3 Simple Ways to Compost in an Apartment

composting in an apartment

If you, like us, have always thought that composting was for people who lived in actual houses with actual yards, then today’s going to be a game-changing day.

That’s right, even if you live in a smaller space like an apartment or condo, you can still compost!

So, if you’ve ever wondered, “Can you compost if you live in an apartment?” then keep reading. In this post, we’ll look at three common ways of composting in an apartment that are simple and relatively easy to do. Skip ahead if you’d like to get right into the how-to-do-it part:

And no, it won’t stink up your kitchen or attract bugs and other pests either. A real win-win.

First, let’s look at a quick definition.

What is composting, exactly?

Composting is basically the process of decomposing organic material. Often, this includes food scraps, yard trimmings, or anything that will decompose naturally (aka not man-made synthetics or anything with chemicals you can’t pronounce).

This organic material breaks down as it is composting and the end product that you get is what some people call “black gold” because it’s incredibly nutritious for your garden and better than store-bought fertilizer—and it’s, well, dark-brown or black.

Now, usually, compost will happen without any human intervention outdoors in the soil, simple because the natural environment encourages the composting process to happen.

However! There are some creative ways that we can use to mimic this environment and make composting happen, even without the benefit of a big yard.

The benefits of composting: Why do it?

Okay, say you don’t work as a gardener or a florist. But even if that isn’t your day job, compost is still beneficial for a few reasons:

  • Got house plants? It’s great for feeding them, and it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying chemical fertilizer!
  • If you’ve ever seen someone lugging a 20-pound bag of fertilizer out of Home Depot, you’ll know that there’s a market for it. Why not get creative and sell compost as a side hustle? (All you have to do is let it sit and monitor it from time to time anyway.)
  • And of course, it’s one of the best ways we can reduce our carbon footprints at home! Even though we’ve made some strides in recent years, we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of how much we’re composting compared to how much waste we’re dumping in landfills (learn more about ways to go zero waste):

composting statistics infographic

What can I compost?

Well, many people think that you can compost pretty much anything that seems “natural” like grass cuttings and all your leftovers from last night’s dinner, but… it’s a little more complicated than that.

  • Wood bits like sawdust and shavings
  • Yard trimmings and leaves
  • Tea leaves and coffee grains
  • Houseplants that didn’t make it because they got dried out or didn’t get enough—or too much—light (RIP)
  • Veggies, nuts, and fruit bits like the peels and pits (we keep ours in your freezer while we have one batch of compost cooking so they don’t start stinking before we can add them to a new heap)
  • Ash from your fireplace (but only from natural wood)
  • Egg shells
  • Newspapers (not the plastic-y magazine kind of paper)—but make sure you’ve shredded the pieces of paper first
  • Pet poop — This one depends!
🌱 Pro-tip: Some people say you shouldn’t put your pet’s feces in the compost, but it actually depends. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, dog poop is best used to make compost for ornamental gardens—not edible gardens. Meaning if you plan to grow food to eat in your garden, then don’t use dog poop in your compost! (Save it for your flowers and plants that you won’t eat instead.)

What not to compost:

  • Meat, fish, dairy, fat, bones (mainly because of the smell and they tend to attract insects and pests)
  • Eggs (but shells are okay)
  • Houseplants that didn’t make it because of pests or disease
  • Anything that has pesticides or other chemicals in it
  • Coal or charcoal ash (might be harmful to plants)

