How to Compost Food Waste in a Storage Tote | Food waste is the 3rd largest waste stream that we produce. In fact, we toss nearly 40 million tons of food waste each and every year. I think many of us are aware but composting can seem intimidating.
Trust me, it’s really not. We are already throwing food away so what are we going to lose by trying to compost? Nothing!
I started my first compost 15 years ago which was NOT very successful. I drove 4 metal stakes into the ground to form a squared perimeter and stretched some chicken wire around it.
My first mistake, was not considering its location. Silly me set that puppy up right next to the house. Yea, I know. That could’ve been a disaster.
I piled heaps of grass clippings and yard waste into this thing where it reached crazy temperatures because that’s what compost does. It heats up while it breaks down. You can imagine why you shouldn’t have a large pile of grass clippings smoking right up against your foundation.
I immediately moved it to the middle of the yard with no shade – sun a blazing.
I threw whatever I wanted into it with little regard to its moisture level which resulted in a pile that was too dry, too hot, and just not a very habitable place for microbes to do their thing. I’m sure all of the good microbes died out long before any of them could really do much.
Of course I’m not trying to make this all out to be way complicated, because my “unsuccessful” compost pile still did it’s job – just v e r y s l o w l y.
As time went on, I got pretty good at it. I did more research, understood what made a good compost flourish, and started treating it like a pet.
That compost pile was instrumental in my fight against waste as it eliminated nearly 2/3 of my household trash. Composting will always be one of my favorite ways to reduce waste.
Fast forward to now living in a townhome with only a small cement patio. For a long time, I was pretty well devastated that I couldn’t have my own compost pile like I had for so many years. I felt like I just ended another long term relationship.
Finally I realized that I was going to have to find a way because driving my frozen freezer scraps to a volunteer compost 5 miles away once a week was just too damn difficult. Ugh.
That’s when I read about composting in storage totes. “Ok,” I thought, “I can do this.” ….”Probably?”
How to Compost Food Waste in a Storage Tote
It’s been about 2 months since I’ve started it and it’s been a total success! Here’s how it’s done:
What you need to start
- A storage tote
- Something to make holes in the tote
- A scoop of some kind to turn it often
- A bag of compost from a garden supply store – I’ll explain later
How to transform a tote into a compost machine
Take your tote and add holes to the bottom and to the lid. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Ideally, we just need enough so that air can get into the compost and liquid can run out the bottom.
Now, I have mine tilted towards the edge of the patio so that it drains but, you can keep that liquid or “compost tea” and use it in your plants or on your garden.
I used a drill with a 3/8″ bit to put holes into my tote, but I don’t recommend buying anything additional for this step. Just use what you have. An ice pick, a screw driver and a hammer, or a box cutter will also do the job.
Once you get your holes in place, layer the bottom with shredded paper or newspapers.
Next, add some bagged compost that you can get at a garden supply store. I know this sounds strange but think of compost like sourdough or kombucha. You need starter to really get it going.
That store bought compost is full of good microbes that will jump start your storage tote composting system in rapid speed!
Finally, add your food waste! Remember though, keep your scraps as small as possible. The larger they are, the longer it will take to decompose.
What can be added to a storage tote compost:
All organic matter will compost, however with this composting system being compact and best for patios or balconies, there’s a few items I wouldn’t recommend.
Try to avoid these items for a storage tote composting system:
- Animal products
- corn cobs
- citrus rinds
For more guidance on what to add and what to avoid check out this post:
Related: Can I Compost That?
How to properly maintain the compost:
The compost will need to have a good moisture balance. It can’t be too wet or it will sour and it can’t be too dry or it will not break down properly. Both extremes inhibit the microbes to properly do their jobs.
The consistency should be like that of a wrung out sponge.
If the compost gets too dry, add water. If the compost gets too wet, open the lid, make sure it has proper aeration, or add more browns. Browns are things that come from trees – dried leaves, cardboard, paper. Even straw will work.
Does it smell?
The storage tote compost will only smell if it’s too wet and not properly aerated. If this happens, make sure it has enough holes or simply take the lid off for a bit. Also make sure to turn it every so often. I turn mine about every week.
Adding more shredded paper and cardboard will also help in soaking up that excess moisture.
How do you keep unwanted pests out of your compost?
Some insects are excepted and even good for proper breakdown however, it can attract unwanted pests if the wrong items are added to the compost.
This is why I don’t recommend adding animal products – other than egg shells – because it might attract flies, cockroaches, and potentially rodents.
Does the compost bin need sunlight?
Not necessarily – it just needs proper aeration. It can be in the sun but you may need to add water periodically to keep it moist. I recommend keeping it in the shade if you can or covered.
Do you need a warm climate to compost?
Nope. We get pretty harsh winters here in Missouri. During that time, compost will stop moving as quickly but that doesn’t stop me from adding my produce scraps. Once spring rolls around again, it will start to breakdown as normal
How do you know if your compost is “working”?
If you see that your food is decomposing, – it’s working.
What do you do with your compost once the bin is full?
Use it! Add it to your garden, your potted plants, or spread it around your yard. Compost is super nutrient dense and will feed all of your plants wonderfully.
You can also offer it to friends and neighbors, to local community gardens, offer some to anyone who wants to start composting, or honestly, sprinkle it around community parks.
For more tips on composing and fighting food waste check out: