Tag Archives: Envirocycle

The Reluctant Composter (NYT article)

Originally found here (and my commentary is at the bottom): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/garden/a-city-dweller-tests-four-composters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

WHEN my oldest son returned from a first-grade field trip last year insisting that our family start composting, my heart did not exactly soar. After six years of changing diapers, I wasn’t looking to take on additional waste-management responsibilities. I switched the subject, and our melon rinds and abandoned cheese sticks continued their steady march into the trash.

Then my middle son started kindergarten. On the second day, he, too, arrived home to proclaim the need to compost, explaining that it was good for the earth.

“The bugs eat the compost,” he noted, “then they poop it out and it makes better soil.”

This got me thinking about how much of the school curriculum is devoted to composting, and whether it was a ruse for legitimizing bathroom talk. But it also focused my attention on the obscene amount of barely touched food my family sends to landfills.

When your children repeatedly beg you to compost, your options are limited. After all, “No, because Mommy and Daddy don’t care about preserving the Earth for you, your children and your children’s children,” is not the message most parents are trying to send.

The time to compost had come.

As I called around for advice, I was comforted to discover other reluctant composters, even ones with credentials. Lynn Miller, chief executive of 4GreenPs, a green marketing firm in Bethesda, Md., confessed to being a “lapsed composter.”

“There are only so many battles you can choose to fight with your better half,” she said. “I won the battle about yes, we are going to spend more money to buy organic shampoos and soap. I decided to let the composting battle slip.”A couple of years ago, Jill Fehrenbacher, the founder and editor in chief of a green design Web site, Inhabitat, took a composter to the office on the Lower East Side that the company shared with a few other small businesses. It did not take long for her co-workers’ initial enthusiasm to dissolve.

“It got to the point where everyone was, like: ‘Jill, this thing’s stinky. You need to pick it up and take it home,’ ” she recalled. (She suspects that certain office mates were not using it properly.)

I was interested in what more than one composting expert described as “lazy man’s composting,” so I set out to find composters that were easy to use, low-maintenance and city-friendly. I also wanted them to look great. While I’m not a design fiend, I do recognize that a beautiful product can make an odious task more pleasant.

There are plenty of striking compost buckets, which are canisters you put food scraps in before you take them to the composter or compost pile. Blanco, a German company, has created a stainless-steel compost bucket designed to be embedded in a kitchen countertop. There is no need for a container taking up space by the sink, and the only thing visible is a metal lid.

The green design revolution, though, has made few inroads with actual composters. This is not a big deal for people with sprawling yards. In small spaces, it’s a different story.

In one notable attempt to mix composting form and function, Levitt Goodman Architects of Toronto created a prototype of a “vermicondo” several years ago: a worm composter resembling a sleek white apartment building with a rooftop garden.

Urban agriculture is hot, urban chicken-keeping is hot; think about all of the incredibly cool backyard chicken coops that have come up,” said Janna Levitt, a partner in the firm. With the right design, she suggested, composting could be seen to be “as interesting, as sexy, as innovative” as keeping chickens.

When Mio, a Philadelphia sustainable-design company, included a bright green cylindrical worm composter in a collection it sold at Target during a limited run a few years ago, the eco-design crowd cheered. Consumers, not so much.

“We thought that with design we could get more people composting,” said Jaime Salm, an owner of Mio and its creative director. “From a sales point of view, it was a definite challenge.”

He added: “It’s a very strange thing that has to do more with a cultural perception of what waste is than anything else.”

In an effort to challenge my own perceptions, and succumb to the relentless lobbying from my sons, I tested out a few different models:

The NatureMill Ultra composter costs $400, so the price alone will no doubt turn off many people. But it is sleek and made of stainless steel, cleverly triggering a jolt of excitement in the sort of person who loves a new kitchen appliance. It must be plugged in, using about 50 cents’ worth of electricity a month, the company says, to speed decomposition by heating and turning the contents. And unlike traditional composters, the NatureMill takes dairy and meat.

