Greener Shopping: The Lomi Home Composter Is a Difference Maker
The Lomi home composter from Pela has caught a lot of attention with extensive marketing on social networks. More than 100,000 have sold to date, according to Pela. We spent two months working with this attractive countertop unit. While it is expensive, our testing found that it consistently delivered a significant environmental benefit compared to sending food and other compostable waste to a landfill by more than 50% — Lomi earned our Greener Shopping Difference Maker designation.
Let’s start with the price. At $499 (a current discount code, LOMI$100, reduces the cost to $399), Lomi is not for everyone. If you have access to a municipal composting program or already compost at home, Lomi is a more expensive alternative and certainly not necessary for reducing your carbon footprint. For homeowners and apartment dwellers without access to composting, Lomi is a convenient and enjoyable option for turning food waste into usable soil for a garden or planter or to share with neighbors.
The challenge, however, if you have already reduced food waste as we have, is generating enough material to consistently use Lomi’s Grow mode, which produces the best soil for a garden. For an already sustainable household that does not generate a lot of food waste, the main benefit of Lomi will be its ability to process bioplastics and other materials that typically require industrial composting.
Lomi offers three composting modes:
- Grow Mode: a long composting cycle (16 to 20 hours) that runs at a low heat to break down food waste into a soil augmentation that you can add to your garden using a ratio of 1-to-10 parts regular soil.
- Eco-Express Mode: a fast cycle (3 to 5 hours) that composts food waste into an interim state that we added to our vermiculture compost to complete the biodegrading process. This option primarily dries the material, reducing the volume by up to 80%.
- Lomi Approved Mode: a 5- to 8-hour cycle that can break down bioplastics, commercial packaging, and paper. Lomi guarantees items on its Lomi Approved list will compost successfully. More on this below.
Home composting devices are an emerging category of appliance that will become part of the daily experience of living in a circular economy. Several competitors, which we have not tested, are also available, including the $399.95 Vitamix FoodCycler and $459 Reencle Prime for indoor use, along with non-mechanical options. There will be immense innovation over the next several decades, and each of the mechanical options will be enjoyable for early adopters who will probably want to upgrade in a few years.
Pela’s Lomi is a reliable and innovative choice that we’re using regularly to avoid sending food waste and commercial waste to the landfill. The Lomi is a work in progress but an excellent start.
Carbon Footprint Results
Using Lomi dramatically reduces the CO2 emissions that would be created by sending the same volume of food waste to a landfill, where the anaerobic conditions generate methane. A pound of food waste sent to a landfill will produce about 1.896 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas, primarily methane. By drying and composting materials at home, you avoid those emissions, as well as those generated by the waste hauling and landfill management processes.
We compared the emissions generated by Lomi’s use of electricity with the amount of CO2 with the emissions that would be created in a landfill, assuming that each Lomi cycle processes 1.5 pounds of compostables, which is based on filling. And the results are impressive, ranging from avoiding more than 99% of emissions using renewable energy to only 25.11% when using a Lomi powered by electricity generated using petroleum. If you happen to use renewable energy, which does have a small carbon footprint, you can eliminate 99.87% of your food waste emissions using Lomi.
Emissions Reductions Vary By Energy Source
Your precise CO2 reduction results will depend on the source of energy that generates the electricity that runs Lomi. Fossil fuels account for 61% of U.S. electricity generating capacity. Because most homes are served by a mix of generation sources, we calculated the emissions reductions for five different electric generation source: renewables, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and petroleum. Within each of these categories, regional differences create variations — for example, emissions vary by the type of coal and where it is mined, so we provided the mid-range average amount of CO2 for some of these energy sources.
The figures above will help you understand the relative impact of Lomi on your carbon footprint, but to simplify the picture we used the average carbon emissions per cycle to summarize an overall savings. Lomi consistently reduces the carbon footprint of 1.5 pounds of compost by significantly more than 50%, which qualifies it for our Difference Maker designation.
