Electric Composters: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
DID YOU KNOW that food waste creates methane, and is 30 times worse for the environment than the CO2 from our car?
Everyone should be working to eliminate their waste, but not everyone has the time or space to compost. Find out if an electric composter is your answer to a greener, cleaner kitchen.
Electric Composters: What Are They?
An electric composter is an indoor compost bin alternative which uses aeration, heat and pulverization to reduce food waste volume, emissions and odour. The average food recycler is countertop-friendly, though certain models are about the size of a large garbage bin.
Note: This article will refer to electric food recyclers as “electric composters”, “electric compost bins” and “electric compost tumblers” for simplicity’s sake, though we will explain how the food recycler differs from a traditional compost pile later in the article.
How Do They Work?
A food recycler breaks down food waste using a three-phase cycle that lasts an average of five hours (though some can last as long as 48 hours).
The Three Phases Are:
Most hot compost piles reach an average of 120 - 170 ℉ [ 49 - 77℃ ]. This temperature is ideal, because it kills weed seeds, plant diseases and most pathogens.
Modelled after this naturally-occurring and optimal heat, food recyclers reach an internal temperature of approximately 160 ℉ [ 71℃ ] during the initial Drying phase.
The heat and aeration is distributed through gentle “turning” by the unit’s grinding gears, so that every inch is sterilized, and methane-free. The air is then vented out of the back of the unit and pushed through carbon filters to capture any odours. The Drying process is what reduces food waste volume.
The electric composter’s Grinding phase is the tech-equivalent of turning a compost pile. Once the food waste has been reduced in size (by up to 90% of its original volume), the unit’s internal grinding gears then turns the contents (an average of one full revolution per minute).
This further breaks down the food waste into small, often times powder-like particles which can be easily mixed in with soil to release nutrients upon immediate application of the by-product.
This break-down process means that the final product created by the electric compost bin acts as a quick-release fertilizer. Once incorporated into the soil, the broken-down food waste will combine with the soil easily and release important nutrients to plant roots.
The small size of the organic fertilizer particles also means that the soil amendment (by-product) will almost immediately continue the decomposition process in the soil (similarly to regular compost) - or slow-release fertilizer - so that your plants and soil will be nourished for the week or so that it takes the dehydrated food waste to completely break down.
The Cooling phase of the electric compost tumbler is the final stage of the food recycler’s three-phase cycle.
This cycle returns the unit and the bucket contents to room temperature, for safe handling. This phase also continues the aeration and dehumidifying of the previous phases.
What's the Difference Between Compost & Indoor Composters?
Electric composters are technically not composters - not exactly. It all depends on what your municipality/county considers “compost”.
Food recyclers break down food waste quickly, using aeration and heat, much like a regular compost pile. However, the end-product is completely dry and sterile.
Compost is famous for its high bacteria count and its neutral pH. It makes a phenomenal fertilizer and topsoil. Immediately after cycling, food recycler fertilizer is completely sterile (lacking bacteria) and cannot be used as a topsoil.
This sterile “biomass” has its positives and its downsides: obviously, for the heavy-duty gardener who wants a moist, dense compost to lay on top of their garden, electric composters do not fit the bill.
However, for those who don’t want to
b) risk messing up a compost pile,
c) attract pests
d) but who do want a dry, odourless fertilizer that still nourishes their garden,
electric compost tumblers are still a powerful compost alternative.
Why Food Recyclers?
That’s the question, isn’t it? Why pay for a gadget to do something which Mother Nature does for free? And sure: if you have the space, time, physical mobility and inclination to go out into the great outdoors and turn a compost pile, tumbler or bin, then get out there and do it! We stand behind you, 100%.
But these days, where urbanization is increasing by the minute and billions of people live in apartment complexes, condos, or suburban areas without much yard-space, a traditional compost pile can be a bit of a nightmare to maintain.
Compost piles are:
Compost piles are difficult, if not impossible, to turn in the winter. Not only that, but the long wait between warm seasons might lead to anaerobic rot in the frozen pile once thawed, and ruin the pile completely.
The average compost pile is around three feet by three feet - do you have the yard space to give up six feet cubed to a pile of food and paper scraps? Many city-dwellers don’t!
Depending on the method, compost piles can take anywhere between one month (if the pile is very small, has plenty of “browns” and is turned regularly) to over a year to turn into soil.
Attractive To Pests
Let’s be real: food that is breaking down in the open air has a smell. Humans don’t love it - but many animals and bugs just adore it. Fruit flies, house flies, possums, raccoons, rats, seagulls, crows, ravens, bears and neighbourhood pets all love a bit of stinky garbage to snack on.
Compost piles require turning regularly. This means that they need you to put in a bit of elbow grease, grab a pitchfork and start slinging dirt! Or, if you’re more into “trench composting” - digging a hole, tossing in your food scraps, and letting nature do her work - this involves a good amount of digging. Gardening can be a great workout, but if you have a bad back or something equally debilitating - or you’d just rather stay inside and not get your sweat on (no judgment) - than maybe traditional composting isn’t for you.
Limited In What You Can Add
For compost piles, not all food waste is created equal. Not only do you have to pay attention to the nitrogen and carbon ratio (“greens” to “browns”), but you have to make absolutely sure that your pile does not have meat, dairy or processed foods. If you do have these items, you will most likely run the risk of attracted critters, or of inviting pathogens and disease into your compost.
Food Recyclers Are:
Electric compost bins work indoors. Winter Is Absolutely Not Coming for these lil’ guys.
Portable and Small-Space Friendly
Under your sink, on top of your counter, in a corner of your garage, in a closet or pantry: as long as you have a working outlet and a few inches of ventilation space - you’re good to go!
Fast-Acting (As Little As 3 Hours)
Yeah, it’s that quick. Turn your unit on overnight, and wake up to a handful of powder. Not too shabby!
Odourless & Methane-Free
A danger with compost bins or piles is that, if managed incorrectly, they can absolutely reek, and emit climate-change promoting gasses. An electric compost tumbler eliminates all methane through the aeration process, and all odours with activated carbon filters.
If you have a working finger, you can pretty much run an indoor food recycler. You just need something that can press Start. And if you’re fingerless - try your elbow!
Versatile - Pretty Much Takes Anything
Meat, dairy, processed foods, even some bones - these electric digesters are hungry hungry hippos!
If you can, do. If you can’t, electric compost. Pretty simple, right? No matter what, we all have to work on what kind of legacy we’re leaving behind. Methane is a very real danger to our beautiful environment - and, with the United Nations declaring a “climate crisis”, we really don’t have the option to just ignore what the science says. We need to cut down our waste, period, and food waste is a pretty huge piece of that pie chart. So, if you live in small, urban space, and you’re wondering how you can help, check out electric composters.