Composting, as I’ve learned, is all about balancing “greens” (fruit, vegetables) and “browns” (wood shavings, dry leaves). The greens provide nitrogen, the browns provide carbon, and if the mix is not right, odors result. The NatureMill came with a box of sawdust pellets, which are “browns,” and baking soda, which balances out food acidity. When you toss in food scraps you are supposed to also toss in pellets and baking soda.

My boys eagerly awaited the arrival of the 1,800 worms that I ordered on Amazon for the Worm Factory 360 ($110 for the Worm Factory, $27 for the red wigglers). They watched the accompanying DVD several times and helpfully created the “worm bedding” by mixing water with paper scraps and a part of a coir brick, made from coconut husks, that came with the composter. They dumped in the worms and immediately started referring to them as their pets. I was then asked to take a picture, to provide proof of the worms to a skeptical fifth grader on their bus.

I tested one outdoor composter, the Envirocycle Mini ($130), which might work for people with little outdoor space. I liked its small size and the barrel design. It seemed to hit a sweet spot — unobtrusive enough that neighbors would not mind seeing it in a shared outdoor space, but not so nice that someone would likely steal it.

The fourth option I tested was actually a compost pickup business, one among many that have cropped up across the country in recent years. They are designed for people who like the idea of composting more than the actual project. For a monthly fee, a company picks up your bucket of scraps and composts it; most services will return with soil if you want it. In the Washington area alone, there is the Compost Crew, Compost Cab and Fat Worm.

In Brooklyn, Vandra Thorburn has started Vokashi. For an initial fee of $15 plus $40 a month, Ms. Thornton drops off a plastic airtight bucket, then picks it up when it’s full.

Ms. Thorburn uses a method called bokashi, which is not actually composting but, rather, fermentation. (Bokashi is a Japanese term; the “V” in Vokashi is for Vandra.) The food scraps are “pickled,” Ms. Thorburn explained, a process helped along with bran that has been fortified with micro-organisms and that you are supposed to sprinkle atop each installment of food.

The advantage of bokashi is that you can put in meat, chicken bones, dairy and more. The downside of bokashi is that the fermented waste still needs to decompose, so it must be buried in the ground or tossed into another composter. Because I was using a pickup service, of course, this was Ms. Thorburn’s problem, not mine.

Testing four composters at once can get confusing. Which one can take coffee filters, again, and which only coffee grounds? On more than one occasion I found myself reaching into a composter to retrieve something that I just wasn’t sure about.

On nights when I was especially tired and really did not feel like chopping up mango peels or figuring out whether there was some way to compost the pits, I stuffed food scraps into plastic grocery bags and put them in the fridge to deal with later (to the dismay of my husband and baby sitter, who at times unwittingly opened these bags thinking there might be something edible inside).

At this point in my composting adventure, I have emerged with some hard-earned insights, which might be useful to others who may be under pressure from small schoolchildren to take the plunge:

I am not a worm person. I was, in fact, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully with hundreds of worms in the house. When the worms did not arrive the day I expected them to, I feigned disappointment. What I felt was relief that bordered on joy.

As soon as we unpacked the Worm Factory 360, though, I felt like one of those home-schooling moms who is always doing amazing projects with her five or six children. The boys put the composter together, checked on the worms when we came back after a weekend away, and took responsibility for feeding the worms after dinner. It dawned on me that “vermicomposting,” as it’s called, could be a gateway to helping out around the house.

On the nights that I composted by myself, though, I gravitated to the other composters. After a long day, I never wanted to look at those worms.

After I decided to compost, I realized it could be an excellent opportunity for the kids to recognize how much food they waste, and to stop doing so. This has yet to occur. When I’ve commented on how wasteful it is to declare oneself “starving,” then decide after two bites of a second helping that one is actually “stuffed,” they have said, “That’s O.K., we can feed it to the worms!”

