As Americans think “greener,” the art of composting is gaining popularity. Turning leaves and other yard waste into dark, friable compost that’s ready to bring life to any garden is not only rewarding, it’s a great use of natural resources. And adding leftover fruits, vegetables, eggshells and used coffee grinds speeds up the leaf decomposition process for great compost even sooner.

Compost keeper

Some compost keepers are available with a removable filter to help contain odors.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Compost ingredients

All kinds of foods – like vegetables, herbs, salad greens, mushroom stems, even coffee grinds and tea bags – make great additions to your compost pile.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Biodegradable bag

Using a biodegradable liner can make it easier to remove your food items from the compost keeper to your bin.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

The only trouble is that when you’re fixing a meal, there’s often too much going on to run any extras out to the compost bin – making it all too easy to just throw away those precious scraps. But keeping a container in your kitchen specifically for compost waste can make composting a simple part of your daily routine.

What should you look for in a compost keeper? For starters, you’ll probably want something that keeps the smell at bay. While food scraps are great for the compost bin, they’re not often great for the nose – and they don’t wait until they’re outside to start decomposing. My first kitchen compost keeper was simply a plastic container with a sealed lid I set on the counter. It wasn’t too bad during winter. We were eating a lot of low-acid foods that decomposed slowly, and the lid kept even the stinky onion smell inside. It wasn’t pretty, but at least I wasn’t throwing vegetable scraps away.

By spring, however, it became clear I needed to find another solution. We were eating more foods that decomposed with a vengeance (and serious smell). And even though I was emptying the container every few days, the stink filled the kitchen whenever I lifted the lid. I needed to find a solution that contained the food scraps, as well as tackled the stench.

One solution was to get a compost container with a carbon filter. Several types have lids with holes that allow air to circulate, and their carbon filters help trap the odor. I tested one of these models by not emptying it for two weeks. While the lid was on, the smell was contained. But when I opened it to add scraps, the stink was still pretty disgusting. (So if you go with one of these filtered containers, I recommend emptying it once or twice every week, since food can seriously decompose in that time.)

Any kitchen compost keeper you consider should also be leak-proof, and preferably dishwasher-safe. Saving food scraps can get messy, particularly if they contain a lot of water (think strawberries, cantaloupes, lettuce and tomatoes). Materials like stainless steel and glazed crocks resist absorbing odors and stains, and they’re often okay to put in the dishwasher.

I tried using biodegradable liner bags made from cornstarch to limit the mess in my compost container. They were good at holding the solids, but they weren’t waterproof, so the liquid seeped though the bag. Still, it made cleaning out my compost keeper easier – I could just lift out the bulk of the mess in the bag, so all I had to wipe out was the liquid left behind.

If you’re one of the many Americans looking for ways to “go green” and getting into composting, remember that the right tools can make your job a lot easier. A kitchen compost keeper – whether plastic, ceramic or stainless steel – is a great way to encourage you to start saving your leftovers – and our environment in general. Happy composting!