The other factor that will impact your emissions results is the amount of material you compost. Smaller loads result in smaller carbon emissions savings because you use the same amount of energy to process a half pound or two pounds of compost.
Embodied Carbon Breakeven
In addition to the emissions generated by using Lomi, the device comes with an embodied carbon footprint of 150 pounds (approximately 68 kg, according to Pela) that must be accounted for when estimating carbon impact. Assuming your electricity is petroleum generated, the worst source available, and based on using the most energy-intensive Lomi mode, your Lomi will reach carbon neutrality after 210 composting cycles. Using the most efficient cycle, Eco-Express, Lomi can achieve carbon neutrality after 46 petroleum-fueled uses. However, a renewable energy user will reach carbon break-even after only 53 cycles.
Let’s say that you use Lomi daily to compost 1.5 pounds of food waste and other materials using the Grow setting, which consumes 1 kilowatt-hour of energy. After one year of using petroleum-fueled energy, you will have an appliance that has avoided 260 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and about 109 pounds of composted soil to add to a garden.
Pela provides extensive environmental impact reporting, though they base their calculations on only one pound of material per cycle.
Assembling Lomi is easy, involving filling two odor filters with activated carbon pellets that come with the order. The filters slip and out easily, one in the back that is held in place by wingnuts and the other that simply snaps into place inside the main compartments.
Lomi is a true set-and-forget appliance. Once we established a regular habit, using mostly the Lomi Approved mode with occasional Grow mode cycles, we just collected materials, put them in the bucket, and pressed the Start button on most days.
Food waste and other compostables go in a sturdy 3-liter aluminum bucket with an integrated mixer. It turns the material during the process, blending the microorganisms that Pela provides to break down the material. After filling the bucket to the 3/4 level (about 2.25 pounds of material), you add a Lomi Pod tablet that contains bacteria and other microorganisms, along with a quarter cup of water to activate the biological activity. Then, close and select a mode by pressing and holding the single button on the front of the device.
Nuts and Bolts Findings
Unlike a traditional compost pile, into which you can throw a lot of liquids, Lomi does not work with large amounts of water. We tested a variety of vegetables, meat, dairy, corn cobs, nuts, and starches that contained some liquids without any leaking. The wetter the load, the longer Lomi took to dry the material.
The 16″ by 12″ by 13″ Lomi is touted as a countertop appliance, and it is attractive enough to fit in many kitchens, but we found it noisier than our family preferred and moved it to the garage. We also discovered that some odor escaped with wetter loads, which reinforced the decision to place Lomi in the garage.
When using Lomi, you should keep in mind the standard guidance for compost: Always mix brown, or carbon, materials with green food waste to get healthy soil at the end of the process. In our testing, we added paper, cardboard toilet paper rolls, and paper TP wrappers, which we kept next to Lomi, as our brown components. When we did not have enough green food waste, lawn clippings did the trick. These cycles produced material that we then added to a vermiculture compost pile to finish before mixing it into the garden.
As noted, we do not generate a lot of food waste so often supplemented our compost cycles with coffee grounds picked up from a local Starbucks. It produced a rich, earthy compost that seemed to stimulate growth when added to tomato plant containers. We also tried composting pistachio shells, visible in the image second image below, along with the fibrous remnants of corn starch tea bags that resisted decomposition for months in our vermiculture compost system. The shells decomposed far more in one Grow cycle than over three months in our compost pile.
Composting Bioplastics and Commercial Packaging
While there are few municipal composting programs in the U.S., even fewer encourage sending bioplastics. The ability to compost non-food compostables is the most intriguing feature of Lomi. It produces temperatures that are comparable to an industrial compost pile and, by mixing the material constantly, rapidly breaks down materials that cannot typically be composted at home. As more genuinely compostable materials are invented, Lomi will reduce the non-food waste stream from households.
