Why "Home Composters" Aren't The Solution You Think They Are

Understanding why kitchen appliances are unnecessary in returning your food scraps to the soil.
March 6, 2023

As people become more conscious of the impact of their consumption habits, there’s no shortage of new products that companies put on the market in order to cash in on that sentiment. This is one of the great ironies of late-stage capitalism.

A recent entry to this marketplace is the so-called “home composter,” an appliance that allegedly converts your kitchen scraps into compost literally overnight. The rise in the popularity and interest in these appliances shows that there’s a significant amount of people out there who want to do something about their food scraps. Ensuring food scraps don’t go to the landfill and returning that carbon to the soil is important, but these appliances are wholly unnecessary to that process. Here are some of the reasons why:

Ultimately, what these home composter units do is essentially dehydrate and grind food scraps down into a dirt-like consistency. Depending on what type of home composter it is, or what mode it is running in, the end-product of these units may not even be fully suitable for adding to the soil of your garden and are recommended by the manufacturer for disposal in your green bin or home compost pile, thus making it a redundant step in the journey of your food scraps. While this certainly can help reduce the volume and weight of food scraps to make handling and disposal easier, it is far from the nutrient-rich bounty that one gets from a well-maintained compost pile. 

“Generally speaking, the material that comes out is not finished compost… It’s good to keep in mind that a well-managed compost pile will produce finished compost in about three months,” CalRecycle’s Heather Williams told Wirecutter. These products claim to create a “compost” in less than 24 hours—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Depending on the size of your household and how much food you eat at home, you may find yourself running a home composter unit every day. The accelerated dehydration and breakdown of food waste uses energy, with the most popular model using around 1 kilowatt-hour per cycle, almost as much as the average dishwasher uses per cycle. Not to mention the virgin materials used to produce and distribute the unit itself. Some companies ask you ship the dehydrated material back to them, adding another level of environmental impact. Cutting down on energy and material usage should go hand-in-hand with reducing food scraps as part of an overall goal to live more sustainably, and avoiding unnecessary appliances like home composters would be a good place to start.

Home composter units start around $300 with some of the higher-end models coming in around a hefty $500. On top of this, you’ll need replacement charcoal filters and enrichment tablets (that supposedly provide the microbes to break down the waste) which, naturally, you can purchase from the manufacturer. Add this all up with the energy usage and you may find that in the end it is not worth the hit to your pocketbook.

If you are looking to keep your food scraps from going to the landfill and making sure it goes back into the soil cycle, the most obvious answer is starting your own compost system at home—however, that may not be an option for people without the space or a yard. Luckily, in California, there are plenty of other options available for you. You can find a drop-off location near you at a community garden or farmers market. Here in Los Angeles, our partners at LA Compost have over 34 such locations in the area. There are also apps, like ShareWaste and MakeSoil, which connect people wanting to compost with neighbors that have compost systems in place. And yes, you can also subscribe to a collection service like us, Compostable. If all other local options fail, you can see if your city accepts food waste in the green bins.

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