Re-Think: Food Scraps

An Information Source for Reducing/Reusing/
Recycling and Beyond
November 2011

In the developed Western world 30% of all trash collected from households is food waste. When this biodegradable waste is placed in landfills it can not decompose, due to the lack of oxygen. So this food waste turns into methane gas, which in turn releases into our atmosphere and contributes to global warming. We can help reduce this problem by composting our food scraps.

Composting food in a “regular” yard waste compost bin can be tricky. If done incorrectly pest like rats, mice, raccoons, opossums and other critters will be attracted to your compost. But, if you use a food digester to compost food scraps, vermin will not be attracted to your yard while worms are diligently turning your scraps into an nutrient- rich fertilizer.

Food-waste Digester
You can buy a pre-made digester, like the Green-cone by Solarcone, or you can make an easy do-it-yourself food digester following the steps below.

How to build a homemade digester:

  • Purchase a 20-gal or 30-gal galvanized metal garage can with a tight fitting lid. Note: If the lid is not tight, use a bungee cord (or two) to secure the lid to the base, this helps keep raccoons and dogs out of your newly added food scraps. (Do Not Use a plastic can!)
  • In the bottom of the can drill 20-30 drain holes ¼ -inch diameter.
  • In the lower third of the can drill 20 more holes around the outside of the can. This “lower-third” will be covered by soil.
  • Dig a hole about 15 inches deep in a well-drained hole, about half the depth of the container. Drainage is important to assure your digester works properly. Gravel can be added to the bottom of the hole if you need better drainage.
  • Place the can in the hole and push the soil back in around the sides. Tamp it down with your foot, or a shovel.

Now your new digester is ready to use!

Using Your Digester

  • Collect food scraps and store them in a container in your kitchen, then once or twice a week, throw your food scraps into the food scrap digester.
  • Add a little soil after the scraps, this adds more microbes and helps composting. You can also cover scraps with leaves, course sawdust, straw or shredded newspaper, all these help eliminate smells and fruit flies. Grass clipping can be used too but they need to dry out first (brown) before adding to the digester.
  • A digester will fill in 6-12 months, depending on your food habits. It’s helpful to install two digesters, this way when the first one is full it can be composting while you’re using the second one. The first one will be ready to harvest by the time the second one is full.
  • A tip: Place masking tape on the outside of the can at the level of the compost mixture, using a permanent marker, write the date digester was full on the masking tape. Check inside the can occasionally to see how much the level has dropped, and how well the worms are doing their job.

Compost Uses
The compost can be used as mulch on established plants, as a soil amendment at planting time, and in potting mixes. Food scrap compost contains more nutrients than yard waste compost, so it should be used sparingly. Applied one-inch of compost as a mulch around plants. Two inches can be dug into garden soil and for a potting mix, add up to 20% food scrap compost to potting soil.

Composting food scraps is a great way to reduce and recycle. By keeping food scraps out of the landfills we not only reduce the production of methane gas, we also reduce the amount of plastic bags going into landfills. Composting food scraps also provide an insight into how much food we waste.

Do Compost

Don’t Compost!!

Vegetable scraps


Grains and pasta

Fish and poultry

Fruit rinds and peels



Oily foods

Coffee grounds, filters


Tea bags

Dairy products

Paper napkins & towels

Other animal products


Pet waste

Carlotta Lucas
AGC Blog Editor