Composting food scraps is an absolute game changer. And critically, kitchen composting isn’t just for those of us blessed with a back yard, or even lots of space. If you have enough space to cook, you have enough room to compost, and that means big benefits for everyone.
Some of the benefits of kitchen composting are obvious. For example, composting reduces waste and keeps organic matter out of landfills. But there are also plenty of upsides to kitchen composting that might surprise you.
Here are 24 benefits of kitchen composting.
1 – Your garbage won’t smell.
This wasn’t necessarily the main factor that first motivated me to compost, but it sure is at the top of my list now when it comes to benefits. It might actually be the number one reason why I’ll never go back to life before composting.
I started composting about ten years ago, and I haven’t had a stinky garbage can since, not even once. Because most food scraps go into the compost bin, the garbage itself is reserved for things like non-recyclable plastics. This has been such a huge and unexpected win for my nose!
2 – The compost bin won’t smell.
You might be concerned that using a compost bin simply transfers the smells from your garbage can onto your countertop. But fear not – these things don’t smell, I promise. When I’m cooking, almost all of my food scraps go into a bin on my countertop. I got mine here, but there are plenty of comparable models on the market.
The important thing about a compost bin is that it remains airtight, and that it’s lined with activated charcoal fabric that absorbs extraneous odors. After a while, you’ll need to replace those charcoal filters. You can find replacement filters here.
3 – Reduce waste in landfills.
This was the big one for me when it came to beginner composting. And really, it should be among your main motivators too. Composting removes biomaterials from waste, which means they don’t end up in landfills.
What’s the big deal you might ask? What’s the difference between my food scraps decomposing in a backyard composter, versus at the bottom of a trash heap in a landfill?
When food waste decomposes, it naturally releases methane. But composted properly, that methane production is minimal. In a landfill, it’s another story entirely.
Buried under other garbage and lacking oxygen, that methane collects, and can be incredibly destructive to air quality. Consider this excerpt from Composting In America: A Path to Eliminate Waste, Revitalize Soil and Tackle Global Warming, a report compiled by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund:
Composting can help tackle global warming by diverting organic waste away from landfills where it produces methane; by helping plants and microorganisms, which pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, to grow; and by replacing nitrogen fertilizers that produce nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
The methane organic waste produces in landfills is a potent greenhouse gas – around 56 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. By diverting this waste to composting facilities, the organic material can decompose naturally and greatly decrease methane emissions.
If all of the food waste and yard trimmings that were landfilled in 2015 had been composted instead, it would have resulted in net negative emissions of 14.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – equivalent to taking over 3 million cars off the road that year.Composting In America: A Path to Eliminate Waste, Revitalize Soil and Tackle Global Warming – U.S. PIRG Education Fund
4 – An endless supply of high nutrient compost for your garden.
Consider this – every year researchers invest millions of dollars into the development of new fertilizers, chemical and nutrient additives to enrich soil and improve agricultural production. But you don’t have to!
Composting yields the most nutrient dense soil you can possibly imagine. There is a reason why compost has come to be known as “black gold.” How could you let that go to waste?
5 – No food is wasted, even when not consumed.
This is another big one. Obviously, food waste is a major problem, and especially in the United States. Try as we might, we just can’t get to that last tomato, that wilting package of spinach wasting away in the back of the refrigerator, or that slightly moldy lime.
Instead of losing potential food waste to the garbage, composting basically minimizes your losses. If it can’t go into your stomach, the next best place for organic food waste is your composter.
In the United States, we waste anywhere from 30 to 40% of our total food supply, or about 40 million tons of food annually. In dollars, that’s about $161 billion. If just a small percentage of that food goes to compost, rather than landfills, that’s hundreds of million, if not billions of dollars saved, every year.
6 – Produce less waste in general.
Simply composting my cooking scraps was like the first step in a personal journey to produce less waste. When you really see what kind of organic materials you can save from landfills through composting, you tend to be more mindful about waste in the day to day.
7 – Use fewer garbage bags.
