Compost Magazine

Composting tips, advice and science.

Reencle electric composters pictured on a white background.

The Dirt on Whether Electric Composters Are Worth It

Imagine having a simple kitchen bin in your kitchen. 

You throw your waste in it, and compost comes out the other side – without you having to do anything in between! 

Sounds too good to be true, right? 

Many electric composters have promised this but haven’t always lived up to the hype. 

These bins rightly attracted the ire of many composters, as their ability to market themselves didn’t always live up to their promises. 

Recently, though, some modern bins are actually producing compost. 

Does that mean they’re worth it?

Well, maybe. I’ve been trialling an electric composter myself for around 6 months now, alongside multiple other methods of making compost, and there are both pros and cons to using them.

But first (and just to make sure we are on the same page here!) let’s define what we mean by electric compost bins. 

We’ll then take a look at the different factors to consider if it is worth it for you. 

What are electric compost bins?

Electric compost bins are purpose-built bins that use electricity to help break down organic waste into a material designed to be used with soil or plants.

They are typically easy to use, often involving nothing much more complicated than pressing a button – or even waving a hand at an automatic sensor. 

They all claim to make compost – but some don’t!

Composting occurs when microorganisms break down organic material into substances that are beneficial for soil and plants. 

Some composters, such as the FoodCycler, chop, grind, and dehydrate food. These devices don’t use microorganisms in the process, although what they produce may still have some value for the ground. 

Other devices, such as the Reencle electric composter, use heat, air, moisture and bacteria to actually break down the material. 

The result is likely to be more beneficial to the soil – so if you want to use the compost (as opposed to just getting rid of waste), make sure you get the second kind! 

8 Factors to Consider

How much do you need to compost?

Most electric composters will be able to deal with a reasonable amount of kitchen waste. 

There are often some limitations, though – for example, most devices can’t cope with large bones.

However, if you have a garden your electric composter is unlikely to be able to deal with the quantity of material you will generate. 

In this case, you will be better off with a garden compost bin or using an alternative method of composting

How much compost do you need?

I was surprised by how much compost these devices can actually make. 

I’m currently emptying mine weekly, and over the last few weeks I’ve built up a very large pot of maturing compost.

(The compost also stays warm for a while, showing that continues to break down even after it has been removed from the composter.)

Compost from the Reencle composter. I've found this stays warm for a week or so after adding a fresh batch - the one above is active, but it has been hotter this.

Reencle suggests diluting the compost with plenty of soil (and I can see why, as it is very rich!) 

Still, while that would give you plenty of compost for pot plants, but it would be nothing like the quantity you could generate from a large outside compost bin. 

Are you looking to save money on compost?

While the right kind of electric composter can make compost, it does so at a price. 

The best devices cost hundreds of dollars, and they use electricity too.

While some of them can make actual compost, they won’t produce a huge amount.

A week's worth of compost from the electric composter.
Above: A little bit under a week’s worth of compost from en electric composter.

In contrast, a bag of compost is relatively inexpensive. 

In fact, you can buy a lot of compost for the price of an electric composter!

I’d suggest that if you just want compost for gardening purposes, you either use an outdoor system or buy compost. 

How do you feel about worms?

A worm bin can also handle some kitchen waste.

It’s cheaper (you can build even build your own worm bin) and doesn’t use electricity. 

You can also keep a worm bin in the kitchen. 

On the other hand, worms are live creatures that need care and attention, and many people don’t want a worm bin inside their kitchen!

What about the environment?

A lot is made about the benefits of composting for the environment. 

If food goes to a landfill, it undergoes anaerobic (without air) composting. 

This produces methane, which contributes to global warming. 

Bacterial electric composters produce far less methane, and they also contribute towards a circular economy – turning organic waste into a usable soil improver.

However, they also use electricity. 

If the electricity you are using is from a renewable source such as solar power, there’s probably a net benefit to using an electric composter. 

