The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that food and yard waste make up 30% of what we throw away. Still, we only compost 4% of it on an annual basis…the rest is sent to the landfill, which is why learning how to compost in an apartment is so important!
While food waste might feel more ‘natural’ and not a major cause for environmental concern, most landfills don’t have the conditions needed for decomposition. As a result, the organic household waste we throw away releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, as it rots.
Composting our organic waste at home can make a huge difference in the amount of food sent to landfill and help us to do our part in fighting climate change. Today, we will break down apartment composting with helpful tips and step-by-step breakdowns to get started!
Why consider composting in an apartment?
We tend to think we can only compost if we can access a backyard or outdoor space. The potential smell alone is enough for many apartment dwellers to write off apartment composting completely. But what if I told you that you can compost organic waste in your apartment or on your balcony?
If done correctly, apartment composting shouldn’t attract bugs or subject your guest to unpleasant smells.
So, if you live in a smaller space and have been considering starting a compost bin, but are still a little skeptical, I hope I can inspire you and be your beginner's guide to apartment composting today.
No matter where you live, there are so many benefits of composting:
- Composting helps to fight climate change by reducing methane emissions.
- Composting enriches the soil and increases biodiversity in your garden (or wherever your compost ends up).
- Composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, saving you money!
- Composting helps with soil drainage, pH, and moisture levels.
- Composting reduces the overall amount of waste coming from your home.
Indoor apartment composting also has its own specific set of benefits:
- Apartment composting can be done affordably and not take up lots of space.
- With composting indoors, you don’t have to worry about the changing weather affecting your bin; you can compost year-round!
- Apartment composting can be very convenient. For example, if your compost bin is under the sink, you don’t need to go very far to dispose of your kitchen scraps properly.
What is compost?
Compost is organic matter that is made of compostable brown and green materials, as well as biodegradable materials. Decomposers (hungry worms, fungi, and microorganisms) will help to break these materials down eventually and you are left with nutrient-rich fertilizer known as humus or black gold.
Freezer-burnt veggies, pure cotton balls, and dry leaves are great to add to your compost. While items like processed food, human waste (have you heard of eco diapers?), and leather goods shouldn’t be added to your compost pile.
Do your research before adding items to your compost bin, because compostable and biodegradable are not the same! Some materials might be labeled as biodegradable, which means they will break down eventually, but they are not compostable.
How to compost in an apartment
Decide on your composting method.
The first step to apartment composting is deciding which type of composting you want to try.
Aerobic composting is a more traditional style of composting where the decomposition of organic matter is done by microorganisms that use oxygen in the soil layer of the bin.
Another composting method that works well indoors is vermicomposting. In this method, worms eat food scraps and other organic waste materials and give out excreta that are rich in nitrates and minerals. This method is a little quicker and usually doesn’t generate as much of a smell (making it a great option for apartment composting). Vermicomposting also has a faster turnover than traditional composting, usually only taking 2-3 months to work its magic!
If neither sounds right to you, you should check out Bokashi composting. Unlike the previous two examples, this is an anaerobic process (which means that it does not require oxygen). Bokashi composting originated in Japan and relies on live bacterial culture to ferment waste.
Choosing a bin
Next, we should think about what kind of compost bin we want. From deciding on your budget, to the size you need, to try to avoid companies that participate in greenwashing, this part can understandably be a bit overwhelming!
In terms of size, your indoor compost bin should have twice the volume of the finished compost you want. You can keep track of the amount of organic waste your household throws away for a week to get a better idea of the bin size you might need.
If you are vermicomposting, ensure your bin has holes or open spaces so the worms have enough oxygen circulating throughout. If you want to try vermicomposting on your balcony and have a bit more space to work with, the Urban Worm Bag, Urbalive Worm Farm, and The Essential Living Composter are good options.
But, if you want to do vermicomposting indoors and are looking for something that is a little smaller, you can also use old plastic-free storage containers! Simply use a power drill or sharp tool to poke small holes in your container and line your bin with a compostable trash bag.
If you want to go the traditional route and try aerobic composting, the Envirocycle Mini Composter (for small spaces inside) will do the job!