One thing that I truly did not expect was the satisfaction I felt tossing chopped-up apple cores, cucumber peels and broccoli and tofu that are left on dinner plates into the composters. There is something Sisyphean about filling lunchboxes on a Monday night and then having to throw the remnants into the trash on Tuesday. Composting them somehow felt less futile.

For better or worse, I will never again be able to throw away peels and rinds, let alone actual food, without feeling guilty. But which composter to stick with?

The Envirocycle got points simply because it was outside. When I opened the door to pop in new food scraps, it did not stink up my kitchen.

I loved that we were able to put meat, dairy and pretty much everything else into the Vokashi; leftover cereal in particular is a constant scourge. I found myself using this container often when it was late at night and I was fuzzy on the details of which composter takes what. Sometimes I went too far: I knew that leftover tuna salad should just go in the trash, but I was feeling virtuous and pushed my luck, tossing it into the Vokashi.

The NatureMill blends right in, wedged between a stainless-steel bread maker and a recycling bin. While an unpleasant fragrance was sometimes emitted when I opened it, I realized that I had been composting broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts, despite the warning that “strong odors will result.” And when I asked my husband if he had been throwing sawdust pellets in after the food scraps, he asked, “What sawdust pellets?”

Visitors of all ages are impressed that we harbor worms. With the holiday season, though, and many late nights out for the boys, the composting has been increasingly taking place after bedtime, meaning the worms have been increasingly neglected. Come to think of it, they may be starving. Excuse me while I remind the kids to feed their pets.


What a great read!  I’m glad that composting got some in-depth attention here.  I enjoy reading articles like this because I get to figure out the reasons why people are reluctant to start composting.

I love it how she mentions the persistent pressure from the kids… I really hope this is becoming more commonplace in today’s world.  Although my school had an environmental science class, it was by no means required to take.  Not surprisingly, it was my favorite class.

It bums me out that she encounters other so-called composters (“even ones with credentials”) that aren’t psyched on the process.  Is it really so hard?  What is it?  Overthinking or laziness?  There’s numerous ways to make it happen, each with their own processes to accompany your situation.

One thing I can relate to, however, is trying to garner enthusiasm in coworkers to start composting at the office.  Worms are too gross for most people, while taking turns carrying a container of scraps outside to a composter gets forgotten about quickly.  I think an option for this is the Naturemill, although the lame price tag keeps it from being the simple solution.

OK, enough with the hating.  It’s quite ambitious that she took on 4 options for handling her household waste.  I would love to see a follow-up article written on her experiences…I’m sure it’ll happen.  What’s up with the castings?  Is there a slimy mess in the Envirocycle?  How about an interview with the Vokashi person?  Any complaints about the Naturemill?  Oh, the burning questions I have.

A Better SunChips Bag? (article)

Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2012

Frito-Lay scrapped its SunChips Original bag last year (too noisy) but says that the newer bag, like the old, is “100% compostable.” We decided that a retest was in order. On the bag’s back are the words “designed to compost in about 14 weeks in a hot, active home or industrial compost pile.” In tiny type on the bag’s base: “This package is suitable for industrial composting.”

Most people don’t have access to an industrial compost pile, so we put a SunChips bag in a typical home pile of grass clippings, wood chips, leaves, and starter dirt, and kept it there for 14 weeks, adding compost and watering as needed. We also measured noise while crinkling the newer bag, the older bag, and a Tostitos bag.

Bottom line. The bag barely changed in the compost pile. (A very hot compost pile would probably be more effective.) The newer bag is quieter than the previous version, but it’s still louder than a Tostitos bag.

One of my favorite magazines decided to try this experiment too…not surprising results at all.  This bag needs extreme heat and mass to get it decomposing properly.

Envirocycle composter out of stock!

Hey crazy composters,

I just received word from Envirocycle that they are backordered on the Envirocycle “Original” Composter (the bigger size). They said they would have new stock sometime in February…long wait!

