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Compost Tumbler: a solution to the potting soil problem?

Posted By Beth Terry On August 6, 2007 @ 11:16 pm In composting,gardening supplies | 16 Comments

Good lord, what is that Death Star looking thing on your roof, Beth?

No Worries. It’s my new Urban compost tumbler and tea catcher [1], ready to devour food, garden, and some paper waste and deliver rich, fragrant compost… in 2-6 months, depending on how diligent I am in feeding it.

But it’s made of (gasp) plastic!

That’s right. 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. The only part that is not recycled is the tea catcher, and I’m having a few regrets about ordering that part. Seems like I maybe could have figured out another way to catch the compost leachate without buying a brand new piece of plastic. Well, live and learn.

So, how does it work?

Glad you asked! Simply add your “green” (fresh leaves, grass, food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, anything wet and pungent) and “brown” (dry leaves, grass, shredded paper & cardboard) waste, close the lid, spin the compost tumbler a few times to mix it all up, and leave it alone until you have more to add. That’s it. Over time, the materials will decompose into fresh dirt that no longer resembles (or smells) like the original ingredients. I know this because we had a different composter a few years ago, and after neglecting it all winter, we opened it up in the spring to find gorgeous, sweet-smelling soil.

So why aren’t you using that one?

Well, the thing is, we don’t actually have a yard, only a roof deck. The composter we had was meant to sit on the ground. Instead, I had it on a wooden palette on top of a black plastic sheet. Still, the deck underneath got pretty gross. I didn’t think it was the best idea, especially since as renters, we didn’t actually own the deck we were grossifying. So I traded the composter for a worm bin, but I never found time to purchase the worms to go in it and worried that if I did purchase the worms, they’d die from neglect. Composters, on the other hand, love neglect. Hence, my decision to re-Freecycle the worm bin and spring for the compost tumbler [1], which will never touch the deck.

Why did you buy that one?

Boy, I stayed up several nights in a row researching which compost tumbler to buy. I’ll list for you the ones I considered, the pros and cons, and the reason I chose the Urban Compost Tumbler [1].

1) Back Porch ComposTumbler [2]:

  • Materials: Drum made from new polyethylene; frame made of polyester powder coated steel tubing.
  • Tumbling method: Drum spins on metal frame, turned by a metal crank.
  • Mobility: wheels attached to frame so tumbler can easily be moved.
  • Tea catcher: No.
  • Appearance: attractive green drum with black frame. Blends in with garden or deck.
  • Reported Problems: Several reviewers reported that the door doesn’t stay closed properly when the unit is fairly full, and therefore turning the tumbler becomes a problem. I also read one report of the metal crank breaking off, and a few reports of rusting of the metal frame.
  • Bottom Line: I didn’t want new plastic, especially with a door that might not shut, a crank that might break, and a frame that could rust. Also, I wanted a way to catch the leachate, which is good fertilizer for plants.

2) Other larger ComposTumblers [3]:

  • Materials: Galvanized metal drum and tubular steel frame.
  • Tumbling method: Drum spins on metal frame, turned by a metal crank.
  • Mobility: None.
  • Tea catcher: No.
  • Appearance: attractive green drum with black frame. Blends in with garden or deck.
  • Reported Problems: Rust seemed to be the biggest problem with these all-metal units. Many people reported rust.
  • Bottom Line: Didn’t want to deal with possible rust problems. Preferred not to purchase all new materials. Also, I wanted a way to catch the leachate.

3) Envirocycle Composter/ Composteamaker [4]:

  • Materials: This is interesting. The company’s web site does not specify what materials it is made of. Online merchants vary in their descriptions. OutdoorDecor.com [5] says it is 50% recycled plastic. PlanetNatural.com says it is made from recycled plastic, but doesn’t say what percentage.
  • Tumbling method: Push the drum itself over the wheels in the base to roll it.
  • Mobility: Drum rolls off the base and onto the ground, where it can be rolled anywhere you want.
  • Tea catcher: Included in the base. Leachate drains through holes in the drum into the base where it is collected.
  • Appearance: Green plastic drum and base. Could blend in with garden or deck.
  • Reported Problems: I’ve read reports that if the compost gets too wet, it leaks through the vents in the drum so that rolling it becomes a messy, stinky process. Also, when the drum gets too heavy, it becomes difficult to roll.
  • Bottom Line: Afraid of stinky, messy drum that I wouldn’t want to touch. Also, this unit is only partially recycled, if that.

