Summit County: The magic composting box |

Summit County: The magic composting box

special to the daily
Summit County, CO Colorado
High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha: At a cocktail party last week, I heard about a composting ‘machine’ that fits under your countertop and produces finished compost in two weeks without any odor at all. It sounds too good to be true. Is it?

” Mary L., Breckenridge

Well, Mary, that sounds like my type of cocktail party! In my book, nothing goes better with wine and cheese than talk of rotting food and the resulting rich compost. A year ago, I may have answered with a resounding “yes, its too good to be true” and lectured about the dangers of relying on magic black boxes to fix our garbage problem.

But a few weeks ago, tagging along on an energy audit, I saw one of these wondrous machines with my own eyes. This sleek machine, made by Nature Mill, was conveniently placed inside a garage next to the recycling and trash cans ” a complete high-mountain waste-reduction system!

About as big as a small trash compactor or a large computer tower, this magic composting box was silent as it worked but spoke volumes for its ability. The homeowner proudly showed off her 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-inch flat-screen TV. Trying not to sound like an eco-snob, I gently asked how this magic machine impacted their power bill.

Again to my surprise, I found out that this machine draws only 5 kilowatt-hours per month, or about 50 cents per month (perhaps comparable to a coffee maker that’s used regularly). It’s even Energy Star certified!

So let’s take a look at how this magic 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, as our friends in the Wellington Neighborhood have shown us. 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 happen, 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 magic 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.

Having used a worm-bin, or vermicomposting, for my indoor wintertime composting needs, I have to say another winning feature of this device was the lack of fruit flies flying around. With the “hot” composting action of this magic machine, the ubiquitous fruit flies have no chance to work their amazing reproductive skills.

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 (or silver or white or whatever color you choose) 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. For more information on this magic composter or to find out how to purchase one, check out

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Jennifer Santry, Heather Dodd Christie, and Susie Nothnagel,

consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization

dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylish shoes. Submit questions to Eartha at eartha@high or to High Country Conservation Center, P.O. Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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