Published on June 25, 2020

Anyone can compost—and everyone should. Separating your food scraps and organic materials (like egg cartons and paper towels) from your regular garbage isn’t just a way of reducing the number of times you have to take out the trash every week—it’s also a pretty important practice for the health of the environment. If you have a yard, you can start your own compost pile or buy a large bin to help break down the matter into nutrient-rich plant food, and if you’re in an apartment, a countertop container makes the perfect catchall for the waste you can bring to a farmers’ market or a curbside receptacle. But now a new kind of compost is catching on: the odor-free cardboard box.

The trend has arisen out of necessity. Recent budget cuts in New York City have put its curbside organic pickup (the largest program of any U.S. city) on hold and suspended the use of Grow NYC drop-offs (typically, compost collection that happens at farmers’ markets around the city). So yard-less city dwellers found themselves virtually without any options to keep up their compost habit—until New York Times climate reporter Hiroko Tabuchi shared how she has been maintaining a compost pile in her apartment for the past seven years. The process requires a cardboard box, coco peat, and biochar (the latter two can be ordered online from a gardening supply store, or this kit has everything you need, save for the box). Mixed together, these materials create the perfect environment for food scraps to break down, all without giving off any odor at all.

Jess Tran, a brand marketing and sustainability consultant and owner of Ghost Vintage, assembled a compost in her Brooklyn loft this May, following Tabuchi’s instructions, and has found the process fairly seamless. “I was honestly skeptical because I didn’t want a pile of old vegetables just sitting in my apartment,” she says. “But it’s genuinely been completely fine—it breaks down and I never smell it.” She keeps it tucked near her oven and finds it has the capacity for all of her food scraps (Tabuchi notes that hers can handle about 1.5 pounds of waste a day), though citrus peels and eggshells take a bit too long to break down. 

Erin Boyle, author and founder of Reading My Tea Leaves, also followed Tabuchi’s method to create her box and constructed a minimalist wood frame for it to sit on (which ensures that air around it continues to circulate—a necessary factor for its maintenance). 

A box full of decomposing food scraps might not sound appealing, but when it can easily be tucked away and gives off no perceptible scent (save for the earthy, not-unpleasant aroma when you stir it), it’s a great solution to a serious problem. After all, food waste emits a significant amount of greenhouse gases when it’s carted off to landfills, so composting is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint: Think inside the box.

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