Beginner’s Guide to Apartment Composting

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Woman empties food scraps into a small indoor composting bin.

Americans generate approximately 40 million tons of food waste each year — most of which gets thrown into landfills. And since there are about 2600 of those already the country, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden estimates that the average household throws away two pounds of organic waste each day.

A large majority of this will be left to just take up space and not actually decompose, since that really only happens when organic matter is broken down by living organisms such as microbes or enzymes. Because the waste in a landfill is tightly packed together, air can’t get in, causing any biodegradation to happen super slowly, if at all.

Luckily, we can all do our part to alleviate this problem via the wonders of composting:

Benefits of Composting

There are actually many reasons a person should attempt to compost, and not all of them are to do with saving the planet — although that definitely ranks high on the list. Not only does composting end up saving tons of waste from landfill, it also saves communities money on waste transportation and disposal services. On an individual level, composting can also be used create nutrient-rich soil that’s perfect for growing your own fruits and veggies, and it won’t really cost you anything!

What You Can Compost

You’ll want to compost a roughly one-to-one mixture of what gardeners refer to as “greens” and “browns,” with the “greens” mostly being food scraps rich in nitrogen and the “browns” comprising carbon-rich materials like paper, cardboard, etc.

Items that you can compost include but are not limited to:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • cut flowers
  • hair/pet fur
  • breads and grains, such as cereals and pasta
  • newspaper
  • coffee grounds and filters
  • tea leaves
  • eggshells
  • untreated sawdust

Items that you cannot compost include:

  • dairy products
  • fats or oils
  • grease
  • whole eggs
  • meat, whether cooked or raw
  • fish, same as above
  • tea bags or coffee filters (just empty the contents into the compost bin)
  • pet waste
  • bones
  • plastic or other non-organic materials

It is also advisable to avoid composting citrus fruit peels, as these can throw off the the pH balance of your compost bin. If you’re using little critters to help the process along (see below), then citrus, onions, and garlic scraps should all be avoided, as they can kill bugs quite easily.

Apartment Composting

If you’re living in an apartment, you probably don’t have a backyard in which to keep a full-on compost heap. That doesn’t mean that you’re totally out of the composting game, though. With a little preparation, you can sort out your very own miniature compost situation right in your apartment. As opposed to compost heaps that require large areas to succeed, you can store an indoor compost bin in any dark and dry space, such as under the sink.

Types of Composting

Man peers inside his indoor composting bin with his adorable dog by his side.

There are three main types of compostin a person can do indoors. For each type, you’ll want to make sure that your scraps or bits of waste are all small enough to break down easily.

Aerobic Composting

This is the most common form of composting because it only requires a container for your food scraps and not much else. There are many different types of bins you can use for this job, from super affordable tubs to more high-end models. Compost bins also vary in size to accommodate different spaces. Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to purchase some compost bin liner bags, too, to keep yourself from having to wash the bin each time you empty it. It’ll also make the compost itself more easily portable.

Vermicomposting

This type of composting involves worms. Yeah, you read that right. Little wiggly worms. Believe it or not, they’re actually a great odor-free option for composting in apartments, and they’re super easy to maintain. Of course, you’ll need a particular type of worm called the “red wiggler” for the job, but they should be available in spades at the local bait shops. Buy kits like the Worm Factory 360, which comes with everything you need to get started, or build your own setup from scratch. Kids especially love getting involved with vermicomposting, and it’s a great eco-friendly way to get around the “no pets” clause in your apartment lease. Just remember that if you do choose this method, you have to remember that the worms are real, living creatures who are going to be constantly relying on you for their survival.

Bokashi Composting

This type of composting uses a fermented bran that you layer between deposits of food scraps. This breaks down the food more quickly than traditional methods of composting. Because you’re in essence “pickling” the waste scraps here, it won’t break down like it would under normal composting conditions. Bokashi composting can even break down fats like fried food to a degree — but as in the other cases, these should always be limited when composting.

Use Your Compost

When your compost is ready, it’ll look just like soil that you’d purchase from a garden center. You won’t be able to recognize anything that went in, and everything will be totally broken down. More specifically, i’ll be dark brown with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland, according to the Royal Horticultural Society. This can take anywhere from one month (if you look after your bin carefully) to a year (if you don’t manage your compost effectively). Mix your compost in with standard garden soil before using it to give it a super boost of essential plant nutrients.

Where Else Can You Compost?

If you’re still unsure about composting yourself, it might be worth speaking to your local council, as some cities have food scrap drop-off sites where residents can conveniently leave their organic waste. Others have composting programs that involve having a compost bin out next to the trash and recycling bins. Check with your city to find out what options are available to you.

Composting makes for a fun home project and an easy way to do your part to save the planet, one scrap of food at a time. Whether you opt to use a community-led compost scheme or start your own little worm factory, you’ll feel good knowing you’ve made a difference in just a few simple steps.

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