Should I Get a Kitchen Bin to Compost in My Apartment?

I feel like a bit of a tool shed, you know, not caring how much solid waste I am piling into landfills.

Aug 23, 2012 at 12:30pm | Leave a comment

At a crunchy friend's bridal shower, I got into a conversation with an even crunchier friend of hers. In order to understand why her friend's comments were ludicrous, you need to know that I live a 40-minute subway ride (that's with no delays) from Union Square. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: That's so cool that you work in a community garden. I wish that there were one near my house so that I could compost.

Her: You can bring your compost to the Union Square Farmer's Market.

Me:  But I would have to shlep my compost on the train.

Her: Just store it in the freezer and bring it on the train. I do it. (She said it to me in this tone of voice like, "Duh, what is wrong with you?")


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I immediately imagined the stench of week old thawing compost mixing with the usual 4-train smells: people's disgusting breakfast sandwiches, greasy McDonald's bags, occasionally urine, and people who smell like crotch cocktails and fart sandwiches rather than more benign regular B.O. It's like regular body odor doesn't exist anymore -- we've evolved to straight-up butt smells. 

As someone who is afraid of puking on the train, I imagined how nauseating compost would smell to pregnant women with morning sickness and heightened smell sensitivity. I cannot do something cruel like that to another woman. Protecting pregnant women from vile odors is more important to me than the amount of solid waste I send to the landfill.

I feel like a bit of a tool shed, you know, not caring how much solid waste I am piling into landfills.

I grew up with environmentalist parents. My mom cringes at the idea of plastic disposable cups. My dad was the chairman of the local board of health and got pesticides banned from town playing fields. They have 4 recycling bins on their porch and they've been composting since before it was cool to compost in the suburbs. (I just wanted to say "before it was cool." I really have no way of quantifying how many years composting has been cool for in the suburbs, or if it is even cool now.)

Also I have lived in a few seriously compost-centric places. In my youth, I lived in a tent on an organic farm in Colorado for three summers where we composted everything, including poop. Not just chicken poop. Human poop. It's not that sloshing across a flood-irrigated field carrying a full poop compost bucket is fun, nor that I yearn to do it any time soon, but I'm saying I KNOW how to compost. I BELIEVE in composting. I publish articles about composting on environmentalist websites. So what gives? Why don't I get with the old decomposing food-in-the-kitchen program?

The answer is that I live in an apartment building, so I do not have outdoor space. A better person than I am would put a worm compost bin in her kitchen, but the idea of thousands of wriggly red worms that could possibly get knocked over and escape onto my kitchen floor makes me literally want to run away.

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There's also these yuppie freezer compost bins, but with freezer compost we're back to shlepping a bucket of rotting vegetable matter on the train, and I don't want to make the pregnant ladies nauseous. I know that I could carry the compost in two layers of Zip Lock bags and there wouldn't be a smell, but then I'd have to throw away the Zip Lock bags and that defeats the purpose, doesn't it? (I am not carrying home slimy compost bags to wash them. Sorry.)

I requested a bin to review from NatureMill, a company that makes slick-looking "automatic composters" that supposedly compost the food scraps right in your kitchen and don't smell. They told me that they didn't have any review units. (They could have had thousands of page views had they given me the review unit. What a shame.) With the possibility that the NatureMill doesn't work exactly as described (I've seen the flies buzzing around other "automatic composters"), I'm not dropping $200 on one.

Which leaves this final option: The Urban Organic Gardener's kitchen compost bin.  

He claims it won't smell if you don't open it. Do you think it would attract mice? We (spitting to ward off the evil eye) have not seen any mice or cockroaches in our apartment since we moved in a few months ago. Is that reason enough to forego composting?

Chaya can be found breaking it down (pun intended) on Twitter: @chayakurtz