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This countertop gadget lets apartment dwellers do their own composting

It can even handle compostable tableware.

This countertop gadget lets apartment dwellers do their own composting
[Photo: Pela]
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A typical fork labeled “biodegradable ” won’t break down quickly in a backyard composter. At an industrial composting facility, it might still take weeks. But a new countertop composting machine can break down the fork in hours, along with food waste that might have otherwise gone in the trash.

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“We started to just wonder, could you actually take what nature is going to do in five or six months, and can you apply some technology to that and speed it up dramatically?” says Matt Bertulli, CEO of Pela, the company that designed the new composter, called Lomi.

[Photo: Pela]
Pela makes bioplastic smartphone cases and other products with compostable plastic, and it realized that many materials that claim to be biodegradable were a challenge to actually compost. Many cities still don’t have curbside compost pickup. Some industrial composting facilities don’t want to deal with bioplastic, since some materials don’t break down easily, and it’s difficult to identify which ones can. And many apartment-dwellers don’t have backyards for composting (and may not want to bring a traditional compost bin, with worms, inside).

The new gadget is designed to handle daily food scraps, sealing them in an odorless bin. Every few days, when it fills up, you can push a button and the device will heat up the scraps while a blade slowly turns, breaking the food down until it turns into soil. “It’s similar to how earthworms work,” says Bertulli. The soil can be taken outside, dropped off at a nearby community garden, or, if a city has curbside composting, it can be put in the bin.

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[Photo: Pela]
“It reduces the volume and weight of what you’re putting in your curbside by 80%,” he says. “That’s awesome for municipalities because municipalities are largely paying for the stuff by weight. The less every household is sending out, the less cost burden there is on taxpayers funding waste disposal.” If necessary, the soil could also go in the trash; it’s better than sending food waste to a landfill, because food waste releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it breaks down.

[Photo: Pela]
And if someone needs to compost the occasional piece of bioplastic, they can push another button on the device, and it will generate the optimal heat and humidity to break it down. While the plastic won’t completely disappear through the process, it will break down into tiny pieces that can then finish decomposing in a backyard or through curbside pickup. The company will supply a list of the products that it has tested that can successfully be composted in the device.

Lomi is available for preorder now and will come out in the fall. Like other countertop composters, it’s fairly expensive, at $499, or $299 for those who preorder. But the company plans to bring the cost down as it scales up. “We want to create a waste-free future,” Bertulli says. “And we can’t do that if we create a product that is not accessible to most people.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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