From banana peels, and apple cores to coffee grounds and avocado pits in the back of your fridge, which have turned a funny color, a lot of what we throw in the trash is degradable food waste. These fruit and vegetable scraps do not have to go to landfills and can be used to make compost instead.
If you have a backyard, a compost pile is easy to set up, but what about those living in an apartment?
Anyone can still do it when living in an apartment building. However, it will require a more compact method than the traditional compost piles. Worm composting, tumblers or an electric food digester are your best options for apartment living. You can use the compost you make to feed your own houseplants or donate what you don’t need.
It is a great way to save money and get fresh vegetables. It also helps reduce the amount of food waste in landfills. There are many different methods, but they can all be confusing and complicated to beginners. This guide will teach you how to compost in an apartment so that your first experience with indoor composting is low-cost and straightforward!
What Is Compost?
What exactly is compost? Although it may look like it, it is not soil but decomposed organic material.
The ground you dig out of your garden has both inorganic and organic matter. Both have many benefits and are necessary for healthy, thriving herbs, vegetables, and fruits.
Since composting is composed entirely of organic waste, you do not plant things directly in it! Instead, we use it as a potting soil enricher. Fertilizer feeds your plants, but compost works on the soil itself, giving your plants the opportunity of a healthier home.
Farmers use it to improve the moisture retention of their soil and encourage beneficial fungi, worms, and microbes in a thriving ecosystem which is better for your plants overall.
Many people make their own compost by allowing organic waste to decompose. Things you can compost could be materials like carrot tops, tea bags, meat, salad greens, rotten fruit, or other content. Make sure not to add materials like animal waste, plastic, or non-biodegradable trash bags.
The decomposition process occurs naturally under the right circumstances, and people use different methods to achieve these circumstances. If done correctly, decomposition will turn all the organic matter you add into a dark brown loamy substance. This is compost!
What does apartment composting have to do with Climate Change?
There are many benefits associated with homemade green solutions like composting — saving money by offsetting expensive fertilizers, and reducing the carbon footprint by re-using organic waste you would otherwise throw away.
Composting is a great option to help mitigate the environmental impact of our waste. It turns organic materials into a rich environment, making it ideal for gardens and farms, which sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It uses heat and bacteria to break down organic materials, releasing the gases CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.
This reduces methane gas emissions and is a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Is it possible to compost in an apartment?
Decomposition requires two things: time and the right environment.
This means you need a place with the right conditions where your compost can be left undisturbed to create a finished product. Finding such an area is simple if you have a garden, but what if you live in an apartment?
Some people believe composting takes up too much space, but what if you could make your own indoor compost bin inside your kitchen?
This would not only take up less space but would also be more convenient and reduce the risk of pests.
There are several ways you can compost indoors, including vermicomposting, tumblers, or an electric food digester.
More on that later on…
But before we get started, it is essential to know the following:
- It doesn’t smell! This may be a relief for some people. Rotting food scraps may sound like a smelly endeavor, but it should not produce strong smells when done correctly. A slight smell might occur initially, depending on what you are composting.
- Composting has stages. This process may take over the course of a few weeks. As such, you may need to find a way to store fresh organic food scraps separately while your older compost finishes.
- Compost reduces. You will be disappointed if you expect ten pounds of scraps to give you ten pounds of compost. The decomposition process causes organic matter to shrink considerably.
How do I compost if I live in an apartment? [4 methods]
Now that we have covered compost basics and confirmed that you could do it, it is time to dive into exactly how. You may imagine a bucket full of bugs and rotting food waste or a science experiment requiring precision and a chemistry degree.
Fortunately, indoor composting is neither that messy nor that complicated.
Here are several methods that use a closed compost system that can be contained in your apartment.
1. Compost Bin with Worms
What is a worm bin? Worms are nature’s natural decomposers. You can make a compost bin with composting worms that you buy from a local bait shop or a worm supplier. Red wigglers are a popular type of worm for compost bins.
So how do you compost an apartment with worms? Well, vermicomposting is relatively simple.
- You fill a worm composter with your worms (either a pre-made worm bin or a DIY).
- Add food scraps and a carbon source (wet, shredded newspapers are a favorite). Check out our list of things you can compost.
- The worms break everything down and excrete worm castings!
The best worm composters have multiple levels. Multiple levels allow you to add your new waste while harvesting your finished compost.
Pros of worm bin composting
- The worms will not escape. You may be worried about them escaping the plastic bin and taking over your apartment, but the fact is that they need compost to survive. They will not leave their home to invade your apartment, where they will die.
- Compact. Vermicomposting requires very little space compared to other options. You can even set it under your kitchen sink. Worms help the breakdown process go faster, meaning there is no extra buildup before your compost is ready to use.
- The worms do all the work! This type of composting process does not require turning.
Cons of worm bin composting
- If you want your worms to do their job, you must keep them alive and healthy and maintain an ideal temperature. They are not super picky but do not do well in temperatures less than 40 F and above 80 F. Even if you have an apartment balcony or other outdoor space, your worms will need to come inside at some point.
