If you want to compost kitchen scraps, a kitchen compost bin is pretty essential!
The good news is that standard kitchen bins are simple to use, and if you are emptying them regularly almost any old container will do.
But what if you want to actually make compost in the kitchen?
Then things do get a bit more complicated!
Let’s take a look at the few things you need to know about a standard kitchen compost bin, and then take a look at some of the more advanced options available.
What is a kitchen compost bin?
Kitchen compost bins are usually simply a container which is used to capture kitchen waste for use in a compost bin or system.
These systems are not usually designed to make actual compost.
You can use any sealed container to collect this waste, or, if you are just keeping it for a few hours, even an open container.
If you typically keep them for longer you can use a kitchen compost bin with a charcoal filter to remove odors from the compost.
In recent times we have also seen the advent of electric compost bins which claim to make actual compost.
Early versions simply ground and dehydrated the waste, but the most recent versions use microorganisms to break down waste, just like an outdoor compost bin does.
You can also compost in a kitchen with worm bins, although not everyone (and especially not my family!) are keen on the idea of a worm bin in their kitchen.
Most people put the contents of their kitchen compost bin in an outside bin. (You can find out how to use an outdoor compost bin here.)
What can you put in a kitchen compost bin?
What you actually put in your kitchen compost bin depends very much on the type of composting you are doing.
If you plan to transfer the contents of your kitchen bin to a cool compost bin, avoid adding items that may attract pests.
Here’s some examples:
|Good to collect||Avoid collecting|
Fruit and vegetable peels
Tea leaves (ideally, remove leaves from tea bags, as bags often contain microplastics)
Rabbit and hampster droppings
Meat (cooked or uncooked)
Dog and cat droppings
Shredded paper is a particularly good thing to add!
Kitchen waste is high in moisture. The paper helps absorb some of that moisture, and stops it becoming a wet mess of material.
What’s more, the paper also provides a high carbon source to balance out the nitrogen in food scraps.
That helps the composting process when you add it to a compost bin or heap.
How to stop a kitchen compost bin from smelling
To prevent odors from developing in your kitchen compost bin, it’s best to empty it daily.
As I have chickens that need feeding every day, I need to go to the bottom of the garden on a daily basis. So compost waste from my kitchen bin never tends to hang around, which means it doesn’t get smelly.
That might not be the case for you, and on a cold, wet winter’s day, it can be a drag too.
It’s not the case at my office either. We have a kitchen compost bin located next to our coffee machine, so we can collect coffee grounds, banana peels and the like.
In situations like these – and especially in the summer or in warmer climates – it’s worth considering something like the Epica bin, which is a sealed compost bin with a charcoal filter.
The filter also helps prevent fruit flies from getting in your compost bin.
If you have excess waste building up, you can store it in a sealed bag in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
How to use an electric composter
An electric composter is quite different from a regular kitchen bin, as it ‘composts’ the waste right there in the kitchen.
Early devices didn’t make compost at at all. Instead, they broke down and dehydrated food.
However, the one I have been testing uses actual microorganisms to break down the waste into compost, and it breaks down food surprisingly quickly.
Here are a few tips on how to use these devices:
- Know what foods you can put in. This varies depending on the device, but you may find your instructions suggest starting with soft materials such as bread and rice, and avoiding items such as fish guts and large bones.
- Use a mixture of high carbon and high nitrogen materials. One recent study highlighted that the best results come when mixing high-nitrogen materials (like spinach and lettuce) with high-carbon materials (like bread and spinach.) You can learn more about the Carbon Nitrogen ratio here.
- Leave the compost to mature before using it. Fresh compost may contain elements that are harmful to plants, and compost from electric composters is no exception. The study I mentioned above highlights that manufacturer claims that compost is ready in four weeks are not correct – and compost needs to be left longer than this.
You’ll find more tips in our review of the Reencle Food Waste Composter.
How to use a bokashi bin
A Bokashi bin works differently from a standard kitchen bin.
Instead of just storing the material, it actually ferments the material to create a pre-compost. This can then be added to a compost bin or dug into the soil.
While it doesn’t create actual compost, it does mean you can deal with a wider variety of food waste – including meat and bones.
(Some bins are even designed to handle dog and cat poo.)
You need to use Bokashi Bins with a bran, which contains the essential microorganisms needed to break down the material.
Here’s a brief summary of how to use them:
- Shred, grind or chop any large pieces of material.
- Add a layer of bran to the bottom of the bin.
- Add a layer of waste food.
- Add a sprinkling of bran.
- Push down to reduce the amount of air.
- Close the lid.
- Leave and collect liquid from the spigot.
- Repeat until full.
If you’re interested in the process, see our full guide to using a Bokashi Bin before making a decision!
How to use a kitchen worm bin
Maintaining a worm bin is very different from keeping a standard kitchen compost bin because you are caring for live creatures.
In fact, worm composting has been the subject of whole books.
- Create bedding using a material like shredded paper, cardboard or leaf mold compost.
- Maintain temperatures between 55 and 77 F. Lower temperatures will slow down activity, while higher temperatures can harm them.
- Ensure there is plenty of ventilation – if using a homemade bin, drill plenty of holes.
- Worms don’t like conditions that are too acidic, so avoid adding large quantities of citrus peel or other acidic ingredients.
- There needs to be adequate moisture, but not too much. Bedding material should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
Worms can feed on a wide variety of food, but if you are new to vermicomposting it is probably best to begin with veg and food scraps. Here are some ideas for starting out:
- Tea leaves
- Coffee grounds
- Lettuce/spinach/chard/cabbage leaves
- Banana and potato peels
There are many excellent bins available on the market – but you can also make your own worm bin. In fact, this one took me less than 20 minutes and cost me around $20.00!
If you are interested in learning more, I recommend reading the excellent Worms Eat My Garbage – both the seminal book on the topic and a fun and entertaining read.
Although we have talked about various types of kitchen bins, I prefer using a basic bin with a charcoal filter and transferring its contents to an outdoor compost bin.
On the other hand, Bokashi bins can come in handy if you want to compost food waste that is likely to attract rodents.
Electric composters are the priciest option, and for the cost of one of these, you could buy a lot of pre-made compost.
Still, the most modern versions are a lot better than the older ones. If you want to turn food waste into compost, don’t have a garden and don’t want worms in your house, the Reencle is an effective and fun way to do so in your house.
Can kitchen compost bins be used in apartments or small living spaces?
Absolutely!, There are many compact options available on the market, including countertop compost bins, under-sink compost bins, and electric composters.
What is the best way to manage a kitchen compost bin during the winter months?
During the winter months, it’s best to use a sealed compost bin with a charcoal filter to prevent odors from developing. You can also store excess waste in a sealed bag in the freezer until you’re ready to use it.
Are there any eco-friendly compost bin options made from recycled materials?
Yes, there are eco-friendly compost bin options made from recycled materials such as recycled plastic or recycled metal. You can also buy bins like the Bamboozle compost bin, which is made from sustainable bamboo.
Can kitchen compost bins be used for other household waste besides food scraps?
Yes, you can compost paper and cardboard. However, it’s important to avoid adding non-organic waste like plastics or metals to a kitchen compost bin, as these materials can harm the composting process and create harmful toxins.
A simple rule of thumb is: if it’s recently been alive, and it’s not super smelly, it’s probably okay to compost.