If you go the Bokashi composting route, Bokashi Bins are super simple to use! Most of their bins come with a bottom strainer plate and airtight lid so you won’t have to worry about any mess. And best of all, they only take two weeks to see results.
My personal favorite is the Tero Bucket. The Tero bucket doesn’t use any worms or microorganisms, instead, it uses drying and grinding technology to process food waste. It’s odorless and easy to clean with an airtight lid, charcoal filter, and an anti-odor filtration system. I don't know about you, but I love seeing examples of technology helping us live a little more sustainably!
Once you have decided what type of composting method and bin you want to try, you can think about where to put it!
If you are worried about the smell, you can compost outdoors (like on your balcony). However, be cautious because extreme heat and cold affect the composting process (outdoor composting works best in the 40–80-degree temperature range). Composting outdoors might deliver unsuccessful results.
If kept indoors, your compost bin should be in a space that is room temperature, protected from the wind, in a sunny spot, with good drainage. Under the kitchen sink is a great spot. Ensure your bin is lifted slightly so water or moisture doesn’t accumulate and pool (you can also add a tray underneath just to be safe). You want the pile to be moist, but not wet.
Setting up your bin
To start your aerobic composting bin, add your brown waste, green waste, and so on. Try and remember to layer brown last to avoid unpleasant smells.
To start your vermicomposting bin, you will need to play down a bedding made of dry materials for the worms first. Then you place the worms on the bedding. Next, layer down green waste, then brown, just like you would with aerobic composting.
Once you are all set up, both aerobic composting and vermicomposting require a bit of ongoing maintenance.
You want to avoid adding meat, fat, or dairy to your compost bin in both methods. These additions might produce some funky smells (that’s the bacteria decomposing your food scraps at work) which would be extra noticeable in a small space like an apartment or condo.
Oftentimes, if your compost bin smells it might be because you have saturated it with too many greens or water. If this happens, you can try a few things including adding more brown material, cleaning your bin, or sprinkling down some compost powder like BinBreeze.
If you are vermicomposting, keep an out on the humidity of the bin. If it's wet, add some dry bedding at the bottom or more small holes in your bin to let out the moisture. Take notice if the worms aren’t eating a specific kind of waste because this may also lead to some unpleasant smells if some organic matter is consistently left behind.
If you are trying aerobic composting, aerate your compost bin and mix the contents around at least twice a week (or when you add new contents) to get more O2 moving throughout your pile. You do not need to mix around the contents of your compost bin if you are trying vermicomposting, your worm friends will do the hard work for you!
If your pile is warm to the touch (or you see steam coming) it’s working! If done correctly, your compost bin should be simple to maintain and not stink up your small space.
Other ways to compost your food when you live in an apartment
The next step in apartment composting is finding where to bring your compost!
Where to bring your compost
If you are composting organic waste in your apartment or on your balcony, there are a few options of where you can bring your compost:
- See if your city or neighborhood has curbside compost collection
- Request private pickup
- Bring it to an organic waste drop-off location
- Add it to your balcony garden or potted plants
If that isn’t an option for you…
- Sell it at your local farmer’s market
- Share your compost with your neighbors who have balcony gardens
- Donate it to your community or school gardens
- See if a local farmer can use it
How to reduce food waste
If you have decided composting inside your apartment isn’t for you by now, that is okay! There are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint by changing up your food habits:
- Cook zero waste meals (I love the Zero Waste Chef’s bone broth recipe!)
- Try to go meatless or dairy-free once a week (have you heard of Meatless Mondays?)
- Freeze last night's leftovers to avoid throwing out spoiled food.
- Eliminate as much plastic as possible in your kitchen by switching to a zero-waste pantry.
- Buy your food from local farmers (food that has traveled fewer miles to reach your plate has a lower carbon footprint).
- Plant a sustainable garden!
A final word on apartment composting
So, is apartment composting worth it?
When done correctly, composting in an apartment shouldn’t smell, require heavy maintenance, or drain your bank account. So, don’t be deterred from composting if you have a small space! Choose the right composting method, bin, and placement that works best for you and your current lifestyle.
We've got a ton of guides (and lots more to come) on The Eco Hub to help you compost the right way, including:
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