It looks like there are some left on Amazon, so try using the Amazon search box just down the right hand side of this page.

Further, I will be “out of the office” until Monday.  Thank you so much, keep it dirty and have a happy holiday!

You Just Composted WHAT? – part 2

You Just Composted WHAT? – part 2

It’s been a long time since I’ve thrown all those questionable items in the compost tumbler…so how are they doing?

In short, the only stuff that composted properly were the paper/cardboard products that I had ripped up into pieces.  Unknown to you, after I made the first video I took the ice cream carton out and ripped it up…same with the socks.  Whaddya know, they’re gone!  As for the untouched soymilk carton, it’s still lurking around.

The latex condoms and Sun Chips bag are definitely still here.  You need high temperatures above 130 degrees for an extended period of time in order to make a dent in their decomposition…not to mention a LOT of material in your compost pile (at least 3’x3’x3′).

So there you have it: Break up materials before you add them to your compost pile, and avoid putting in bioplastics unless you have a massive pile and a bit of patience.

Homemade Urban Compost Tumbler (video)

Homemade Urban Compost Tumbler

Holy crap, this dude made an amazing compost tumbler…for about $15!  For those of you out there cramped for space and good with building stuff, please follow this video!

This video is really inspiring and I plan to build one of these to put on my balcony for fun…nice work Matt!

Gaiam Compost-Off (videos)


So I’m sitting around listening to records and finding stuff to read about composting, when I came across the Gaiam Compost-Off.  I’m on the late train as this event happened back in 2009, but it’s pretty funny to watch the multi-video series on Youtube.  The battle is between two questionable backyard composters, and neither of which are all that friendly for cramped living spaces.

The Earthmaker seems like it could be an okay choice, but the thing is 4′ tall and nearly 3′ in diameter…jesus!  Well, if you have a big family I guess it’s pretty appealing.  It’s a multi-chambered design with lots of airholes and the ability to handle a lot of waste.

One of my favorite things to do is go on Amazon and read the product reviews…you always get that one hater that writes a gigantic essay on why the product sucks.  The one for the Earthmaker is a must-read…so click HERE to check it out.  I would say that based on his review, he’s probably kept a lot of people away from the thing.  In this contest however, I think it outshines the opponent quite easily.

With the Bio-Orb, I can see the complaints rolling in right away.  With such an oblong shape, it must be really awkward moving this thing around.  The best part has to be when you get slime all over your hands via the giant airholes throughout.  Plus, it definitely has a yard size minimum, as it needs space to roll around.

Overall, I wouldn’t really recommend either of them.  Based on price and functionality, I am still a proud user of the Envirocycle compost tumbler.

So that’s it.  The Compost-Off is pretty entertaining to watch, but I think it would be funnier if they ended the video by not recommending either.

Juicer waste update

I checked out the tumbler today, WOW.  Just shy of 100 degrees, full of bugs and smells delicious.  I might make a follow-up video tomorrow.

Today my mom was in town, so we were talking about composting and fixing up my yard a bit.  She hauled away a bunch of the brush you can see in the background of all my videos, and was surprised that I gifted her a kitchen compost crock. It ends up that she’s helping coordinate a gardening event in the spring, and so we strategized about how to collect all the event’s compostable material and market the effort to the group.  It rules being able to talk trash with my mom.

Speaking of talking trash, I filmed a video today about what to do with scrap plastic that can’t be recycled, like shrink wrap, plastic bags, packaging.  I decided to sew it up into a pillow…yep!  Click HERE to check it out…

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and send me pictures of your compost!

my belated birthday present…

Today, I woke up in the morning and peeked out in the backyard… there was a big yellow kitty litter bucket.  I don’t have cats, so this could only mean one thing… juicer waste!  My compost tumbler was pretty dead at the moment as I don’t have much in the way of food scraps…but this should fire it right up.  I took the temperature before I put in the scraps: 70 degrees.