However, there’s less of a benefit if your electricity comes from a power source that uses fossil fuels.

If you do buy one, look for a device that is efficient. Reencle claims to use 1.25kWh a day, while the FoodCycler uses 1.5kWh per cycle, with each cycle taking about 4-6 hours. 

I’ve also found that you don’t need to run the Reencle device 24 hours a day. 2-4 hours seems to make perfectly fine compost – which makes sense, as you can make perfectly good compost outside in less ideal conditions without having to constantly turn it.

Another unknown, though, is the carbon footprint of manufacturing the device. Producing these devices involves using plastic, metal, and electrical components, and the manufacture will produce carbon emissions.

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden and want to minimize environmental harm, you might be better off repurposing pallet bins or garbage bins to make a composter. 

Even if you don’t, you might be better off joining a community composting scheme or putting your waste out for collection if there is a municipal composting scheme

How long are you prepared to wait for the compost to be ready? 

Many electric composters promise their compost will be ready in weeks, or even days. 

In terms of the first stage of composting, a good electric composter is incredibly fast. I often find that I can’t distinguish softer material from the compost the day after adding it.

However, compost usually needs to mature for months before being used. 

That’s the same for electric composters. In fact, some researchers have criticized electric compost makers for understating the maturity process.

If you need compost fast, you’re better off buying it, as no composting system can produce mature compost in a matter of weeks. However, if you’re happy to leave your compost mature before using it, en electric composter remains a good option.

Do you want to compost, but live in an apartment? 

Electric composter on a work top in a modern apartment kitchen.

I spent years living in apartments when I was working abroad, so I get you here 😉 

If you want to make compost, your options really are limited if you don’t have outside space. 

In that case, and if you don’t like the idea of a worm bin, I think an electric composter is a good option. 

Do you just want to deal with smelly waste? 

If you are sick of having food go smelly because it is waiting a week to be picked up, an electric composter might be a good option. 

After trialing one for several months, I found that I love the convenience of just throwing waste in the electric composter rather than having it sit for up to a week in a small green bin. 

I often use it as I cook, chucking vegetable peelings into the composter as I prepare meal.

While it won’t compost everything, it is a good option for dealing with a lot of smelly waste. 

Do be aware that, after a few months, you can get a sweet smell coming from the bin which not everyone likes. A good way to reduce this is by adding plenty of sawdust and/or activated charcoal into the bin.

Are you willing to do a bit more than just throw waste in a bin?

Electric composters are sold on their ease of use – but a bit of thought is required for using bacterial electric composters.

To make compost you need a mixture of carbon and nitrogen. 

You do this by adding both nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials to your electric composter. 

Azis et al suggest using a combination of common carbon-rich materials such as bread and cereal and nitrogen-rich materials such as spinach. 

I have to admit that I didn’t pay much attention to my electric composter for a while, and the my first compost was quite sticky. What’s more, after a time it got quite a sweet smell. 

To balance the C:N ratio and introduce air pockets into the compost, I added sawdust. Over time, I’ve learned to take the majority of the compost out when I empty the machine, and then half-fill it with sawdust for a much-improved result.

In summary, while easy to use, electric composters are not a no-thought solution!

Wrapping up

If you have a garden and want lots of compost, I think you are probably better off with a compost bin. 

Even if you don’t have a garden, a worm bin would be a more cost-effective option than an electric composter. 

However, you might be like my wife and prefer to have an aesthetically pleasing solution in your kitchen.

So, an electric composter might be for you if:

  • You don’t have a garden to put a compost bin in. 
  • You can’t (or your family!) can’t stomach the idea of worms in your kitchen. 
  • You like gadgets and are looking for a fun way of dealing with organic waste. 

If you’re still interested in getting one, check out our review of the Reencle Electric Composter next!

Read next

External resources

Azis et al, The Effect of Initial Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio on Kitchen Waste Composting Maturity, 2023, Sustainability (or see our summary of the study here)

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