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Smart Cara Food Waste Processor: Review

Smart Cara Food Waste Processor: Review

Western Australian company, Zero Waste Systems has begun importing a food waste processor called Smart Cara.

Smart Cara MachineThis machine has been around for a few years, is made in Korea and to date, has mostly been sold in the UK. It's not a composter, but a food dehydrator & mulcher, so while it has many of the characteristics of a composter, it doesn't break food down. Instead, it simply takes the water out of it and grinds it.

If you are trying to minimise household food waste, or you live in an apartment, or like me, are simply impatient and don't want to wait around for your food scraps to break down in traditional compost, then this machine is worth a look. 

The machine arrived within a week of ordering, which was amazing, considering it was Christmas when we ordered it.

It is quite light - less than 9kg and relatively small at 270(W) x 300(D) x 350mm(H). It would certainly fit under many sinks or in a cupboard. It will process around 1 kg of waste each cycle, which takes 3 - 4 hours. 

One kg might not sound like a lot, but bear in mind this is pure food waste. The distributors say it should easily support a family of 4. 

Review Notes:

We had been hording compost here (tragic, I know) at, for the arrival of the Smart Cara so it was a good thing it arrived quickly.  We have now run it a number of times with different types of food combinations. (These food combinations are limited as previously noted, but should be enough to give you the idea of the machine.)  It has been cleaned twice, using the Smart Cara cleaning function, but it cleans just fine in the sink or dishwasher as well.  

Food Combinations shown above:

1. Citrus halves – limes and oranges and dog hair and some paper.
2. Citrus halves, avocado peel and mango and loads of coffee grinds.
3. Vegetables, fruit, meat scraps and some dried out garlic bulbs.
4. Citrus halves, avocado peel and mango and some coffee grinds.
5. Coffee grinds, mango peel, citrus and lettuce.

We have also since run it successfully with chicken bones and vegetables. Obviously you could also put in banana peels, vegetables, meats, cakes... 

Here's what we know so far:

  1. The Smart Cara pretty much does what it says it will. It turns your food into a kind of mulchy by-product. (Not a powder as reported in different places on the internet.) 
  2. The finished product is definitely broken down, but the outcome depends on what goes in. Lettuce needs to be mixed with other food as it didn't break down as much as the fruit for instance. And I notice chunks of peel in the end product. Small, but still there.
  3. We found a before and after video online that is worth a look for different products including chicken and mussel shells. You will be able to see what the end product looks like for each of these cases and get a better understanding of the by-product.
  4. The by-product has a pleasant earthy odour (even the meat ones), influenced by whatever was the predominant material. (I should tell you that I am now doing a video review and these containers have now been sitting around for over a week and are still smelling just fine.)
  5. The instructions are passable, but realistically, very scant for a first time user. If you buy this machine, it's important to understand that it's not a refined appliance from a global retailer. 
  6. The machine sells for around $879. This might sound like a lot, but to me, even if you have space for it, a big assed plastic compost bin will set you back anywhere from $300 - $600. If you don't have room for a big composter, couldn't be stuffed with composting, never want to be the one to empty the food waste bucket or simply want a way to store and reduce food waste, then I say it's good value.
  7. Smart Cara is promoted as having low energy use - between 0.5~1kw each session, which is around $6 per month. 
  8. The machine makes very little noise and doesn't smell.
  9. Zero Waste Systems have confirmed that the machine has a 1 Year Warranty. (Purchases in Australia, are of course well covered within the ACCC Consumer Rights.)
  10. If you are a true blue composter and buy this machine, you have to make a couple of adjustments. (Warning for people who don't compost - you might be about to get a bit squeamish.) Some of the things you might currently compost like paper, animal hair or feathers, tissues can't go in. Well they can, but this machine is a dehydrator so there is no point adding anything that is already dry. It won't break down and anything long stranded like hair just gets tangled up with the food so you'll need a different solution for them.

Some further info from Zero Waste Systems:

  1. In response to the question, "Can you put avocado or mango seeds in the machine?", Zero Waste Systems says that you can, but they may not grind down fully as it depends on the other food in the bowl at the same time.