Let’s see what happens!

Why Use Or Make Compost Tea? (article)

We all know that compost is a wonderful material especially those that practice organic gardening. What could be better than compost? Well how about compost tea. When you begin with good quality compost you will end up with a complete solution of nutrients and bacteria for all your gardening feeds.

Compost tea helps:

  • keep diseases off the plant with the many bacteria that it has.
  • Provide an abundance of food needed for good growth.
  • Destroy any toxins that hurt the plant.
  • Improve the flavor and taste of vegetables.
  • Produce more vibrant flowers.

So why not give this tea a try either by buying it or brewing it yourself. You can now in many good nurseries buy this tea or start brewing the tea yourself.

The results will amaze you, so get started!

The good bacteria that is available in the tea will compete for the plants food. Hunt out the bad critters and eat them up. Helps make the antibiotics to prevent those bad critters. And scare the bad varmints so they don’t attack your plants.

Compost tea that is made in an accurate manner has a abundance of microorganisms which will help your plants growth and overall health as well as the soil that the microorganisms live in. It can be regarded as the yogurt for the soil. The organisms living in the soil are both bad and good. What the tea does is make sure the good guys win By bringing in useful protozoa, bacteria, beneficial nematodes and fungi the tea shows it is the hero needed to save the soil.

When you have good air circulation the bad bacteria cannot live in the soil. But good bacteria will thrive in soil that is well vented with air. Produced the right way this is when compost tea races in. If you have well aerated compost solution you have gotten relieve from of three-quarters of the harmful varmints.

When you use toxic insecticides or chemical fertilizers we quash the amount of beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

Mainly plants make their own vigorous activity and food and one-half of that is delivered to the roots and much of that breaks down into the bordering soil and have you ever wondered who receives that? Right, the goody-goody guys, and then it changes into a beneficial repetition.

Compost tea is made by many different recipes using compost as a beginning substance and making a liquid solution obtained by steeping or soaking a substance. Today, there are many different ways to make a homemade brewery or you can buy in nurseries or online to make your tea. With the advancing technology changing everyday there are bigger and better efforts to better costs and efficiency.

In addition, there are likely as many formulas for compost tea as there are for recipes for chili in Tennessee, with better plans on improvements and a concentration on its utilization for more specialized applications. For example, if you are making compost tea to fight plant pathogens, the inclination is to have as much microbial variety as feasible. While you are brewing the tea many gardeners are adding supplements to the mix like additional bacteria and fungi.

Expecting the best about compost tea is high, but realizing its limitations and having down-to-earth expectations are essential. One comes to mind is when to use this concoction and that is almost immediately after brewing. Since you are presenting live organisms you want them to be alive when application is done.

An excellent reason for making compost tea is to transport microbial mass of living matter, fine organic matter, and soluble chemical elements of compost into an aqueous stage that can be put on soils and plant surfaces in ways not accomplishable or economically possible with regular compost.                         -James Ellison

You just composted WHAT?

Ever read a composting article about all these different things you didn’t know you could compost?  There’s TONS of crap you can put in your compost pile, some more relevant than others.  While I didn’t include “wine or brewery waste” in my video, I did use condoms, hair balls and that annoying Sun Chips bag.

My predictions:

I think everything will break down within 12 weeks, except for maybe the Sun Chips bag and the condoms.  Supposedly latex takes a really long time to break down, so let’s see what happens.  I think the cork will take a while too, since I didn’t chop it up into smaller pieces.  Whichever sock I threw in that has a synthetic blend, I imagine there will be a skeleton left behind there, too.

Fun fun fun!  I can’t wait to see the results.  The colder months are on their way too, so if you want to get critical and say I’m not being fair to the various items and their decomposition speed, go right ahead: I don’t care.  The point is that I’m going to show you what happens when you put less obvious stuff in your compost.

What do you think will happen to this stuff?  Leave a comment below.