Are Electric Composters a solution or waste of time?

3 years ago we moved out of Toronto, to 'the country', and in addition to leaving my favourite Empanadas behind, I was also forced to give up composting.

But Steve... you moved to the country, why did you give up composting?

Because in the City it was easy, I just put all our food scraps in the bin, hauled it to the end of my driveway and in the spring the City would dump a huge pile of soil at the end of our street for everyone to use.

So when the local municipality from our new house offered us one of those 'electric composters' for only $100, I jumped on it.

I've been using our food cycler for almost 3 years and on a personal level I like it.  Our garbage output has gone down, and we've been mixing it into our garden soil and our veggies seem to be growing well.

As we zoom out, I feel like the good guy who's fighting climate change, because apparently only 5% of the nearly 66.2M tons of food wasted each year (in the US) actually gets composted.

"The result is that food is the single most common material sent to landfill in the US, where it releases methane, a potent climate-warming gas, as it breaks down." (The Guardian, UK)

But, like all things, there's a flip side.

What comes out of an electric composter is not 'compost', it is simply ground down and dehydrated food scraps.  I was able to confirm this because if given the chance my dog  tries to eat these food-like bits, but turns her nose up at regular soil. 

And according to one expert - Ron Alexander referenced the above Guardian article - when he tested these dried scraps in his own garden, the 'compost' turned moldy and killed the plants it was supposed to be fertilizing. 

A better way to describe the material might be 'food grounds', because:

“Using the term ‘compost’ flippantly puts billions of dollars of composting infrastructure, and all the work that’s been done to build it, at risk,” he said. “I think it is going to put a blemish on real compost products. I hope that the FTC or the government steps in and puts an end to this.”

In the end, it seems the best way to reduce food waste is to:

1- Eat the food.
2- Give it to someone else to eat
3- Give it to an animal to eat.
4- Compost it.
But for now, I'm going to keep using my food cycler because in the 3 years I've used it, I haven't had issues with wild animals digging it up and so far my plants have done just fine.
It seems that the big difference between my experience and Ron Alexander's is that I put a small amount of the food grounds vs. soil, meaning 10% scraps to 90% soil.  I'm certainly not an expert in gardening or composting, but it seems to have worked.
It's also important to note that I only paid $100 for mine (another big criticism is that the cost is so high, it will be inaccessible to most people) because we were part of a local program run by our Municipality.  And for small municipalities like ours, this might be an easier way to compost foodwaste.
I'll keep you posted if anything changes.

← Older Post Newer Post →


  • I’ve also had some skepticism about these electric composters, but from your experience I feel better about them now. My only question is: why not just bury your food scraps? I’ve been burying my ‘compost’ in my garden for years, and all I can say is that my plants seem to love it. Any kind of composting uses energy; whether it be the municipality industrial composting, which requires a large amount of heat, or, in your case, some amount of electricity to dehydrate and ‘mulch’ the food scraps. I know doing manual labor to dig holes and bury your food waste isn’t ideal, but I do think it is great for the planet and your garden. Thoughts?

    Jeremy Dumont on
  • I love my electric composter! I live in a hot, dry region of the US and outdoor composting is difficult. I have stuff in the outdoor bin that’s been in there for over a year and still not composted! The electric composter allows me to turn peels, bits, and stems into a brown powder that I mix with the native soil. I mostly use it outside in the flower beds to improve the very sandy and rocky native soil.

    Barbara Davis on

Leave a comment