Apartment Composting 101: How To Make The Most Of Organic Waste In A Small Space
From job opportunities to exotic food trucks, cities have a lot to offer, a fact recent urban growth trends reflect.
The UN predicts a staggering 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, up from the current 55%. That’s about 2.5 billion more people moving into more condensed spaces in the next 30 years.
But as urban spaces fill, so do landfills which is why learning how to compost in an apartment is so important and a key part of any zero wsate plan.
The World Bank’s What A Waste 2.0 solid waste management report found that urban dwellers produced 2.01 billion tons of waste; and that number is expected to rise by 70% to 3.4 billion tons by 2050.
Because urban dwellings often consist of small footprint apartments with little-to-no outdoor access, organic waste is finding its way into landfills.
According to a 2018 EPA study (released in November 2020), 56% of non-industrial food waste in the USA went to landfill (meaning it contributes to methane and other greenhouse gas emissions) and only 4% was composted.
This is waste that is actually compostable!
However small your living situation, you can become a composting extraordinaire!
This guide to apartment composting can help get you started and we can assure you that this journey is worth it.
There is nothing more satisfying than reducing what you send to landfill and composting is our most impactful zero waste tip to help get you there.
And who knows, maybe next you can turn your home and balcony into your own mini apartment garden.
If you need a reminder on what composting is, including what you can and can’t compost, jump to the end of the article.
*This post contains affilate links
QUICK LINKS FOR APARTMENT COMPOSTING
Easiest Option: Get Help With Your Apartment Composting:
Next level: Learn How To Compost In Your Apartment
- First reduce your food waste and then use as much organic scrap as possible
- Check if there are any financial incentives to compost in your apartment
- Start composting!
- Use your compost to grow something new!
Get Help With Your Apartment Composting
1. LOOK INTO MUNICIPAL & PRIVATE COMPOSTING PROGRAMS
Many local governments are implementing organic waste disposal services.
If you are time poor and this is accessible to you, this is obviously the easiest way to make sure that your organic food waste gets composted properly.
Some cities, such as Portland, OR and New York, NY offer “brown box programs” that pick up organic waste for composting curbside alongside regular trash and recycling. They even provide the bin and starter kit!
This service generally involves collecting your waste in a compostable trash bag and putting it out for weekly or fortnightly collection.
We lived in London in 2017 and this was a standard offering in our municipality and here in Australia, most councils now offer curbside compost organic waste collection (or are rolling it out).
Having said that, apartment buildings often manage their waste privately so they may not offer organic waste collection.
We had this problem in our apartment in Australia and despite writing to our building manager several times, we were never able to get organic waste collection organised for our apartment building.
We were able to temporarily solve our problem by making friends with other locals who let us put some of our organic waste in their bins on waste collection day which might be something to try!
However, if publicly sponsored programs aren’t available where you live, check out private composting services, like We Compost, based in Auckland, New Zealand and Compost Now in the US which offers affordable monthly subscriptions for domestic compost collection.
To find your nearest industrial composting facility (where you can drop off your organic waste for composting), use BioCycle’s Find a Composer.
2. FIND OTHERS WHO WANT YOUR WASTE
You’ve heard the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”… Prepare to bring new meaning to the phrase!
There are tons of people out there who would love to make use of YOUR organic scraps. Maybe you have a friend who owns a farm an hour outside town; food scraps are a great way to feed livestock, even if they aren’t suitable for domestic pets.
- local famers markets
- co-op gardens
- grocery stores (Some chains such as Whole Foods, are beginning to offer composting collection for their customers, as well as composting their own expired food!)
And of course, since this is the digital age, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT (or a few for the matter).
Start by creating a ShareWaste account. It connects nearby people looking to get rid of waste with people who can use it! Think of it as a Craigslist for composting… with less scams.
Through this app, we found a local community center that accepts organic waste and turns it into compost. We’ve even had family members discover their own neighbours were looking for organic waste!
When we’ve travelled or been on vacation, we’ve use ShareWaste to avoid sending organic waste to landfill and had the joy of connecting with locals who were more than happy to take our food waste. A total win-win-win!
Freecycle is another similar website.
You can also check out Olio, a new food sharing app and website that “connects neighbors with each other and with local shops so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away”.
Learn How To Compost In An Apartment
3. FIRST, REDUCE YOUR FOOD WASTE AND THEN USE AS MUCH ORGANIC SCRAP AS POSSIBLE.
As a key first step in any composting routine (but especially for apartment composting), first try to reduce your food waste and then find other uses for it. Here are some ideas:
- Store food properly
- Make vegetable stock from vegetable scraps
- Learn how to preserve food at home
- Pamper yourself with a fruit peel face mask
- Use stale bread and crust to make your own bread crumbs or croutons.
The possibilities for reusing food scraps are almost endless!
This reduces the overall mass you’ll need to deal with during the composting process, and when living in small spaces, any reduction in bulk is helpful.
The more you can make into other stuff, the less you’ll need to compost, so the less space you’ll need to do it!
