These days, most of us are trying to make our lifestyles as sustainable and eco-conscious as they can possibly be. From ditching plastic straws and single-use water bottles to opting for reusable bags instead of plastic, there are tons of different ways to bring ourselves closer to a zero-waste lifestyle, especially in the kitchen.
One way to eliminate as much kitchen waste as possible is by composting. Instead of throwing our food scraps into landfills where they don’t have the ability to break down properly (and thus contribute to methane emissions), we can instead foster an environment for them to decompose at home or within our communities. And no, you don’t need to have a yard — or even any access to an outdoor space — in order to do your part.
All we need to do is take that very first step and start collecting our scraps in some indoor compost bins! It’s easy, it’s cheap and it can make a big impact even if it’s just on a small scale. Plus, by keeping your food waste (which, quite frankly, stinks on all levels) out of your regular garbage, you can effectively throw away your trash less often. This should minimize your use of plastic trash bags, and it’s also just plain convenient. After all, does anybody actually enjoy taking out the trash?
Nah, we didn’t think so.
So what is composting?
Simply put, composting is the intentional act of breaking down biodegradable kitchen waste —namely food scraps and some paper items — into a soil-boosting fertilizer packed with nutrients to help gardens and crops grow strong. But the EPA estimated in 2018 that just over 4% of the world’s wasted food actually gets composted.
So what actually counts as compostable biodegradable waste? All of your usual suspects, like fruit and vegetable scraps, but also eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, and filters, and soiled paper, such as napkins and uncoated paper plates are compostable. You can even compost leftover bread, pasta, and other grains that have gone past their prime in your fridge. And if you’ve got all—or even just some—of that, the only thing you need to get started is a compost bin.
Inside these compost bins, you can stash your food scraps until you have the opportunity to transfer them to your own outdoor compost bin or send them off to be composted elsewhere. Most indoor bins are simply a vessel for storing your organic waste, and vented varieties typically allow for the use of a reusable carbon or charcoal filter to minimize odor. However, some options do allow you to put your kitchen scraps and yard waste through the entire composting process indoors, which is a great option for apartment-dwellers or anyone with little to no outdoor space to their name.
Whether indoors or out, a true compost container or tumbler composter controls the temperature, oxygen levels, moisture, and bacteria to turn scraps into finished compost without attracting bugs and vermin or creating terrible odors. You can even create compost tea to feed your plants! Though it should be noted that this “compost tea” is simply a cute name for the leachate — or liquid residue — that seeps out during the composting process. So put your mug away; this is definitely not a sippable replacement for your morning coffee, by any means.
What kinds of indoor compost bins or systems are there?
There are a few types of indoor compost bins that you can use. Some kitchen compost bins are simply waste storage bins where you collect your scraps indoors for use in an outdoor composter later.
Other indoor compost bins can actually go a step further and start, or even complete, the decomposition process all in one container. These can include:
Worm composting bins. These bins employ—you guessed it—worms and soil microbes to do all the hard work of breaking down organic waste. Also known as vermicomposting, the resulting product is a nutrient-rich soil fortifier packed with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It tends to help the soil retain water and combat pathogens better than standard compost created without the help of worms.
Anaerobic bins. These indoor compost bins create a “compost accelerator,” so to speak, but cannot complete the composting cycle on their own the way that a worm bin does. Think of them as the mid-way point between your odor-controlled scrap storage bin and a true composter. Typically, these bins utilize Bokashi, a Japanese method that uses microbes (in the form of Bokashi bran) to help food decompose in an airtight container where they can ferment without airflow. With this method, you’ll lose fewer nutrients along the way, resulting in a more powerful compost tea and, eventually, compost as well. However, the highly acidic fermented material (a “pre-compost,” if you will) created with Bokashi bran needs to decay further before it becomes completely usable compost. This means that you’ll need to either bury the pre-compost in soil, transfer it to a standard compost bin or let it sit in your existing compost pile for two weeks before you can really use it.
Food scraps and yard waste can also be composted via aerobic composting (not to be confused with the aforementioned anaerobic composter) which utilizes microbes from garden soil to break down scraps into compost. However, these are typical of the outdoor-only compost tumbler variety.
Can you do worm composting indoors?
Yes, as mentioned above, you can definitely use a worm bin indoors! In fact, a worm composter would be much preferred to your standard outdoor tumbling composter which is more likely to attract pests or vermin, and much more likely to become, shall we say, odorous in a confined space. So if you intend to complete the composting process indoors, worm composting bins are certainly your best bet.
Just keep in mind that you’ll need to buy special composting worms. (No, simply foraging for little squiggly guys in your garden won’t quite cut it). And beyond buying them, you’ll also need to take care of them. It’ll take a little effort on your part to do what’s necessary to keep them alive and reproducing so that they can continue to recycle your food scraps.
You’ll also need to occasionally sort your composting worms from their worm castings, which act as an incredible soil enricher and plant superfood. The only problem? “Worm castings” is just a fancy way of saying “worm waste,” so yes, we’re talking about sifting through worm poop here. But if that’s not the type of eco-conscious gift you’d like to receive, there are still plenty of other options for composting, as we’ve mentioned.
Do you need to have a garden in order to compost?
Composting is a fantastic habit to get into, regardless of whether or not you have a garden or a yard. You can use your compost for any potted plants you may have, or you can donate your compost to a community garden or local farm. Check with your nearest farmer’s market for any tips, or research curbside compost pick-up services in your area. Wherever your compost winds up, you’ll be doing your part to cut down on food waste and help minimize the overall volume of trash in our landfills. That’s why we’ve done the research to find you the best indoor compost bin to fit your sustainable lifestyle. From simple countertop compost bins to get you started, all the way to worm bins that take the composting process even farther, here are our favorites.