While my fellow millennials were baking or knitting their way through quarantine, I was tilling through my DIY compost bin in an attempt to turn onion skins and coffee grounds into fertile, loamy compost for my mom’s garden. The pandemic forced me to cook 90% of my meals at home and I became hyper aware of how much food waste I was sending to the landfill each time. Even though these scraps are technically biodegradable, the conditions in landfills don’t allow them to decompose, and actually produces way more harmful methane than if it decomposes properly.
The solution to reducing landfill waste and methane gas? Composting, which involves a bin of carbon-rich materials (like fallen leaves, sticks, or paper products), nitrogen rich materials (banana peels, eggshells, and veggie scraps), and time to create nutrient-dense material that can be used to feed plants, mulch trees or garden rows, and more. My initial stint at my mom’s house involved a $4 paint bucket and a drill bit to create aeration holes. It ended up being way more labor intensive than I’d ever want to implement in my New York City apartment, but luckily there are many composting methods that use tumblers, ventilation holes, or even worms to do most of the work for you.
Should the thought of slowly decomposing your food scraps at home grosses you out, many municipalities or independent organizations will pick up your food scraps. And if you live in certain neighborhoods in New York City, for example, the city is relaunching their curbside compost program this Fall, so composting could be as easy as putting it out with the rest of your trash.
Ready to start collecting your food scraps or composting on your own? Here are a few tips that will keep the process as easy (and minimally smelly) as possible.
Do Your Research
Regardless if you’re composting at home or bringing your scraps to a collection site, it helps to know basics like what materials can and cannot be composted. In general, you’ll want to stay away from including meat, dairy, or greasy items, but collection organizations can have specific rules when it comes to items like compostable dishcloths or disposables.
Heat Can Be A Friend Or Foe
If you’re composting on your own, heat can drastically speed up the decomposition process. Take advantage of hot summer temps with an outdoor setup that gets plenty of sun exposure that will literally cook your scraps into compost. But should you prefer to collect scraps for drop off or collection, you’ll want to do the opposite and keep everything in the freezer (or at least away from the sun) to minimize odors in your kitchen.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment
When it comes to making your own compost at home, it will take time to find the perfect balance of food waste and carbon-rich items like cardboard that work together to decompose. If one method doesn’t work for you, it’s also okay to start over and try something else — either way, you’re still diverting organic material that’d otherwise sit in a landfill.
Hyped to begin your own composting journey? Here’s everything you need, from bamboo, ceramic, and metal compost bins that won’t stink up your entire apartment to compost tumblers and full-blown worm farms that can eat at your food scraps right in your kitchen or living room.
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Food Scrap Storage and Bins
These containers can be used to store your food scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds until it’s time to drop it off to a collection site or add it to a larger compost bin to cure.
If You Have Fancy Trash Can
One of the biggest purchases I splurged on when I moved was investing in a sleek and smooth operating trash can. This compost bin attaches to my trash can with a magnetic docking system and can be easily removed for gathering up kitchen scraps while you prep and chop veggies. If you’re the type of person that really cares about the aesthetics of your waste bins for some reason (like me), the stainless steel construction and seamless integration with your existing trash can will make this compost bin a no-brainer.
A Simple Ceramic Bin
At the end of the day, your countertop bin is just a temporary place for your food scraps to collect until you either add it to a larger compost pile or take it to a collection site, so even a simple pail will do the trick. This ceramic bin looks nice on the counter and the removable inner bucket and charcoal filter make it easy to clean while minimizing smells.
A Minimalist Compact Bin
This simple but attractive countertop compost bin is made of biodegradable bamboo fibers and has a carbon filter for odors. Unlike some of the others, it has a bamboo handle so you can bring the entire thing to an outdoor composter or a collection site. Plus it’s also dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
A Smaller Bin For Just Egg Shells or Coffee Grounds
If you don’t generate a ton of food scraps in your kitchen, you don’t need a large compost bin that will take up valuable counter or kitchen space. This OXO compost bin is just large enough to gather up daily coffee grounds or egg shells and can be easily tucked into a cabinet to keep your counter clean.