This one is pretty simple. Not only does organic waste make your garbage stink, it also takes up a good deal of space in terms of volume. Stinky garbage bins tend to fill up faster, period.
Leaving that organic waste out of your garbage means the bin doesn’t fill up as quickly, meaning you won’t be burning through garbage bags. Fewer plastic garbage bags is obviously better for the environment, and also better for your wallet.
8 – Save money on garbage disposal.
Tossing out your garbage is expensive. These costs are usually either direct (through garbage bag tags and fees) or indirect, in the form of local taxes that get diverted toward sanitation.
Simply put, composting your organics leads to fewer garbage bags on the curb on garbage day, which leads to big savings.
9 – Convenience, go from your prep station right into the compost bin.
Before I started composting my kitchen scraps I worried it would be a hassle. I imagined myself sorting through waste to pick out compostable material before it went in the bin. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and in fact, composting made waste disposal more convenient.
Now, when I’m cooking, I simply place my compost bin on the counter in front of me and go straight from my cutting board to the bin. There is no middle man, and I don’t skip a beat.
10 – Your garbage won’t be gross, in the event of an emergency.
We’ve all accidentally thrown something into the garbage that we later realized we needed. It could be an important event invitation, or maybe it’s just the instructions on that microwavable dinner.
In the event that you need to go back into the garbage and dig around for something that went in the bin prematurely, you’ll be happy you compost. Garbage bins that are free from organic material are far more pleasant to dig around in, if the need arises of course.
11 – So much can be composted.
From toilet paper cardboard rolls to coffee grounds, finding new things to compost can be exciting! What’s the weirdest thing that you compost?
12 – Composting can reduce carbon emissions by up to 50%.
According to the Sustainable Composting Research Lab at Princeton University, composting can have a major, major impact on carbon emissions, reducing carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by half.
According to researchers:
“composting organic waste versus landfilling it can reduce more than 50% of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, for a total of 2.1 gigatons between now (2020) and 2050 if climate change is curbed to a 2 degree Celsius rise in the average global temperature. However the emission savings from landfill diversion is only one benefit of composting.
Compost is a natural way to provide nutrients to plants to enhance productivity while storing carbon in soils. As such, compost not only reduces carbon emissions by the aforementioned amount, but shares emissions savings through many of the other climate solutions in Project Drawdown by acting as a carbon sink or “sponge” that can soak up emissions currently in the atmosphere and limit the impacts of climate change which is already causing devastating wildfires, flooding, and droughts to name a few.”
Sustainable Composting Research Lab at Princeton University
So basically, composting reduces extant CO2 on multiple fronts. First, and most obviously, composting limits our contribution to landfills, thus curbing the direct emission of CO2 and methane. And second, through incorporation into the soil, composting assists in absorbing emissions already in the atmosphere.
In effect, compost both prevents CO2 from going into the air, and then also filters it out. That’s so cool!
13 – Cleaner garbage means fewer rodents.
Smelly garbage can attract mice and rats, especially if you live in an apartment building with a garbage room.
14 – Cleaner garbage won’t attract cockroaches, silverfish or flies.
In addition to rodents, a smelly garbage bin is far more likely to attract insects like cockroaches, flies and silverfish. Reducing garbage odors isn’t just about protecting your nose – it’s about keeping pests away.
15 – Good karma.
Alright, this is admittedly the hardest thing on this list to prove with real, empirical evidence. That said, I think we can all still agree that composting is great for personal karma. It’s an obvious step towards getting right with the universe.
16 – Better garden yields.
Compost enriches the soil with valuable nutrients, which is essential to healthy plant and vegetable growth. In fact, compost enriched soil doesn’t just increase the sheer quantity of your produce yield, it will improve the overall quantity as well.
What’s more, you’ll know that crops grown using compost enriched soil absorbed their nutrients organically, rather than via chemical fertilizers.
17 – Supports healthy worm ecosystems.
Vermicomposting (composting with worms) is an entire subgenre of composting. Following this technique, worms are systematically introduced to the composter and used to break down organic matter more rapidly.
Now, I’m not advocating that you go this extreme (at least, not right away), but rather pointing out that compost naturally attracts worms, and those worms are incredibly advantageous for soil quality.
