As an urban mom, the true missing link in all of the "green" things my family does is compost. Without a yard to have a pile in, options are fairly limited unless you live in a city that takes scraps, like San Francisco or Vancouver.
In New York, these are my options:
Compost in a worm bin.
Save my scraps in the fridge or freezer to carry to the only farmers' market that does accept scraps. This doesn't smell too good.
Save my scraps in the fridge or freezer to drive or have someone else drive out of the city once a week to someplace where I can compost. Smelly and not efficient.
Use an electric indoor composter.
None of these options are ideal and all can stink up a tiny apartment, no matter how well ventilated, or how well you're caring for your compost.
Our family eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, and consequently our garbage used to be filled with tons of chard ends, wilted outer lettuce leaves, apple cores and more. I'd been agitating for many moons for a worm box or an indoor composter, and trying to make do with the other (not so great) options. At long last, for a recent birthday, I was given a (pricey!) NatureMill composter. I've never been more touched by a gift in my life.
It started off perfectly. Our garbage was instantly so drastically reduced that we got rid of our garbage can entirely. (We have a small basket for whatever packaging cannot be recycled.) And as cheap and efficient as worm bins are, nothing beats an automatic composter for an urban family — because there is a (very low-draw) electrical heat element to the NatureMill, all of that food kids waste as they learn how to eat can go right in it, even meat scraps (though not bones). We also happen to purchase wind power for our electricity.
We quickly got into a rhythm, my daughter included. She turned into our little compost task force, questioning anything and everything that we were tossing, and helping us cut the scraps into smallish pieces (they work better in the NatureMill). Prior to getting it as a gift, I had read every online comment everyone had made about NatureMill, good and bad. And I was starting to believe no one was following the directions well enough. The smell? Not so bad — just sort of earthy and warm. Ok it's noisy and the cat still doesn't know what to make of it. But so be it. Come winter, I'm sure she'll sleep on top of it for heat. I boasted to anyone who would listen about our impending batches, our newly scrawny waste output, our urban kid who asks if we've put enough dry in with the wet. I'll admit it, I was obnoxious.
And then we went away for a week of vacation.
And when we came back? The stench!!!
I guess it had been a little too wet when we left, and we weren't around to immediately correct that. And so it festered and heated and turned and moldered for days. This wouldn't be a problem outside. But in our teeny apartment? Big. Issue.
And, as the angry people in the many aforementioned online posts pointed out, it's impossible to get anyone at NatureMill on the phone. We ran out of the sawdust pellets you're supposed to use in the machine. They're not easy to replace; the local store we got the thing from doesn't seem to sell the pellets. Can we use organic wheatgrass cat litter? Who knows. I can't get anyone on the phone to tell me. I started rereading the posts more carefully — people who love NatureMills and have managed to fix what's wrong tend to keep them on their urban terraces, or garages, or basements. I don't have anywhere else to keep it but indoors.
The worst thing? The kid is starting to get turned off. "Ew," she says. "Smelly, Mommy. That stinks." She doesn't want to help me put the scraps in the fridge to save for when we balance out what's wrong. This Organic Mom is done throwing anything in the trash that can be composted, isn't interested in moving out of the city, and thinks compost duty is the most important and fun chore that she can give her daughter. But do we have to live in stench to make it happen? Ack.
This post is part plea: do you have a NatureMill and want to share tricks, joys, frustrations and more? Please do in comments, especially if you know what else can be used besides the special order pellets, and if you've managed to overcome the smell in a small outdoor spaceless apartment. Cities have a lot going for them, environmentally speaking. This compost situation must be tackled. And on a much larger scale than my NatureMill.
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