    On this advice, we did add in a mango seed with some other food and it definitely didn't break down. It also got caught in the grinder so we are going to say that's mango, avocado and any other big seeds are a no. 
  2. The instructions do say you can put in stone fruit, but we put a peach seed in and after 5 hours, Smart Cara seemed to be stuck on the Grind stage. We shut it down and when we opened the machine, the by-product cycle seemed to be finished and the peach seed was in tact. So no peach seeds either.
  3. Because the end product remains high in nutrient and carbon, the end product should be dug into the soil. This should be placed near plant stems. People living in apartments can use the end product on their pot plants.
  4. The filters are $50 per set, and are typically changed every 6 months, if the unit is run 4 - 5 times a week. Apparently they are really more for odour management so if your machine is in a spot with plenty of fresh air, this may not bother you.

Jennifer's You Tube review is here if you would like a little more info:

It has taken awhile, but we are definitely converts and like this machine. Even though it won't eat everything you could feed compost, the items it does take far outweigh the few it won't. 

Update: 27 February, 2018. Smart Cara is still the best option for quick food waste reduction in my mind, but it's definitely not consistent. There are a few reasons for this comment, which are worth bearing in mind if you buy one. (Some of these points, I suspect are simply because the machine isn't sold by a big appliance house and therefore the functions aren't highly refined, but that's ok.)

Sometimes the blades get stuck, sometimes the by product isn't as dehydrated as you would expect. It doesn't seem to like a lot of moisture at the outset. I find that if there are coffee grinds in it, it works fine. If not, then not so much.

I don't mind the smell, but others might not like the earthy food smell. Having said this, the plants I have fed the by-product are thriving so they clearly don't mind. 

I now try to separate the chicken bones and meat when I can (from onions and avocado) so they can be processed and added to the dog's food. It finally occurred to me that the by-product probably was richer in nutrient and not dissimilar to dried dog food.

The Smart Cara really only supports a family of two if you only run it once a day and you eat a reasonable amount of fresh food. A family of 4 or 5 would need two runs - morning and night.

Would I still buy it? Definitely. Understandably some people might think it is an expensive food compactor / dehydrator, but turning food waste into something useful matters to me. I do like the fact that it reduces food waste quickly and offers so many options for disposal.

Images: Main & first image - Zero Waste Systems | other images:

Something incorrect here? Suggest an update below:
Simone N

Great to know! My best friend lives in an apartment with lots of pot plants and I have been wondering what a good solution would be for her food waste as she currently throws it in the bin (she loves to cook and travels a lot for work) - do you have any other solutions to compare? Monday, 24 September 2018

Jennifer Nielsen

We were talking to Zero Waste Systems today regarding mycorrhizal activity and they said:
There is no evidence or suggestion that the output has not or has any activity. However, the output product is high in microbial available energy and nutrients which will promote microbe and worm activity. The soil environment will determine which microbes will prevail. Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Eco Tips Editor

The response we got from Zero Waste System's John McDonnell on the bones question was that the recommendation is that no more that 30% of one product type is processed at the one time if possible. Processed by-product is then mixed with soil and is totally fine to be placed around plant stems.
We don't yet have a response in relation to the mycorrhizal activity question. Monday, 8 January 2018

John D

Is there an issue with the lack of mycorrhizal activity? Sunday, 7 January 2018

Science Notes

The machine essentially dries, grinds and reduces your food into a kind of mulch or garden fertiliser

 While it's not composted, it would have to contribute great value to any pot plants or garden. Of course, nothing stops you using the machine as a compost bucket, processing when full and simply putting the by-product into landfill as you normally do if you have no other options. (Or friends who would gladly fertilise their gardens with it!) 

The Smart Cara reduces food waste size by up to 90%. The problem with food waste in landfill is that it creates methane when it breaks down - and methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide - contributing to global warming at 20 times the capacity.
Related Tip
According to Smart Cara Europe, you can use the processed by-product to start your campfire. (We are going to test this theory in a video.)

Another great fire starter is lint from your dryer. If you also happen to use a wrapped toilet paper like Who Gives a Crap, you can put the lint in the Who Gives a Crap roll and wrap the wrapper around it like a lolly paper. Store these somewhere for when needed - winter fire or camping.