Ask Eartha: Odor-free indoor composting options
Ryan Summerlin September 19, 2012
Are there any good indoor composting options that won’t stink up my entire house?
– Susan, Frisco
Susan, that sounds like a question that is on many people’s minds. With the leaves changing, the temperatures dropping and snow on its way, an outdoor compost pile might seem like a daunting task. There are many options available for you to compost indoors without any adverse smell.
A close friend recommended a sleek machine made by Nature Mill. It’s a nifty little composter that can hang out in your kitchen or garage. A complete high mountain waste reduction system!
About as big as a small trash compactor or a large computer tower, this magic composting box is silent as it works but speaks volumes for its ability. You can proudly show off your 30-gallon barrel of rich, dark compost ready to go for spring. Years of composting? Nope, just a winter season.
Always the skeptic of fairy tale endings for our environmental problems, I assumed this machine drew enough power to run a 50″ flat screen TV. Trying not to sound like an eco-snob, I gently asked my friend how this magic machine impacted their power bill.
Again to my surprise, I found out that this machine only draws 5 kwh per month or about $0.50 per month (perhaps comparable to a coffee maker that’s used regularly). Its even Energy Star certified!
So let’s take a look at how this composting machine works. As many a bumper sticker will tell you, “compost happens” and its true – compost happens on its own in nature. With air, moisture, some carbon (like paper or sawdust), some nitrogen (like food scraps or plant trimmings), maybe some heat, and some of the ever present microbes and little bugs, biodegradation will simply occur.
The Nature Mill machine takes all of those necessary ingredients and makes them happen under your cabinet – or in your garage. Using a dual-chamber system, the machine slowly mixes air and moisture into your pile of food scraps. Using heat to speed up the process and keep it active, the perfect conditions for composting occur. In about two weeks, the finished material drops to the bottom chamber where it’s ready to be emptied.
Because the Nature Mill composter uses constant aeration (mixing with air) and heat controls to create the ideal climate for composting to occur, you can even put dairy products, egg shells, meat and fish in the bin. It does come with some “starter” granules to kick start the process and replaceable filters, so there is some maintenance required to achieve these results.
Ah, but what about the smell? Well, honestly, I wouldn’t say there was zero odor emitted from this composting machine as some of the advertising claims say. There was a slight scent of earthiness, but nothing like the rancid eye-watering smell of a compost bin gone-bad or the tell-tale sulfur odor of an anaerobic compost pile.
Overall, the Nature Mill composter is a great solution to year-round composting in our cold mountain environment. And it almost does seem like a magic black box. The composting process literally eats (or more correctly, converts into water vapor) 70 percent of the volume of material that you put in there! When you think that most of our household garbage is in fact compostable (some estimates say 70 percent or more), the $300 or so that it costs to purchase this mechanized composter seems well worth it.
Another tried-and-true indoor composting method is vermicomposting, or composting with worms. Worms eat food scraps in a small container (that could go in your laundry room or under your kitchen sink), and their waste becomes an incredibly rich soil amendment. This option also creates minimal smell, though a little bit of earthy or soil odor may occur. It’s easy to get started and requires only the purchase of some worms and a Tupperware bin.
For more the Nature Mill composter, check out www.naturemill.com. And for a simpler vermicomposting solution, we at HC3 can help you order worms and provide guidance to get you started, so just stop by or shoot me an email.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.