I’ve long been skeptical of kitchen composters.
They are often criticized for producing dehydrated food, which can have nutritional value for soil or compost heap but is not true compost.
Still, when Reencle reached out and asked me to review their new kitchen composter, I said yes.
I had just read a Wired review of a competitor which had had independent soil samples taken, and the results were perfectly acceptable as a growing medium.
Plus my wife really liked the look of it, and wanted to add it to her vast collection of kitchen gadgets!
I was also intrigued by the mention of microorganisms, which suggested this wasn’t just a grinding and dehydrating machine!
Also, while most of my food waste goes either to my compost bin or my chickens, we still discard a small amount of it. That food sits in our kitchen for a week before it is collected, where it can get smelly when it’s hot.
Now, I do have more testing to do – I still need to collect the compost, do growing tests, and I might also send the results off for an independent soil test.
However, as it will take some time to test the compost, I wanted to share our experience with the device so far.
How does it work?
As I mentioned in the introduction, some kitchen composters simply grind and dehydrate the food.
That’s not the case with the Reencle.
When you get the device, you’ll find it comes with a sort of bran that contains bacteria.
The bacteria are Baccilus – which are also found in compost heaps.
To activate the bacteria, you add water, turn the device on and leave it for 24 hours.
Then you start by adding some very soft, easy-to-digest foods such as rice or bread. You can later expand this to a wider range of foods.
When you add the food, a paddle inside the device stirs it into the bran, where it is broken down by the bacteria inside.
The bran also contains activated charcoal, which is designed to provide additional oxygen to the microorganisms.
At the same time, heat is applied at 50-60 °C – which of course is perfect for the composting bacteria that break down organic material fast.
Here’s what the interior looks like after several weeks of adding food:
It all sounds very much like composting, and the fact that it takes 21 days (and you leave the compost to mature after that) suggests it will be a much more viable product than dehydrated food.
This is aided by the guidelines for the food you can put in. These are mostly items with higher levels of sugar, starch and simple proteins.
You can compost tougher materials such as bones, but this will slow the decomposition process down.
How much electricity does it use?
Whether you’re thinking about personal costs or the environment, you’ll probably want to know how much electricity the device uses.
Reencle says that the device uses 1.25kWh per day, which they reckon equates to about $2 per month in the USA.
Electricity prices vary a lot, so it might be worth checking against what you pay. To do this, multiply the price you pay per kWh by 1.25 to get a daily cost.
I’m based in the UK, so I’ve looked at UK costs, which are quite a lot more.
The average cost here per KWH is 33.2p, so you’d be looking at just under 40p a day. That may not seem like much, but it does mount up over a month!
Does it work?
Follow the guidelines, and the food will disappear very quickly!
How quickly depends on the food. For example, when I first added soft bread, the bread had disappeared in a few hours. I found drier materials took longer – they were still visible the next day, but had disappeared the day after.
As mentioned, I still need to test the finished compost, but I’ll update this post when I have the results.
How much compost will you get?
Not a huge amount! The total amount of compost is about 5% of the food waste you add.
Of course, that’s to be expected. Kitchen waste holds a lot of water, and bacteria also consume part of it.
Still, while it would be great for use with potting plants, don’t expect to mulch your vegetable garden with the final product.
Is the compost any good?
At my request, Reencle sent me the test results of the finished product.
These showed high levels of nitrogen and organic matter – both important elements for the soil.
Germination rates were good, and sodium was at a low level (a good thing, as high salt levels can impact plant health.)
How do you remove the compost?
This is one question I had for Reencle.
The material in the composter contains activated charcoal which provides oxygen for the bacteria, and I wondered how this would impact the composting process if it were removed from the compost.
Reencle advised me to just scoop some of the compost out, and not to worry about the activated charcoal as oxygen is also provided via the air filter.
You can also optionally choose to sieve the compost, but this is up to you.
I do wonder why it activated charcoal if it is not important to the process.
However, I think the easiest to do would be to add some more activated charcoal if there was any decrease in how well the product worked.
How do you use the compost?
First, you should leave it to mature before use.
Reencle advises leaving it for 5 days before using it.
I usually leave homemade compost to mature for much longer, and I’ll be doing the same with the compost from this machine. Compost usually needs maturing for months before being ready to use (at least with plants) and I can’t see why compost from an electric composter would be any different.
Reencle also recommends using 5 parts soil to one part compost to avoid an excess of nutrition.
(After I’d drafted this article, a study came out which tested the compost from a competitor product.
The researchers found that four weeks was insufficient for maturing compost.
While it’s worth noting that this is from a compost that worked in a very different way, I would still recommend allowing a decent amount of time for your compost to mature.)
What we liked
There’s hardly any, although if you are close to the machine you can hear the paddle gently turn around.
Setting up doesn’t take long, although, as mentioned, after pouring in the bran you need to add water and wait for 24 hours before adding softer material.
