You crack the eggs, make the coffee, slice an orange--and that's just breakfast. What do you do with the worm-friendly leftovers that collect bit by bit during your daily kitchen duties? You can't touch a gardening publication without being reminded that you should save kitchen waste for compost. Let's consider the options for containing those scraps before the daily/weekly dump in the yard/garden/compost.

You'll probably want something handy in the kitchen near your work area. You may also like a second, semi-handy dumpsite outside the closest exterior door.

Need a gift idea for your list or for a beloved fellow gardener? Feast your eyes on the gorgeous (for what is basically a miniature trash can) compost pails and crocks in catalogs and kitchenware stores. Surely this is Martha Stewart's preference. Gardener's Supply has a choice of stainless steel or copper pails, or ceramic or stoneware crocks. They all have lids and are roomy enough to allow the luxury of storing up several days worth of scraps in inclement weather. Some designs include a carbon filter in the lid to keep the less compost-crazed household members from detecting any off odors. And if those choices don't adequately match your kitchen decor, or countertop space is a premium, there's a plastic bin that mounts inside the under-sink cabinet door. Various styles of these fancy "compost keepers" are offered in catalogs for $20 to $45.
compost collection

New, commercial, specialty compost crocks or pails

Why choose this option? These can be gift items and are found in decorative styles to suit many kitchens. They have handles and lids, and some include replaceable carbon filters, for odor control, or compostable liner bags for ease of cleaning.

But, these can cost $20 to $45 dollars or more, and cheaper choices may do.

Ice bucket, new or used

Why choose this option? An ice bucket is often about the same size as, and incorporates the handle and lid of, a special "compost keeper". None have the carbon filters of compost pails, but I don't feel the filter is necessary. Compostable liners might fit, or use your own plastic bag if desired. Expanding the search to new ice buckets gives you more designs to choose from. Buying a used ice bucket will save you money.


Why choose this option? Forget the design possibilities, and forego the handle, and buy whatever size lidded plasic container you like. You'll have a bigger selection in terms of size and shape, but probably won't think of this as a decor item.

Repurposed containers from household purchases (kitty litter, ice cream, pool chemicals)

Why choose this option? When style is less of a priority, you may be happy with reusing a durable container from household item packaging. Many have handles and lids. You'll like knowing you've reduced your waste stream just a little, and this type of container is practically free and easy to replace.

Garbage bowl

Why choose this option? You can use any kitchen bowl for compostables. This will work best if you plan to toss your scraps frequently or soon after they are produced. An open conatiner may attract insects and be unappetizing, especially if the compostables are allowed to age.

Disposable everyday waste items (bread bags, waxed cartons, carryout cups)

Why choose this option? Like the durable packaging above, you already have a constant supply of new disposable containers from your household shopping. No cleaning needed for these; you'll dump out your compostables and throw away the bag or cup. Without a lid, you may need to consider insect access to the material (fungus gants can be a problem).


What to collect in the kitchen :

coffee grounds and filters

tea bags

fruit and vegetable trimmings, peels and seeds

leftover beverages

paper towels and napkins

bread crusts

egg shells

peanut and nut shells

(see more in the article

Household Composting

by Tamara Galbraith)

Suppose you aren't satisfied with these style choices. Consider this: the compost pail is really not that much different from an ice bucket. You won't get the carbon filter but personally I doubt the need for, and effectiveness of, those carbon lid pads, anyway. Your style choices will increase if you browse ice buckets, either new or heirloom (yard sale, flea market.) You get a reasonable size, waterproof container with a lid and a handle. This brilliant idea was contributed by DG member "lzywmn" in a response to the article "Compost on the not-so-grand scale". "lzywmn" reports that the ice bucket works very well, and is pleased to find that the contents generate a small amount of condensation which effectively seals the lid between uses. (I'm having visions of colorful vegetable scraps in a faux-crystal acrylic ice bucket.) Both the fancy shmancy designer compost crocks and pails, and the ice bucket option, give you a stylish, durable container. Dump and wash, or get a pack of cornstarch-based plasticky liner bags that can go in the compost and will eventually break down.

If you have no pretensions of style in your scrap container, you can go with plasticware. An unlimited choice of lidded plastic containers is as close as the dollar store, discount mart or grocery store. Any size or shape that suits you will do, and the price is right. I bet Heloise would approve. Admittedly, this is not an attractive feature in the kitchen, but it doesn't have to be on the countertop in plain view. Maybe you can hide it under the sink where so many kitchen trash cans hang out.

Basically a compost container is a rigid container with a lid to cover the yuck factor and keep insects at bay. Since the compost crowd can be quite the reduce-reuse-recycle crowd, another popular idea is the repurposed household items can or bucket. Many products now come in containers so well designed that you feel guilty about throwing them away. Suffer a little less guilt by saving an appropriately sized container, preferably with lid. Straying from the countertop theme momentarily, now that your regular trash has been reduced, maybe your kitchen can accomodate a kitty litter bucket as your compostables container. Or put the larger bucket outside the door, and you can unload your dailies without really going outside.

Last in the durables category will be our "Rachel Ray" style garbage bowl. Load up any bowl with the current meals production. (The dish pictured above fits into this category, on a small scale.) Rachel doesn't exactly say we're going to compost all of our fruit peels and eggshells, but you know she means it.

So far, we've discussed containers you will dump out and bring back to the house to rinse or wash. There's always the lazy and cheap crowd (my hand is raised) who want something disposable. Why wash, when modern life is overflowing with truly disposable, non-reuseable containers? For the cheap crowd, I suggest disposable single-use items like bread bags, ice cream cartons, microwave-meal trays or fast food cups. Bread bags often don't have the recycle symbol, and it's my understanding that they are usually plastic #4, which may not be desirable in your local plastic recycling program. Ice cream and juice cartons are neither washable nor recyclable, but are water-resistant enough to withstand a short stint in the kitchen catching coffee grounds.

I'm in a phase in which this last category fits my needs. A bread bag is leakproof and the top is easily flopped over to frustrate the fungus gnats. After I dump the goodies, I toss my bag or carton in the trash can on the way back to the house. (Waxed cartons and compressed-paper cups will eventually break down in the compost.) In mid-winter, I add a bucket outside the back door as a compost holding zone between kitchen and garden. One of these (long, cold, windy) days, I plan to attach a small plastic tub on the inside of my cabinet door under the sink. The tub will hold my bread bags and keep the counter space free for more attractive items.

I hope I've provided a thorough discussion of your choices in collecting kitchen waste. But I'm betting some clever reader will come up with another plan or new twist. Let's hear it! That's what makes Dave's Garden a community.


Resources and credits

Thanks DG member lzywmn, for the ice bucket idea which helped inspire me, and the many readers who responded to my previous compost article which (I'm hoping) showed me there'd be interest in this one.

For more Dave's Garden articles about composting, I suggest these:
Household Composting by Tamara Galbraith
Compost confessions: How low can I go? by Summer Walla
Back to Basics Composting by Kathy LaLiberte
*Dave's Garden subscribers may visit the Soil and Composting Forum to discuss and learn about composting.

Thumbnail photo taken by and property of author.

Off-topic but just for fun- I'd like to share this nifty site I came across when looking for information on plastic recycling. RecycleCindy shows you how to turn grocery store bags into crochetable "p l a r n ", gives patterns for crocheting bags and rugs from it, and more instructions on crafts made from cassette and VCR tape- check out the so-cool, woven leathery-looking Barbie halter dress you can make from old cassette tapes you should have thrown out a long time ago!