Indoor Automatic Composting Systems: An Overview

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Indoor automatic composting systems enable homeowners to transform their scraps into fertilizer without leaving the house.
©iStockphoto.com/Scott Faulknor

Every year, Americans generate approximately 250 million tons of waste that can be repurposed to improve the environment. However, only a third of the waste produced annually is currently recycled or composted. Composting is the process of breaking down organic waste using microorganisms present in soil to create a fertilizer that can be used to promote growth in gardens and lawns.

While traditional composting methods involve outdoor piles or heaps, indoor automatic composting systems offer a more convenient and efficient alternative. These systems use technology to simplify the composting process, eliminating the need for constant maintenance and regular turning. In this article, we will explore the technology behind indoor composting systems, their appearance, and the space they require. Additionally, we will examine the effectiveness of these systems and address any potential concerns, such as unpleasant odors or maintenance costs. Finally, we will evaluate whether the benefits of these systems outweigh the effort required to maintain them and whether they have the potential to make a significant impact in improving the environment.

Composting Basics for Homeowners

Before examining indoor automatic composting systems, it is essential to understand the basics of outdoor home composting. While there are several large-scale approaches, such as field, sheet, and trench methods, these are typically used on a local or state level as an alternative to landfills.

To begin composting at home, homeowners should select a dry spot outdoors near a water source. The size of the spot depends on the desired pile or bin size. The necessary ingredients for composting are brown materials (such as broken branches and dry leaves) for carbon, green materials (such as vegetable and fruit scraps, grass, and coffee grounds) for nitrogen, and water to aid in the breakdown process.

One approach is to mix the brown and green materials simultaneously, ensuring that any dry ingredients are moistened, before covering the pile with a tarp. Another method is to layer the ingredients, starting with a 6-inch heap of brown materials and adding 3-inch layers of green and brown, mixing the pile every week.

It can take anywhere from one month to a year or more for compost to become usable, depending on factors like the initial size of the pile or bin, how often new ingredients are added, and how frequently the mixture is turned. While manual home composting can be effective, automated systems have been developed to make the process easier. It’s important to know which materials are approved for composting, such as grass clippings, leaves, and fruit and vegetable scraps, and which to avoid, like meat bones and pet waste. Automatic indoor composting systems are made up of several components, including a hopper, motorized mixing wand, heater, and air pump. The cycle typically takes 10-14 days to complete and produces smaller amounts of fertilizer than outdoor methods.

After learning about the basic components of an automatic indoor composter, it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine if this system is suitable for your needs. Many of these composters can handle up to 120 pounds (55 kilograms) of waste each month, but there are a few downsides to consider. These may include maintenance issues like strong odors, increased energy usage and costs, and loud noises during operation. Additionally, finding a compact space to store all of the necessary parts can be a challenge. Most automated indoor composting systems are made of stainless steel and aluminum and may feature plastic elements made from recycled materials. Some newer models have a modern, sleek design that looks like a large coffee pot, slow cooker, or espresso machine. These units usually weigh between 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kilograms) and take up about as much space as a kitchen garbage can. Some models can even be installed in cabinets similar to trash compactors. While these composters are primarily intended for indoor use, they can also be used outdoors if necessary. One major concern with indoor use is controlling the odor that may escape into your home. Maintaining aeration within the system can help reduce the smell, and using carbon filters within the unit can also help. Noise can also be a concern during operation, with whirring and snapping sounds being typical at the start of the composting cycle. Once the materials have been heated and the process is underway, the noise should be minimal. It’s important to read product reviews before purchasing a unit to determine the noise level. Lastly, general upkeep and maintenance is important for any home appliance, and automatic composters are no exception. Most machines come with a one to three year warranty, and regular cleaning and changing of air and carbon filters is necessary. With these factors in mind, you can decide if an automatic composter is the right addition to your home.

Indoor Composting Expenses

Is it worth investing in an automated indoor composting system? To start, a potential user should expect to invest $300 to $400 for a base unit. This is slightly less than the cost of some other household appliances, such as a lower-end dishwasher, but it’s still more expensive than what you’d spend on a blender or toaster oven.

Aside from the initial cost and setup, you must also consider the energy costs. You can expect to add about 5 kwh (kilowatt hours) per month to your energy bill. Depending on your local rates, this should only cost you about 50 cents [source: Nature Mill].