4) Tumbling Compost Mixer with steel frame [6] or Compost Mixer with plastic base [7]:

  • Materials: 100% recycled plastic with optional steel frame.
  • Tumbling method: Either turn it end over end on its steel frame or roll it on its plastic base with your feet.
  • Mobility: With the steel frame, it is stationary. With the plastic base, it can be rolled off the base onto the ground and rolled around the yard.
  • Tea catcher: No.
  • Appearance: Black Death Star look, one that only its mother could love.
  • Reported Problems: Haven’t read of any problems.
  • Bottom Line: A good one except that I really wanted a way to catch the leachate to feed my plants.

So how does my Urban Compost Tumbler [1]compare to the four mentioned above?

  • Materials: 100% post-consumer recycled plastic drum and frame. Optional tea catcher [8], as far as I know, is not made from recycled plastic. It could be, but the company’s web site does not state that it is.
  • Tumbling method: Turn it end over end on its frame.
  • Mobility: Stationary.
  • Tea catcher: Optional.
  • Appearance: Black Death Star look. Not beautiful, but functional.
  • Reported Problems: Some reviews have said that getting the compost out is not as easy as shown in the photos. We’ll see if that’s true. Also, one review said that when the composter gets full, it can be mishapen and harder to get the lid on. However, the unit came with instructions for how to get the lid on in that case.
  • Bottom Line: I bought it because it’s 100% recycled, there’s a way to catch the leachate, and there are no metal parts that can rust. Since it will be on my deck, I don’t need it to be mobile. And I would rather have a narrow frame than a flat base sitting on the deck. It seems like the right choice for us, given the options available. (Note: there are a few others, but the features are pretty similar to the ones I listed above.)

Finally, let’s talk packaging. The Urban Compost Tumbler was delivered in 3 boxes: 2 great big ones containing the drum and base and a smaller one containing the tea catcher. Except for a cardboard ring to hold the drum in place, the big boxes had no additional packaging and were sealed up with paper tape! The smaller box was stuffed with newspaper, as opposed to styrofoam or plastic. There was some plastic inside besides the tea catcher itself: a plastic bag containing the smaller hardware parts and a small plastic clamshell containing one of the parts. Oddly, this box was sealed with plastic tape.

Bottom Line: Investing in this composter will allow us to recycle our organic waste in a way that is responsible and will provide nutrients for the plants in my garden. Mixing the compost with dirt from the side of the house, I’m hoping to provide potting soil for the garden that doesn’t come in a plastic bag. And catching the leachate, I’m hoping to provide my own fertilizer that I don’t have to buy from the store.

And finally, for those who don’t want to compost, Terracycle [9]┬ámakes organic fertilizers and even potting soil that is packaged in recycled soda bottles and milk jugs.


Article printed from My Plastic-free Life: http://myplasticfreelife.com

URL to article: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2007/08/compost-tumbler-solution-to-potting/

URLs in this post:

[1] Urban compost tumbler and tea catcher: http://www.urbangardencenter.com/products/composter/uct9/index.html

[2] Back Porch ComposTumbler: http://mantiscompostumbler.com/back-porch-compostumbler.asp

[3] Other larger ComposTumblers: http://mantiscompostumbler.com/

[4] Envirocycle Composter/ Composteamaker: http://www.envirocyclesystems.com

[5] OutdoorDecor.com: http://www.outdoordecor.com/product_detail.asp?item=VCM10003

[6] Tumbling Compost Mixer with steel frame: http://www.gardeners.com/Tumbling-Compost-Mixer/default/StandardCatalog.20706.35-727.cpd

[7] Compost Mixer with plastic base: http://www.gardeners.com/Compost-Mixer-with-Base/default/StandardCatalog.20706.34-354.cpd

[8] Optional tea catcher: http://www.urbangardencenter.com/products/composter/accessory/index.html

[9] Terracycle: http://www.terracycle.net

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