18 – Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
When you have a steady supply of healthy compost – also known as black gold – you eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. Healthy compost can supply your soil with everything it needs, making additional fertilizers unnecessary and redundant.
Eliminating chemical fertilizers is much healthier, not just for your soil, but for any crops and plants that you plan to grow in it. You’ll also save money, since fertilizers can be expensive!
19 – Compost helps to balance soil pH levels.
The pH level of soil is super important, and can have a significant impact on the health and productivity of your garden. While compost starts off a bit more acidic (usually anywhere from 5.0 – 7.0), it will end up pH neutral (or about 6.0 – 8.0).
20 – Composting improves the water retention of soil.
Soil that’s rich in compost absorbs and retains water better than dry, nutrient lacking soils. This is fantastic for your garden, especially if you’ve planted vegetables that tend to stay thirsty.
Have you ever tried to water a plant potted in poor quality soil and watched as water either ran right through it, or spilled off the sides? That’s basically what happens with poor quality soil out in the world as well.
To give you an idea of how important organic material is with respect to water retention in soil, consider this: compost enriched soils can hold up anywhere from 5 to 20x their weight in water!
21 – Composting improves water filtration.
By improving moisture retention in soil, compost also aids in water filtration, which greatly improves the efficiency of small water cycles. So basically, composting your kitchen scraps can lead, indirectly at least, to vastly improved water quality!
22 – Composting makes for cleaner waterways, seas and oceans.
By improving the filtration capacity of soils, composting directly improves the quality of groundwater. But it doesn’t just end there. Healthy, clean groundwater also means clean waterways, and cleaner seas and oceans.
23 – Compost enriched soil is more resilient.
Let’s try a little experiment here. You can actually do this – if you have the time and don’t mind the mess – or just use your imagination.
So imagine taking a cup of dry, nutrient lacking topsoil and placing it in a mound in front of you. Next, take a cup of rich, moist, compost enriched soil and again, pile it in front of you.
Now imagine yourself with a straw, and using that straw, I want you to blow a steady stream of air right at the dry topsoil. Next, blow a steady stream of air at the compost enriched topsoil. Notice a difference?
Basically, compost enriched topsoil is far more resilient to erosion, and that’s because water itself has cohesive and adhesive properties. Water clings to itself, and it also tends to cling to other materials. So soil that’s rich in compost and thus water retentive, is consequently more resilient to erosion.
Preventing erosion is also hugely important to reducing chemical fertilizer runoff and the pollution of waterways. Starting to see how these things are all connected yet?
24 – Composting promotes beneficial bacteria and fungi.
Nutrient rich soil is a living, breathing (metaphorically), complex ecosystem, and that ecosystem should include bacteria and fungi. Composting helps promote healthy levels of bacteria and fungi, the presence of which helps to further break down organic material.
What can you add to a kitchen compost bin?
Although your kitchen compost bin is simply a holding station for kitchen scraps before they go to a larger, outdoor bin (or local composting program), you’ll still want to abide by important composting rules. The following items can be safely added to your kitchen compost bin:
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Coffee grounds and paper filters
Cardboard egg cartons
Toilet paper rolls/Paper towel rolls
House plant clippings
What should you avoid adding to a kitchen compost bin?
Unfortunately, not everything can be composted. Some things just don’t break down, while others will turn your compost toxic – something you absolutely don’t want. So to be safe, stay away from the following:
- Dairy products like butter, milk and yogurt – Dairy products will make your compost stink, and it’ll attract unwanted pests and rodents.
- Diseased or insect-ridden plants – Insect-ridden plants can transfer diseased elements back into the soil, damaging your garden.
- Fats, like grease, lard and oils – Like dairy, fats will cause your compost to smell quite bad, and it will attract unwanted pests and rodents.
- Meat and fish scraps, and/or bones – Meat and fish, like dairy and fats, will rot and/or turn rancid, attracting rodents and causing a terrible odor.
- Pet waste – Pet waste can contain harmful parasites, bacteria and/or viruses.