services are not available everywhere and cost $20-$40 per month, so this is not a universal solution. I pay $22 for pickup twice a month, and I look at the cost in terms of time: I’d spend over two hours a month maintaining the compost pile, so if I value my labor at $12 an hour, that’s minimum wage in my state. , the cost is worth it.

I also love the little perks like getting a “free” compost bag twice a year and having a place to throw the annual batch of jack-o-lanterns once the faces start coming in. put finally goes lavender farm way up from me. That’s a better endgame for my avocado pit than being sealed in a landfill forever.

Modern technology makes it easier for these services to appear in more cities. Registration is done online and most payments are automatic. My driver told me that they use it Stop Suite software to optimize their pickup routes, send text reminders, and manage other customer service functions. Composting may be as old as dirt, but the way it’s created is brand new.

Nine of the 20 largest metro areas in the US have or will have municipally managed compost collection programs. Eleven other sites each have at least one community composting service. Here is the list:

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