How to compost in an apartment without worms in 6 steps

  1. Decide where you’ll put your compost bin or tumbler. (Learn more about them and how they’re different from compost bins.) In an apartment, the best place for a tumbler is probably on your balcony. This one by FCMP, for example, measures a modest 28 x 30 x 36 inches and won’t take up too much space:
    fcmp composting tumbler
    If you have a communal area in your apartment building or a balcony, then you could look into compost tumblers, which are typically bigger than compost bins and will let you compost faster than with just a regular bin.
  1. Make sure you shred or cut any leftovers into small pieces first. Why? Because the smaller the pieces, the more surface area the composting process has to start!
  2. Try to avoid throwing dairy and meat products into your compost pile. They take more work and time to decompose and could stink up the bin.
  3. Make sure your compost heap’s ratio is about two or three parts brown to one part green. This will help reduce the smell, discourage pests from infiltrating your compost pile, and keep the texture of your compost from turning into a slurry mess.
🌱 Pro-tip: Your “browns” include brown materials like branches and dead leaves, whereas “greens” include stuff like veggie and fruit waste, and cut grass.
  1. Keep this up—ideally, you’ll be adding a pile of compost and letting it break down before adding more to it. If the ratio of brown to green material is looking off, then by all means add a bit more to balance it out, but don’t keep adding a lot of new compost material before your first batch is done cooking. That new material will lower the temperature of your compost, slow down the process, and make it less efficient.
  2. If you’re using a compost tumbler, rotate it every few days to make sure everything is getting enough oxygen and cooking evenly.

After doing this for several weeks, you’ll start to notice that what’s on the bottom of your bin should look like crumbly potting soil and smell earthy, not stinky. If your pile is too dry, it’s a sign you need to add more greens. If it’s too slimy or wet, then try adding more browns.

Composting in an apartment using a tumbler—should you do it?

Need a little help deciding whether to go the compost tumbler route in your apartment? Here’s a handy 2-question checklist to help you narrow down your options.

  1. Do you have an outdoor space where you can place your compost tumbler? A small space is fine, but you do need some kind of space. A regular compost bin will fit under your kitchen sink, but tumblers are a bit bigger and are better placed outside.
  2. Are you willing (and able) to rotate your compost tumbler once or twice a week? Most tumblers have cranks built in so that you can turn them pretty easily. It’s not a ton of work, but it’s something to consider.

If you said yes to both of these questions, then congrats, compost tumblers are an option for you!

How do I make compost in my apartment with a worm composter?

You might have also heard people referring to these as “vermicomposters.” (Vermin, get it?)

It might sound gross, but these composters don’t take up a lot of room and help your organic material decompose pretty quickly! If that sounds like a good option for apartments, you’d be right.

Depending on what you need vermicomposting might be a better way to go than compost tumblers. We don’t mind it personally, but hey, if you really don’t want to rotate your tumbler every few days…

Thanks to the hardworking worms, which mix and aerate the compost for you for free, all you have to do is wait for them to work their magic.

(Okay, you do have to feed them and keep them alive.)

Now, the next question is, do you want to make your own worm composter, or would you rather buy one?

How to DIY a worm composter

Want to make a worm composting bin from scratch? We won’t give you the full in-depth step-by-step instructions, because the EPA has actually done an excellent job of that already, which you can find here.

Basically, you’ll need to figure out:

  • Where your worms are going to live
  • What kind of container bin you’ll use to house them (just make sure that you poke lots of holes in the sides or top of the container for them to breathe)
  • Make sure you have drainage and that the bin is on top of something that can absorb anything that leaks through
  • Where you’ll get your worms! There are lots of places online where you can order worms (“red wrigglers” are the go-to) specifically for composting
🌱 Pro-tip: Don’t know how many worms you need? A good rule of thumb is to do a ratio of 1 pound of worms per square foot of your container.

Buying a worm composter

Don’t want to go to the trouble of DIY-ing a worm composter?

No problem, you can easily buy one online. The Worm Factory 360 Composter is a good integrated option that comes with everything you need to start vermicomposting:

worm factory 360 composter

It can house thousands of worms—and if you still need more space to compost waste, you can expand it by stacking more units vertically.

As you can see on the side, there’s also a spigot that allows you to collect any liquid that drains out of your compost heap. It’s a pretty neat and tidy way to compost efficiently in an apartment!

Composting in an apartment using vermicomposting—should you do it?

Now, let’s do a quick 2-question quiz to see if worm composting is a good option for you.

