You can compost for nothing ( zero dollars) by piling your garden and food waste up in a corner. How do you decide whether to pay 20, 60, 140, or even 900 dollars (yes really!) for a compost bin? You ‘justify’ the cash by convincing yourself of the ‘value’. We show you how to do this by checking the composting features to meet your needs at a price you can afford.
Sounds like hard work – why not just go online, look for a 5-star rating and best price – job done. Almost all the online reviews look like this “arrived/did not arrive on time (score 1-5), it was easy/hard to set up (score 1-5). I’d let you know how it works! The all-important bit is missing – few return 12 months to let you know if it worked and how well.
We can summarise the process of how do choose the ‘right compost bin’ or the ‘best compost bin’ for you into seven steps:
- Step 1 – WHY – define your goals
- Step 2– WHERE – review your available space and site for the bin
- Step 3 – WHAT & WHEN – how much garden and food waste you produce
- Step 4 – EFFORT – how much time and effort you are willing to invest
- Step 5 – HOW – which method (eg hot, cold, digesters, vermicompost) and which bin features are essential and which are nice to have (eg low odor, no rats, no flies, handle all food waste, kills pathogens, kills weed seeds)?
- Step 6 – CHECK – build a feature list
- Step 7 – MATCH – which compost bin will deliver the best price/performance
Before we go any further, let’s consider your time and effort to read this article. You might have the time and interest in composting to fully research the topic – if so read the detail below, but many will just want a ‘fast track’ to help them make a quick decision with a degree of confidence that they are choosing a one that will work.
The fast track
Read between the lines of the vendor marketing hype (that’s the polite term!)
Seek user recommendations. Ignore the ‘arrived/did not arrive’ on time, ‘easy/hard’ to assemble. Look for reviews that state “It works, it does what it says, I have great compost out fast, worth every penny, best compost bin used in 20 years.
Validate vendor promises (eg compost in 7-days). Look for detailed scientific study from reputable independent organisation that supports the claim. Walk away if nothing.
Check vendor ability – do they offer in-depth hands-on composting advice or just regurgitate the ‘list of things to compost’ that only applies to ‘cold’ composting? Look for advice that explains hot versus cold composting, how long it takes in each situation an why it differs when hot composting.
Look for vendors with ability in composting science & engineering. Composting obeys the laws of nature such as heat loss & cooling, rates/speed of biochemical reactions. You do not need to know about the science and engineering of composting – but I believe your compost bin vendor should.
For those who want to look into the detail, here is a little more depth around the seven steps to help you choose a compost bin
Step 1 – Consider your composting goals
Do you want to make lots of rich/great compost for your garden that will improve its fertility and cut down how much fertiliser and maybe even peat you use?
Do you just want to keep the garden tidy?
Do you want to make a more positive contribution to the environment by recycling all your food waste so your local council no longer has to collect and transport it to a landfill or a central AD/IVC reprocessing plant?
Are you just fed up with allocating more and more of your flower or vegetable patch to overflowing compost bins that never seem to do anything?
What are your goals on sustainability, organic gardening, good use of limited resources.
Step 2 – Review your available space and site for the compost bin
Some compost bins need a certain site (eg a sunny spot, or the opposite keep in the shade’, ‘only use on soil’, ‘do not use on clay soil’. You may have very little choice (eg it needs to go on the concrete by the garage). Your site may limit your compost bin choice.
You might have a small garden and no space for a large compost bin, conversely you might have very large garden and taking 3 metre square for a traditional 3-bay New Zealand compost bin system might pose no issues.
Do you want to the compost bin close to the kitchen so you can pop out easily in the rain to empty your food caddy?
Step 3 – Review the volume of garden and food waste you produce
Are you just going to compost seasonal garden waste (summer/autumn)?li>
Do you want to compost grass cuttings (spring, summer, autumn)
Do you want to compost food waste – produced all year-round – ie compost through winter
How much of each type of waste do you have? In my experience, very few garden composters or food waste recyclers accurately know how many litres (or Kgs) of waste they produce. Very few want to record and measure it either. Choosing the right compost bin size is also further complicated as compost bins can (given the right conditions ‘hot compost’). Hot compost 32 times faster than a competitor bin that only facilitates ‘cold composting. So 20 litres of waste a week in one bin would rapidly break down within a week, but in another bin build up over time and need a 600 litre bin.
Step 4 – Consider if you want to ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ compost?
The headline benefits of ‘hot’ composting over ‘cold’ composting are:
Hot composting will destroy weed seeds – saving you time and effort in future
Hot composting will destroy dangerous bacteria – you can compost all food waste
Hot composting requires far less space to compost the same amount of waste
Hot composting requires dramatically less time (eg 30 days Vs 360 days)
Hot composting works all year-round (cold heaps stop in winter below 5C)
Step 5 – How much time and effort you are willing to spend on composting
This is hard – everyone tends to answer – ‘none / minimal’. The more a vendor knows this is critical to your choice, the more pressure to use the term ‘easy’ and the bigger the potential expectation gap and likely hood of user disappointment. There is always some effort (eg collecting food, turning, mixing, shredding). In our experience, it is easier when you follow simple steps. Investing the time to form habits is challenging – especially at the start when people perceive the habits are taking more time not saving time.
So, now you have a clear picture of what you want. Next, how do you check and match the compost bin against your composting goals?
Step 6 – Build a compost bin feature list
Build a feature list, find the top 10 commercial bins, score each feature, ignore those compost bins that do not fit your needs to produce a short list; then weight/score the remaining compost bins to find the best match.
Step 7 – Asses which compost bin will deliver the best price/performance
Score each compost bin against each feature to find the overall value for money score – the million dollar question!
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