- You have to remove the worms to use the compost. When harvesting your compost, you will need to remove them from your finished compost and put them back in your compost bin. There are several tricks to make this easier.
- Add carbon-rich material. Food scraps release a lot of nitrogen, but worms also need carbon. You will need a source of carbon for your vermicomposting bin to succeed. Items like shredded paper strips, newspaper, cardboard, or paper towels work well.
2. Compost Tumbler for Food Waste
How do you compost in an apartment without worms? You can use a tumbler. It works without the part of the worm, but it requires turning.
You see, decomposing is a chemical breakdown process that occurs in the middle of your compost piles. To ensure every part gets decomposed, you must turn your compost to give the stuff on the outside time in the middle where the breakdown happens.
Tumblers are a contained version of a compost pile that makes turning easier. These containers give you a place to store your compost and come with handles that allow you to turn it without opening them and digging around. They are also sealed, which prevents messes and keeps the heat in, speeding up the decomposing.
Two-sided tumblers allow you to store fresh compost and compost that is already well along.
Pros of compost tumblers
- They are completely sealed, so you don’t have to worry about a mess or smell.
- The most significant advantage is that you can quickly turn your compost without using a shovel.
- Easy to maintain. Since no living creatures are involved with a tumbler, you do not have to worry about things like temperature and ideal carbon-nitrogen ratios. A tumbler won’t die if you don’t add shredded paper, toilet paper, or newspaper.
Cons of compost tumblers
- Large. Most products are relatively large. Unless your small apartment has a balcony, a patio, or some outdoor area, you probably will not have room for most tumblers.
- Expensive. They are complicated to create since you need a mechanism to turn your compost effectively. This means you will likely need to purchase a tumbler, and they are more expensive than a worm bin.
3. Electric Kitchen Composter for Fruit and Vegetable scraps
What are electric composters? Composting is a natural process, so technically electric composters do not exist. However, an electrical food digester can be pretty much the same.
You can put any food scraps in these electric kitchen composters, and it will turn that waste into a finished compost and usable fertilizer overnight. The main difference is that the material these machines produce is not technically compost but plant food.
Get our buying guide for the best electric composters.
Pros of electric kitchen composters
- Very fast. An electric food digester can turn food scraps into fertilizer in several hours. That is way faster than with worms or a tumbler.
- Very small. If you don’t have much space, an electrical food composter takes up barely any, making it ideal for small apartments.
- It digests almost anything. You can put nearly ANY food scraps in an electrical kitchen composter. Chicken bones and dairy products can become fertilizer with one of these.
CONS OF ELECTRIC KITCHEN COMPOSTERS
- Expensive. Of our three options, this is the priciest. You can expect one of these to cost several hundred dollars.
- Uses power. If you are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible or don’t want to increase your electricity bill, you should remember that an electric composter requires power.
4. Bokashi bin
What is the Bokashi method? Bokashi is a Japanese word that means “fermented organic matter.” The fermentation process breaks down food waste, so it can be used as fertilizer without going through composting first.
A Bokashi bin uses particular microbes to pickle your food waste. Once fermented, you can bury the finished product in your garden, and it will break down, releasing nutrients into the soil.
Pros of Bokashi bins
- No odors. The fermentation process prevents smells from developing, so you can keep your bin indoors.
- Can compost meat and dairy products. Since this is not technically composting, you are not limited to vegetable scraps. You can compost meat and dairy without any problems.
Cons of Bokashi bins
- You still need a compost bin. Once your food is fermented, you need to bury it in a compost bin or pile to finish the process. This method is not for you if you don’t want to go through the hassle of maintaining two bins.
- You need to buy a unique Bokashi mix. This mix contains the microbes that will start the fermentation process. Without it, your bin will not work.
What to Use Compost For?
Now that you know how to make compost in your apartment, you may wonder what to do with it. If you do it, you want a plan for using it!
Here are three ways you can use the apartment compost:
1. Feeding your Garden
The first and most common use is feeding your houseplants. If you have gardening pots in your apartment, you can mix compost with the potting mix before planting to create a better environment. You can also add a layer around the top of planted plants for added nutrients.
2. Brew Compost Tea
Another option you can feed your vegetables is by making compost tea. You can make a “tea” by soaking your compost and other ingredients in water. This “tea” is then used to feed your plants. There is a bit more to the exact process than that. There are many simple recipes for compost tea you find and try on the internet!
3. Donating It
Maybe you don’t have many houseplants or simply made too much of it. What can you do if you don’t have plants to feed? Even if you don’t have plants that need your compost, chances are someone does! You can donate it to neighbors, friends, or even a community garden. It is in high demand amongst gardeners, so ask around!
As you’ve read in this information guide, composting in an apartment may seem like a messy nightmare. Still, it is pretty doable, and you do not have to be a farmer to do it!
Apartment composting is still one of the most significant ways to reduce your trash production, create excellent free plant food, and donate some back to a community garden!