How It Works
I'm not easily swept away by consumer products, but here's one that earns almost every ounce of praise I can muster. That the NatureMill PRO XE Indoor Composter does exactly what it promises—providing easy, odorless indoor composting—shouldn't be a surprise. What surprised me was how quickly it changed the way our whole house works.
The composter is a stand-alone hot-composting unit that heats waste to 140ºF in a special composting chamber. Because it heats food waste, it's safe to compost meat, organic kitty litter, egg shells, and even fish and small bones. It also works for the usual suspects like banana peels and old lettuce. Total set-up time is negligible, and operation is easy. You simply drop food waste into the top of the unit, along with sawdust pellets (sold by the company) and a sprinkling of baking soda to counteract the acidity of the decomposing food. The sawdust pellets provide the "brown" component of the compost. (Healthy compost requires a brown component in addition to the "green" components such as leafy greens and most vegetable and fruits.)
Once the food is deposited, you basically forget about the unit. Every four hours, it will automatically stir the compost to accelerate the decomposition process. When the top bin is full and the organic matter is broken down, it drops into a collection bin below, where it cures for another few days. Finished compost can be used as organic fertilizer. The composter can handle about 4 lbs. of food waste per day, which is actually far more than my family of four generates.
The Good Stuff
The first thing most people ask is, "Doesn't it smell?" After all, there is food rotting in the unit.
Fortunately, there is no odor. The only time you can smell anything is when you open it to deposit new waste items. The odor it releases depends on what you're composting. Garlic and onions are more pungent, while mild greens are more earthy, smelling like coffee or warm dirt. But it's really not much different than opening a garbage can to throw food away. So when I say it's odorless, what I really mean is that it has no more or less odor than any other trash disposal system. Even after I got up the nerve to start adding meat, I never detected any sour odors or the smell of rotting food.
It should go without saying that the indoor composter is good for the environment. According to the manufacturer, about 40% of the waste stream going into landfills is food. Since our family started using the indoor composter, we have contributed almost nothing to that figure. Now we compost almost everything—even after-dinner food waste ends up in the composter.
The end result is a flow of rich, organic fertilizer that I've been using throughout my garden, and my plants love it. Every ten days or two weeks, another batch is ready and you'll find me outside spreading rich, fragrant and nutrient-dense compost over one flower bed or another. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but my garden has never looked better.
With 4.5 stars, there aren't too many drawbacks, and what downside there is has nothing to do with the unit's operation. As I mentioned earlier, it requires sawdust pellets to balance the compost. These can be purchased directly from the manufacturer in large boxes, or you can strike a deal with a local lumber company for free sawdust. Sawdust pellets aren't exactly expensive (about $16 for a year's supply, not including shipping), but it is an added cost.
When I first started testing the unit, I also considered the unit cost (around $400) a drawback. It struck me that many families might be uncomfortable paying a few hundred bucks for something that was basically free before. But as more people have seen the unit, I've been surprised by how many say, "That's it?! Only $400? I thought you were going to say twice that!" So perhaps the cost isn't as much of a drawback as I once thought—especially when the perceived value seems to be much higher. But the fact remains: a few hundred dollars is a few hundred dollars.