4. LOOK INTO FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR COMPOSTING AT HOME IN YOUR APARTMENT
Much like installing solar panels on your house can make you eligible for tax breaks in some cities, some city councils, like our own, will provide huge discounts (up to 80%!) to private citizens on the purchase of composting vessels.
Australian residents can find your council discount super easily through Compost Revolution, a program that has diverted almost 20,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfills, as of July 2021.
Check to see if something exists in your city…and if it doesn’t, you could always write them a letter and tell them all the cool cities are doing it!
5. COMPOST ORGANIC WASTE IN YOUR APARTMENT OR ON YOUR BALCONY
If there are no viable community composting programs and you’ve used as much of your organic material as possible (or found someone who can), or you just simply want to DIY home composting, the next step is to learn how to compost in an apartment:
There are several types of composting options suitable for apartment dwellers. Check out our article on indoor compost bins for more on how to choose which vessel is best for you.
Here’s an overview of the best options for composting in your apartment:
1. Vermicomposting (indoors or outdoors):
Worms bins (or vermicomposters), like the Sacred Resources Composter (USA), the Living Composter (USA) or Urbalive (UK) rely on red wriggler worms to consume and break down organic waste, leaving behind nutrient rich castings and worm tea which gardens love!
If you have a little extra time to care for them, worms are a great, odor-free option for composting in apartments or on balconies (plus they’re like little pets for all those who live in apartments that don’t allow them!).
The obvious consideration for including a worm farm in your apartment composting approach is that these are live beings and the process can be a little messy if you don’t have the right vessel.
Worm farms are more suited to apartments that have a balcony but it is possible to compost through a worm farm indoors using a robust bin.
If you go for a worm farm option, you need to look after them!
Some key things to remember:
- They don’t like heat and need to stay moist so at least once a week you need to pour a big bucket of water through the bin. There will be instructions on how to do this in the pack that you buy and it’s really very simple! The worm tea liquid that you can drain out (often through an in-built tap) is WONDERFUL STUFF for indoor and outdoor plants.
- Feed them at least once a week but don’t overdo it – leave some space for them to move around on the surface
- While they are not so fussy about what they eat, don’t feed them onions, citrus or a few other things – see the full list here
Like any compost bin, they all need a little maintenance – they need to be cleared regularly and monitored to ensure they do their job well!
We found composting with worms on our balcony took a little bit of habit building but now is just part of the routine.
2. Bokashi bins (indoor or outdoors):
This is a Japanese method of “shading off” composting uses micro-organisms to ferment a wide array of food scraps (including things you can’t feed worms like meat, citrus, and other acidic foods).
As such, these pair well with vermicomposters, because the product it yields must be broken down further by either burying in soil or feeding to worms.
However, they’re a good option for apartment composting without worms too.
These bins are widely available worldwide and suitable for apartment composting. Here are some options:
- Bokashi Living (USA)
- Sunwood Life Bokashi (USA)
- Blackwall Bokashi (UK)
- Skaza mind your eco (UK)
- Bokashi One (Australia)
3. High Tech Composters (indoors):
Machines like the Vitamix Food Cycler are electricity run composters that use a combination of heat and vibration to break down organic waste in a matter of hours.
These are designed to be fast and odorless, as well as able to break down a larger variety of scraps (e.g. meat scraps which can’t be fed to worms).
This is a good option if you have a little extra to invest in your composter (because these babies don’t run cheap!) and want something super efficient to compost inside your apartment.
However be aware that this is an electric device and if minimal impact is your end goal, you need to consider the energy efficiency and end of life outcome (as is the case with all electronics).
4. Traditional composters (outdoors):
Composters like the Envirocycle Mini rely on either decomposition (aerobic composters) or fermentation (anaerobic composters) to break down food and as such are better suited to balcony composting due to natural odors emitted in the process.
6. USE YOUR COMPOST TO GROW SOMETHING NEW!
The best thing about composting is the cyclical nature of it.
Use the compost you produce to create an epic balcony garden, or fertilize your houseplants with worm casting tea. Our Fiddleleaf Fig is LOVING worm tea!
And if a green thumb is something you lack, give your composting yields to friends with plants, or even a local community garden.
WHAT IS COMPOSTING & ORGANIC WASTE AGAIN?
As a reminder, composting is the process of biodegradation, or breaking down, and repurposing of organic waste, or that “of biological origin”.
This basically means or anything that was once living or came from something living, like food scraps (including egg shells and coffee grounds), as well as paper products, plant waste, and fecal matter (e.g. dog poop).
For more on what you can and can’t compost:
- What is Compostable? 101 Things You Can Compost Right at Home
- What’s Not Compostable? 33 Things You Can’t Compost at Home
FINAL THOUGHTS ON APARTMENT COMPOSTING
Living small shouldn’t hold you back from living sustainably. As it turns out, small housing footprints can mean equally small carbon footprints.
We have personally adapted our approach to apartment composting several times over the years and now opt for a combination of options outlined in this guide.
In short, everyone has a different method to match their lifestyle. We encourage you to look deeper into composting in your community and devise a personalized way to responsibly deal with your organic waste.
As always, please share this with someone who would love to have a go at composting in their apartment but doesn’t know where to begin!