Bing! Urban Composter

One morning last week I was awaken by a noise that sounded like the garbage truck but it wasn’t garbage day. When I looked out front, “bing!” in my driveway sat a new blue garbage can. My first thought was wow, why did they change the color and give me a new one? I already had two green cans in the garage. Upon closer inspection, I realized this blue can was for recycling. That was nice but where am I going to put “Big Blue”? There is barely enough room for the two green cans in my garage. And so my brain went into problem solving mode.

I live in south Florida and the insects are especially aggressive about finding even the smallest particles of food left on the counter; so I sort food waste (garbage) from the trash so I can double wrap it to keep the bugs away. I keep a small plastic grocery bag on the kitchen counter and fanatically put all food waste in the bag then twist it closed and carry it out to the garbage can after each meal. So sorting my trash into two cans wasn’t much more of a chore. It just required a little thinking about what actually went into the recycle bin. Then I saw this little plastic one gallon composting bucket with a lid that my daughter brought home from her summer YELS program at The University of Florida. We joked about composting when she came home with this bucket as we wondered what we might use it for — probably gardening. Then bing! Why not put the food scraps in the compost bucket? It had a nice tight lid, it was small and would fit on the counter, it was perfect for the job. But now what, dump it in the garbage can or in the yard? That’s where the second green garbage can comes in.

Of the two green garbage cans one, I’ll call “Greenie”, had been busted up and wasn’t the best for holding garbage but it was still functional. We weren’t usint it, it was just taking up room in the garage. I wanted to make room for Big Blue so I dragged Greenie out in the side yard and kept asking myself “why are you keeping this busted up garbage can?” Then “bing!” it happened again, I thought what if I turn Greenie into a composter? That would be a cool way to reduce my carbon footprint while creating some great soil for gardening. And so the project began.

First stage was to modify Greenie to allow for good air flow and water drainage. I drilled numerous holes in the bottom and sides of Greenie with a half inch drill bit. Since I planned to build a composting compartment at the top I did not want the unit to turn over from being top heavy so I put a concrete block in the bottom of the can. Next I cut out the side for access to the compost material that would fall to the bottom. In my situation, I was squaring up out the hole that had already been punched in from abuse. Finally, I cut a piece of plexiglass to fit in the bottom chamber of the can on top of the block in the base. The plexiglass would serve as a floor to scoop out the compost that would sift down from the upper chamber.

Next I constructed a strong chamber floor with Schedule 40 PVC pipe and wire lathe. Assembling the PVC pipe frame is a bit tricky due to the number of joints that must be glued at the same time. The general approach is to assemble all “T” units first then insert them into the “L” pieces. Once the PVC frame is assembled the wire lath is cut to fold and wrap around the frame. Then the wire lath is attached to the frame with heavy duty cable ties.

Wire lathe is strong and very sharp. The sharp edges act as blades in a passive garbage disposal. Since wire lathe comes in eight foot sheets, it makes sense to cut the rest of the sheet into smaller pieces that can be placed on the top of the compost chamber floor. This creates layers of sharp “blades” to help cut up the compost as it sifts through the floor of the compost chamber.

Finally, Our urban composter is ready for use. We feed it non-animal food waste and some brown paper waste which helps to keep the compost aerated.

One thing I noticed after sorting my household waste was that most of what I was throwing away was recyclable, cardboard, plastic jugs, metal cans, and lots of junk mail! As I began to sort my trash Big Blue filled up much faster than my green garbage can and Greenie has taken a huge load off of the garbage that is actually picked up by the municipal service.

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