A Renter-Friendly Cabinet Bin
If you’re looking to save on counter space but want a space for your compost, this bin can hang on a cabinet door under the sink. The lid also easily slides or opens two ways, so you can easily toss out food scraps without releasing too many odors or inviting insects.
A Compost Bin That’s Almost Too Pretty To Use
Beautiful is not a word typically associated with compost bins, but it perfectly describes this handmade wooden compost container from Cliff Spencer. The bin is made from salvaged walnut wood and a stainless steel pan and lid, so it’s easy to clean while still looking gorgeous on your spotless countertop.
A Low-Key Farmhouse-Inspired Bin
This stainless steel compost bin makes it blatantly obvious that it’s for food scraps only, just in case any of your friends try to throw out recycling in it, and has that farmhouse-aesthetic that’s all over social media right now. Plus it features a tight-fitting lid and an inner bucket that help minimize the impact of your food scrap collection.
A Sleek Countertop Bin
Joseph Joseph’s compost bin has a smooth, minimalist look on your counter and an easy access flip top lid. While the bin is well ventilated, it also has a slot for filters to help keep odors to a minimum.
The Best Way To Eliminate Smells
Carbon filters and biodegradable bags will help mitigate, but not eliminate the smells of your food scraps if you keep them in the kitchen. While I do like to minimize my single use plastic, this is my one exception for the sake of practicality. I’ll use these gallon Ziploc bags to store food scraps in the freezer until it’s time to throw them into an outdoor composter or bring to a compost collection site, which keeps unwanted smells out of my food prep zone.
Now For Actual Composting
If you plan on curing and decomposing your own compost at home, you’re going to need a larger vessel to store organic materials as they break down and cure over a longer period of time. Standard bins and tumblers are typically kept outdoors, both to keep smells out of the house and encourage decomposition in the heat. Other composting methods can involve things like worm trays to minimize smells, should you want to keep your setup inside.
If You Have A Small Outdoor Space
If you’re looking to make viable compost for your garden or houseplants as soon as possible, a compact tumbler like this one will help speed up the process. The cylindrical drum rolls to agitate the mixture, so you don’t have to manually mix things around with a shovel or your hands, and the two compartments allow you to collect raw scraps on one side, and cure older compost in another.
If You’re Down To Work With Worms
Depending on who you ask, worms are either delightful invertebrates or disgusting menaces. If you’re in the former camp, you can use worms in a vermicomposting set up like this one, which uses several trays and worms (not included) to break down your food scraps over time. Since these critters speed up the decomposition process, this smells less and is better suited for indoor use.
A Lightweight Outdoor Option
This plastic composting bin is an inexpensive, no-frills container that allows your compost to constitute directly into your yard or existing soil. There’s no bottom panel to this compost bin, so as food and yard scraps decompose, the nutrients can go straight into the ground, or you can open the bottom panel to scoop out ready compost for other plants or garden uses.
Worms, But Make It Cute
If you want a vermicomposting setup that doesn’t scream “I willingly keep worms in my home,” this composting tower has a midcentury modern feel and can easily be disguised as run-of-the-mill storage in your living room or kitchen.
So you’ve played hundreds of hours of farming games like Stardew Valley and want to take a stab at the real thing? You’ll need lots of space, and an extra-large compost pile to help supplement your garden with nutrients and reconstitute your organic waste. This 220 gallon bin is more than enough to hold your plant trimmings, food scraps, and more, and doesn’t take up too much space in a larger yard or garden.
If You’re The Impatient Type
Almost all methods require a few weeks to turn your food scraps into nutrient dense compost. If you either need to reduce your volume of waste or produce fertilizer in a quicker manner, a device like Vitamix’s Foodcycler can speed up that process to as fast as 4-8 hours. The food cycler dehydrates, then grinds up whatever you throw in, which dramatically reduces the overall volume and creates fertilizer that can be tilled into your garden or added to a larger compost collection.