It’s also important to note that there are cheaper indoor alternatives. One involves anaerobic composting, which uses a wheat bran-based powder to aid in the fermentation process. These types of units are also about the size of a wastebasket and cost around $60-$80. The trade-off is that you lose the automation process, and therefore the maintenance requirements and odor potential are much higher [source: Foley].

Another indoor method is vermicomposting, which uses worms to break down the materials — and that alone might be enough to turn some people off. If worms don’t scare you (and remember, we’re talking about hundreds to thousands of them in one unit), this system costs about half of what an automated unit might cost but offers little to no odor protection. You also risk the worms escaping from the unit [source: Foley].

So, if you want to try composting, can afford the initial costs, and are willing to deal with a few downsides, then adding an automatic indoor unit to your household might be the way to go. With more easy-to-use models now on the market, along with technological advances developed to help keep odors and noises to a minimum, these machines offer an efficient way to help protect and improve the environment.

Learn more about composting at home and elsewhere by visiting the links on the next page.

More Information Available

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How Composting Works
  • How Vermicomposting Works
  • Composting for a Vegetable Garden
  • How Recycling Works

Sources

  • Foley, Michele. “Indoor Composting Systems: Garbage In, Garden Out.” CHOW. (12/14/2009.)http://www.chow.com/stories/11337
  • Free Patents Online. “Composting Systems and Methods.” (12/14/2009.)http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2008/0209967.html
  • Nature Mill. “How It Works.” (12/14/2009.)http://naturemill.com/howItWorks.html
  • Nature Mill. “XE Model Instruction Manual.” (12/14/2009.)http://naturemill.com/downloads/full_instructions.pdf
  • Patent Storm. “US Patent 5187097 – Composting system and composting method.” (12/14/2009.)http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5187097/description.html
  • Spivey, Angela. “Talking Trash.” NC State Magazine (Alumni Magazine). (12/14/2009.)http://www.alumni.ncsu.edu/news/article.php?id=260
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Create Your Own Compost Pile (12/14/2009.)http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/composting/by_compost.htm
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008.” (12/14/2009.)http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008rpt.pdf

FAQ

1. What is an indoor automatic composting system?

An indoor automatic composting system is a machine that takes organic waste, such as food scraps, and turns it into nutrient-rich compost. This system is designed to be used inside your home or office and is typically small enough to fit under a countertop or in a closet.

2. How does an indoor automatic composting system work?

These systems work by using a combination of heat, moisture, and microorganisms to break down organic waste. The waste is placed into a chamber where it is mixed and aerated to provide the perfect environment for composting. The composting process typically takes between 2-4 weeks.

3. What types of organic waste can be composted in these systems?

Most indoor automatic composting systems can compost a variety of organic waste, including food scraps, paper products, and yard waste. However, it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are composting the correct materials.

4. What are the benefits of using an indoor automatic composting system?

Using an indoor automatic composting system can help reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill, as well as provide you with nutrient-rich compost for your plants. It also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by keeping organic waste out of landfills.

5. How much space do I need for an indoor automatic composting system?

Most indoor automatic composting systems are designed to fit under a countertop or in a closet, so they don’t take up much space. However, it’s important to measure the space where you plan to put the system and compare it to the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure it will fit.

6. How much maintenance is required for these systems?

Indoor automatic composting systems require minimal maintenance, as they are designed to be self-contained. However, it’s important to regularly empty the compost bin and clean the system to prevent odors and ensure it continues to function properly.

7. Can these systems be used in apartments or other small living spaces?

Yes, indoor automatic composting systems are ideal for apartments and other small living spaces. They are designed to be compact and easy to use, making them a great option for anyone who wants to compost but doesn’t have access to outdoor space.

8. Are these systems expensive?

The cost of an indoor automatic composting system can vary depending on the brand and features. However, most systems range in price from $200-$500. While this may seem expensive, it can save you money in the long run by reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill and providing you with free compost for your plants.

9. How do I know if an indoor automatic composting system is right for me?

If you are interested in reducing your environmental impact and want to compost but don’t have access to outdoor space, an indoor automatic composting system may be right for you. It’s important to consider the cost and space requirements, as well as the types of organic waste you generate, before making a decision.

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