Sustainability Wars: Countertop “Food Recyclers” vs Composting

By: Sara Mack, Marketing Manager

We’re big fans of composting. At Compost Crew, our mission is to reduce the amount of organic waste that is being sent to landfills. This being said, we recognize that not all food recycling initiatives are created equal. In the first post in our Sustainability Wars series, we outlined the pros and cons of disposing of organic waste through a garbage disposal system.  We’ve noticed companies promoting countertop “composting” machines and wanted to share our thoughts on these devices. 

To quickly summarize, countertop “composters” are small machines designed to process your home’s food waste in a matter of a few hours. The machines cost at least a few hundred dollars, and many are still in the development stage. 

Let’s first discuss the pros of using a countertop system to process your food waste.  These machines do provide a sense of instant gratification and are advertised as eliminating the smell and grime sometimes associated with composting.  These manufacturers are trying to perpetuate the myth that compost is dirtier than other trash disposal, which we put to rest in a previous post.  Although countertop composting systems might reduce the smells tied to composting, there are many other ways to achieve the same goal. 

These tabletop machines on the market are targeted at individuals with a small living space due to the fact that apartment-dwellers are less likely to have room to compost in a backyard pile. Although the small space necessary to operate these machines is a potential plus, many homes already have crowded countertops.  What’s more, over time these tabletop machines will produce a large amount of end product, and without a garden there is only so much of this product that the average houseplant is going to be able to tolerate — even in an apartment owned by a plant lover. 

This leads to one of our biggest concerns about the countertop systems.  The end product can not scientifically be classified as finished compost. When food scraps are processed over time with the necessary balance of heat, moisture, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, they create a stable, nutrient-rich soil amendment (aka compost) that benefits soil health and plants alike. The countertop systems shred and dehydrate food scraps rather than allowing them to decompose over time with the nutrients necessary to create cured compost.  The final product of this type of countertop system is not guaranteed to benefit soils in the same way that compost does.  In fact, these small bits of dehydrated scraps may even reconstitute as bits of banana or carrot in your gardens after the next heavy rain!  

In addition to the misleading information being circulated by calling these systems composters, they have a much higher price point than existing systems of organics recycling — even when you don’t include the monetary and environmental cost of the energy (and in some cases water) required to operate them!  Composting can be free if you have the space to do it at home, or you can pay a modest monthly fee to have your scraps picked up by a company like Compost Crew.  The cost of the countertop option makes it much less accessible to the general public, and doesn’t necessarily provide an easy way for beginners to get started. 

Although many of these devices are still in development, countertop composters should be approached with caution due to their potential to contribute to the electronic waste problem we already are dealing with, their high price point, and the available options to recycle organic waste using more sustainable and cost-effective composting methods.  If you’re set on purchasing a countertop system to further reduce smell in your space, consider allowing the end product to fully compost via other means before putting it to use in your houseplants or garden. 

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