During our testing, we used the Lomi Approved Mode most often because our household does not produce much food waste and we opted to compost food packaging frequently. Many materials that have resisted composting in our compost pile and vermiculture composter did break down using the Lomi Approved Mode. For example, corn starch-based tea bags, bioplastic straws and utensils, and silk teabags that showed no decomposition over months using traditional home composting methods, did start to decompose on the Lomi Approved setting.
Pela offers a growing list of bioplastic and other materials that are approved for composting in Lomi. We tried these biodegradable items and found they broke down only partially after one cycle. Bioplastics degraded by about 50%, losing coherence but remaining visibly separate from the rest of the compost. We developed a habit of running these items through a second cycle, with the next day’s material, to complete the biodegradation process. It’s not difficult to sift out the stuff that needs a second cycle; the material is dry and usually smells like, well, soil.
Be careful when choosing non-organic materials. Many items that claim to be biodegradable should not be placed in Lomi, including many paper towel brands that contain plastics fiber reinforcements, “biodegradable #6 plastic,” and all sorts of plastics that — despite being described as biodegradable — may include petrochemicals that you do not want in your soil.
We encourage Pela to accelerate the effort to test items for addition to the Lomi Approved list. Perhaps a community effort that allowed Lomi owners to participate would be productive.
Packaging, Recycling, and Sustainability
Pela is doing many of the right things as a company. The company publishes regular environmental impact reports. It makes consistent progress with regard to reducing composting cycle energy consumption, use of plastic in products, and manufacturing waste. Pela is a B Corporation that gives 1% for the Planet and purchases carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality. It also supports a variety of charitable and environmental organizations, including MedShare COVID-19 relief, Support + Feed plant-based meal donations, the Save the Waves Coalition, and the Surfrider Foundation.
The company does not recycle the Lomi, which can be recycled as a small appliance (add your ZIP Code here to search for local options). However, Pela does offer recycling of its Pela phone case, a recycled product offered by its sunglasses and accessories business. We urge Pela to make the same commitment for Lomi as it does its other products: “We take responsibility for our Pela products throughout their entire life cycle.”
Lomi arrives in compostable packaging, including a compostable plastic bag that protects the device from moisture during transit. The one shortcoming in the packaging was the use of plastic shipping tape that should be replaced with compostable paper tape.
Product Details and Buying Recommendation
Lomi is expensive, like many early-stage technology products. The cost cannot be easily justified for homes that run the device once a week. Using Lomi also involves ongoing expenses, up to approximately $350 a year if you purchase Lomi Pod and filter carbon refills from Pela.
Each Lomi cycle uses a Lomi Pod tablet to start the biodegrading process, and you get 45 with your first order. Additional Lomi Pods are available in 45-packs ($19.95), 90-packs ($39.90), 180-packs ($79.80), and 360-packs ($159.60). There are a variety of similar composting bacteria products available but using the Pela formulation is likely the most reliable way to start.
You’ll also need to refresh the activated carbon in the odor filters periodically. You can use any “high-quality” activated charcoal, according to Pela, which offers refills in 45-cycle ($29.95), 90-cycle ($$59.90), 180-cycle ($119.80), and 360-cycle ($239.60) packages. We suggest buying activated charcoal in bulk to save money. Expired carbon can be added to your garden.
Your first-year Lomi expenses, after currently available discounts and including the device and supplies, will be approximately $750. Thereafter, annual expenses should be limited to around $200 for Lomi Pods and activated charcoal, if you buy the charcoal in bulk.
You can purchase Lomi at Pela.com. Use the discount code LOMI$100 to save $100.
Who Will Love Lomi?
Active composters who want to process each day’s food waste, especially those looking for bioplastic and packaging composting options, will find Lomi an enjoyable and valuable tool for diverting food and other compostable materials from an emissions-generating century in a landfill.
Mitch Ratcliffe September 28, 2022 at 04:42PM
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