After that, it’s pretty easy. To open the device just approach it and wave your hand in front of it (in fact, it might be a little too sensitive, as sometimes you can walk past and it opens without you intending to do so).
After that, apart from adding a bit of water you just leave it to do its thing.
Both of us liked the style of the device – it is a sleek, modern-looking device that looks far more impressive than our compost bins.
Lack of smell
You can get a pleasant musty smell at times, but only when you open the bin.
That’s possible for several reasons – activated charcoal can help reduce smells, there’s a filter at the back of the device which catches more smells and it’s an aerobic composting process which again limits the number of odours produced.
If it does get smelly, there’s a purify button that you can press to reduce odors.
All composting releases some gases – there’s no getting around that. However, this is an aerobic composting process.
That’s important because the anaerobic composting process that takes place in landfills is far worse for the environment as it releases huge amounts of methane.
Against that, you do have to take into account that the device will use some electricity, although it wasn’t sufficient for us to notice a difference in our household usage on our smart meter.
What we didn’t like
The door is a little too sensitive!
While I love the way the compost opens at the wave of a hand, it’s a little too sensitive – sometimes you just walk past the device and it opens!
It also doesn’t open for very long – you have to be a bit sharpish when scraping a plate into it!
I think I get why – this is probably insulation to keep the warmth in – but it can still take you aback when the lid closes on your hand. (Fortunately, it’s a very gentle close!)
Can’t compost all food wastes
When I first heard about this I also had dreams of being able to get rid of all food waste, and finally reducing our food waste to zero.
It’s not bad – but it can’t compost everything.
What’s more, some things it can compost will lead to slower decomposition. (That’s not the fault of Reencle, of course, that’s just how composting works).
Excluded items include some bones, sauces such as peanut butter and Nutella and the pits of certain fruits.
Having said that, I did push the device after it had got up to speed and found that it composted smaller chicken bones without any problems.
It’s a small thing, but some of the explanations and instructions do look like they have been written by a non-English speaker – and have not been proofed.
Given the effort that has gone into the design and functionality, I don’t know why the company didn’t go to the extra step of getting some thorough proofreading done.
This doesn’t stop you from following the instructions or understanding them, but it does jar.
Any tips on using the device?
As with all composting, the organisms inside the composter will need water. I find it’s worth checking from time to time and adding water slowly to make sure it is not too dry.
I tested this by simply grabbing a handful of the mixture inside and giving it a squeeze to see if it was too dry. Just as I do with ordinary compost, I am looking for the consistency of a wrong out sponge.
Note it seemed to use more water if you add dry materials, so take this into account. If it gets too wet, you can press the dry button.
The instructions do say that you can leave the composter for some time without feeding it. That’s because the bacteria convert into a spore state when they do not have food.
However, this is likely to slow the process down when you restart it. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest you feed it regularly.
When you first start using the device, it takes a while to get up to speed. Start off with a small amount of soft food (rice or white bread) and build it up gradually.
Potentially add a mix of high carbon and high nitrogen materials
The study we linked above suggested including both high carbon and high nitrogen materials.
They managed this by using a combination of materials such as bread and cereal and nitrogen-rich materials such as spinach.
To start with, I didn’t think much about this as I went through the process. I suspect some carbon is included in the bran included with the Reencle, but I was also (without thinking) adding bread and greens, which is why it may have worked out well anyway.
As the months went on, I found that I need to pay more attention to the C:N ratio. The compost started smelling sweet – an indication that it is too high in nitrogen – so I started adding sawdust to help balance the ratio.
Twice I found that the lid started opening and closing without being told to! I found I could resolve this by cleaning around the inside of the lid, where some food had been collected.
The final verdict!
I’m really excited about this device.
Not necessarily for myself, though.
I am fascinated by the process, and it’s been fun to use.
However, when it’s fully set up and going, this device can take up to 2.2 lbs (1.1kg) of waste a day. Much of my waste food goes to my chickens and compost bins (five and counting!) so I simply don’t have enough to make it worth while.
I even found myself worrying about the bacteria, and whether they had enough to eat!
I wanted to take some of the set-aside chicken food and feed it to the composter – to which my wife firmly said: “No! The chickens are more important.”
(They’re very spoilt.)
I also thought the $600 price tag was a bit steep for a composter, but on the other hand, my wife thought it was excellent value for a sleek kitchen gadget.
(This is not the first debate we’ve had on issues like this!)
I’d also say that if you are only interested in making compost, you won’t get value for money. The same goes if, like me, you already have processes for getting rid of waste.
But I am excited because it because it does mean that people who don’t have a garden can make compost in their kitchen without having to have an in-house worm farm.
Food that would have rotted in a kitchen bin for a week before being thrown out can now be transformed into a valuable nutrient for your plants.
In short, for every frustrated apartment composter out there, there’s now a solution.
And that’s just brilliant.