  1. Do you have a temperature-regulated space for your worms? Worm composters themselves aren’t that big and it shouldn’t be too difficult finding a space in your apartment or on a balcony for them.But if you want them to live, they need to be somewhere where the temperature stays between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. (Worms thrive in the warmth, but they can’t survive in overly hot or cold temperatures.)
  2. Are you willing (and able) to do a little bit of work to keep your worms alive? Vermicomposting is relatively low-maintenance, but it still takes work. Other than keeping the temperature mild for them, you’ll also need to feed them a balanced diet of high-carbon material (like shredded newspaper bits) and high-nitrogen material (like your food scraps).

How to compost the bokashi way

Finally, there’s another relatively new way of composting called bokashi. And this method of apartment composting actually allows you to compost your meat and dairy products!

Essentially, the main thing that differentiates bokashi composting is the bokashi powder (sometimes called the “bran mixture”) that you add to your compost heap. This is the magic sauce that makes your food scraps decompose faster than traditional ways of composting. For us, the main advantage is that you don’t have to be as discriminating with what type of food scraps you chuck into there.

Here’s a quick overview of how it works:

  1. Gather your food scraps and put them into your compost bin or tumbler. Veggies, fruits, meat, eggs, fish bones, all of it.
  2. Add about a spoon of the bokashi powder in there.
  3. Repeat this every day until your bin or tumbler is full.
  4. Once it’s full, let the fermentation begin!
  5. After about two weeks of sitting and fermenting in your compost bin, your pile of precompost should be about ready. Now, it’s ready to feed your plants and garden!
  6. In another two weeks, this precompost will have merged into the surrounding soil and earth, and will be ready to juice up your flowers and veggies.
  7. Happy bokashi-ing!

FAQs about composting in an apartment

What do you do with food scraps in an apartment?

  1. Stick them in your compost pile so they can break down into nutritious, nutritious black gold.
  2. If you don’t have room in your compost bin to add more food scraps yet, stick them in a container or bag in your freezer until it’s time to start composting them!

Do I need a backyard to compost?

Of course not!

It helps to have all of that outdoor soil, of course, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker.

You can compost organic scraps perfectly well in a small apartment, whether that’s through vermicomposting or a good ol’ compost bin or tumbler.

Making more compost than you need? You can always sell it and turn it into a side gig—and if you live in a city, there are likely even pick-up services that’ll collect your compost like how your garbage gets picked up every week.

What do you do with all the finished compost?

We’ve touched on this briefly, but if you and your neighbors don’t have enough houseplants to use all the finished compost you’re making, why not look into local flower and plant shops?

Even if they can’t use your compost, they might know other folks in the community who do. Local businesses, community gardens… and don’t forget to put the word out on your social media channels!

Would composting in your apartment stink up the place?

Surprisingly, not really!

As long as you’ve looked at our “What to compost / What not to compost” list of waste earlier in this post, you should have a pretty clear idea of what kinds of food scraps will make your compost smell—and which ones won’t!

If it’s done right, your compost should smell like soil. Unless you really don’t like that earthy, outdoors smell, this smell isn’t a bad one (in our humble opinion).

And if you’re using a composting tumbler, the added bonus is that because it’s sealed, which means it’ll lock in the odor too. Again, if you already have a batch of compost cooking and want to add more, you can always leave that in your freezer until it’s time to add a fresh batch of compost to the pile. No stink!

When is compost “done”?

After a few weeks, your finished compost pile should start looking like, well, soil. That means it should look crumbly and dark brown—and not smell like rot!

Won’t composting in my apartment attract bugs and pests?

Actually, your compost shouldn’t bring all the bugs to the yard.

Regardless of whether you’re using a compost tumbler or a worm composter, the containers are all sealed, which means no odors should escape and no bugs or pests should be able to get in.

Just make sure that your cooking-in-progress compost is stored properly, in airtight and sealed containers, and you shouldn’t have any bug problems.

Ready to get into apartment composting?

As you can see, you’ve got a nice variety of options if you want to get into composting but are worried about having enough space in your condo or apartment.

All three apartment composting options are great for small spaces and don’t take too much maintenance—which one will you try? ☺️

3 Simple Ways to Compost in an Apartment
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