On Christmas morning I received the equivalent of a Red Rider BB Gun for a 28-year-old trying his best to reduce his carbon footprint: a Stainless Steel Kitchen Compost Bin. This item was on my list because my food scraps and paper products just weren’t making it from my kitchen to the compost pile or yard waste bin. And yes, I’ll admit that laziness played a big role in this broken system. Given the choice between tossing my banana peel in the kitchen trash can or walking it outside to the compost pile, I was choosing trash can 9 out of 10 times. And it was tearing me up inside.

A shiny beacon full of banana peels

Standing 12″ tall and 8″ wide, it fits right on the kitchen counter and eagerly awaits my next banana peel, avocado pit and Kleenex. Now it’s only a receptacle, it doesn’t actually do the composting itself, but it takes away all my excuses for not sorting my waste properly. With compost, recycle and garbage receptacles all within 10 feet of each other, the only thing I need to do is decide which receptacle is appropriate for the given object. When it’s full, I empty it into my curbside yard waste bin just like I do with recycling and garbage.

It is such a little thing, but it’s made a significant difference in the last three weeks. Since I still have a stock of plastic grocery bags, I line my bin with plastic bags (although compostable ones are available) to keep the bin nice and clean. The can holds around three pounds of matter (depending on how much I pack it) and I empty it twice a week by dumping out the contents of the bag. At around six pounds per week, I’ve already diverted 18 pounds since Christmas. Over the course of a year, that could add up to 312 pounds of waste diverted from the landfill – just from two people!

compost bin

What can I compost?

Now imagine if every house in the neighborhood or the entire city were diverting that much matter from the landfills (hopefully they already are). That is a lot of carbon going to good use. Plus, after establishing a routine, I started composting things I didn’t before. It used to be just food scraps and paper towels, but I’ve since expanded to:

  • Unbleached coffee filters and coffee grounds
  • Wine corks
  • Dog hair
  • Nail clippings
  • Houseplant matter
  • Used matches

In fact, here are 100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost from Small Footprint Family. I’ve started second-guessing everything I used to throw in the trash, and I’m often surprised by what can go to compost – especially industrial compost through yard waste collection. Check out King County’s curbside yard waste guidelines. I’ve also starting buying more natural household products just so I can compost them.

What kind of compost bin should I buy?

There are several kitchen compost bins for sale online (think twice about buying on Amazon, though) and at stores like Target and Fred Meyer; they seem to range in price from $15 to $40. Some are designed to actually compost indoors, perfect for apartment dwellers. Mine is a good size and has a charcoal filter in the lid that locks the odors in the can. But a kitchen compost receptacle can be as simple as an old laundry detergent jug or a gallon ice cream pale – anything that prevents repeated trips through the rain to throw one or two items into yard waste.

The bottom line is that establishing Earth-friendly habits doesn’t have to feel like pulling teeth. The obstacles in our way are often way smaller than we imagine. In addition to diverting a good chunk of my trash, my kitchen compost bin has helped me shift to a consumer mentality that considers the end-life of the products I choose.

Feature photo by the author.