How to Compost in an Apartment
If you’ve ever felt guilty about throwing food scraps in the trash because you don’t have room to compost, you don’t have to feel that way again. You can compost in an apartment and turn your organic waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer.
Gardens and big outdoor compost piles can make us feel like good stewards of the earth. People with yards the size of a postage stamp and apartment dwellers don’t have room for that.
Fortunately, you can still compost in an apartment and feel better about recycling your food waste.
The Benefits of Composting
If you can find a way to compost your food scraps, you’re taking a solid step toward helping the environment. Every eggshell or vegetable peeling you keep out of landfills can help.
Food decomposing in landfills produces methane gas and accounts for about 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing your food waste and composting food scraps and food you don’t eat instead of putting it in a landfill can help fight climate change and reduce your need for chemical fertilizers.
Keep reading to learn how to compost in an apartment or anywhere you have limited outdoor space.
Ways to Compost in an Apartment
If you’re picturing a smelly bucket of rotting food scraps sitting on your counter, think again. You have composting options that are clean, convenient, and good for the planet.
Balcony Composting With a Tumbler
If you have a small balcony, rooftop space, or ground-floor outdoor area you can use, consider purchasing a small compost tumbler.
These tumblers let you turn your scraps into fertilizer in a compact space without an unsightly pile on the ground. The units seal so pests like raccoons can’t get into them and make messes.
The smallest models typically hold between 15 to 19 gallons. You can store your scraps in a countertop container in your apartment until you’re ready to add them to the tumbler. Choose a bin that seals, or use a sealed baggie or container in your freezer to avoid odors.
Once or twice a week, add your saved scraps to the tumbler and turn it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can produce ready-to-use compost within two or three months during warm weather.
Pros of Balcony Composting with a Tumbler
- You can find compact tumblers that fit on an apartment balcony.
- The smell of food that’s breaking down stays outdoors.
- Tumblers usually hold more food waste than worm composters or other
- indoor options.
Cons of Balcony Composting with a Tumbler
- This method won’t work in apartments without balconies or accessible outdoor spaces.
- You’ll have to go outside to put your food scraps into the tumbler and turn it, even in bad weather.
- Even if it’s sealed well, it may attract bugs to your balcony.
- You have to stop adding food at some point for at least a few weeks to let the compost develop unless you purchase a dual-sided tumbler.
If you don’t have a balcony or outdoor space, you can compost indoors with a couple of different methods.
To start worm composting, you only need a space of about one-and-a-half feet square. An empty corner in your apartment can become your vermicomposting center.
You’ll have to make the composter or purchase one ready-made, but you won’t have to turn the compost as you would with a tumbler. The worms moving through the material provide the necessary aeration and soil shifting.
If you have a balcony or outdoor space, you can even put your worm composter outdoors when the weather is above 40 F and below 80 F. Worms will die in freezing weather or intense heat, so you’ll need to keep them indoors during extreme weather.
Ready-made models typically cost between $45 and $100 for the smallest versions suitable for use indoors. You can find composters that fit inside a sink cabinet. These models take up minimum counter space.
Commercial indoor worm composters come in a tower system with trays. The height keeps the unit from taking up much floor space and lets the worms move through the different layers.
Some purchased composters have a spigot on the bottom level to drain the liquid that might collect. That liquid is known as “worm tea.” This tea contains nitrogen, carbon, potassium, phosphate, and other elements.
You can mix worm tea into the water you give your houseplants. A well-maintained vermicomposter won’t produce much of this liquid, but you won’t want to waste any of it.
Build a Worm Composter
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers instructions to make an indoor worm composter with inexpensive plastic bins. This option will work for small budgets, though their version will take up more room than many ready-made models.
Some commercial brands have more elaborate tray systems that let you sift the compost and avoid having to touch the worms. If you choose a DIY option, you’ll have to get your hands in the dirt with the worms more often.
Whether you choose a purchased or homemade composter, this method is the most high-maintenance apartment composting option. If you neglect the system or add too much food, the worms could die.
Pros of Worm Composting
- You can do it in a small space.
- You can put the worms outside during temperate weather if you want to.
- You don’t have to turn a tumbler.
- Worm composting done correctly produces much less odor than composting without worms.
- An indoor worm composter keeps working regardless of the season or weather.
Cons of Worm Composting
- A worm composter needs air circulation, so there will be some odor, even though it should be less than traditional composting.
- Because of the ventilation, it can attract pests, like fruit flies.
- Even in a commercial system with a sifter, you’ll probably have to touch the worms eventually. If that will bother you, choose a different composting option.
- Worm composting might not be a good choice for a home with rambunctious pets or curious kids who could open the system or knock it over.
- Families may produce more scraps than a tiny worm farm can handle.
- Worm composting takes more time and care than traditional composting because poor conditions can hurt the worms and ruin the system. You’ll have to monitor carefully at first to be sure you’re not adding too few or too many scraps.
Worm composting isn’t for everyone or every apartment. If you’d rather be able to toss your food scraps into a bin and forget about them, other options are available.
Electric Food Composters
If you’re not ready to have worms living in your apartment and don’t have a balcony for a tumbler, you can compost your kitchen scraps with an electric food composter.
Electric composters take about the same space as a large countertop kitchen appliance. Using them is easy. You collect kitchen scraps until the container is full, then run the machine.
You don’t have to turn a tumbler, tend worms, or wait weeks or months. Let the machine run through its cycle. Voila! In a matter of hours, you have ready-to-use compost.
Electric food composters are the most expensive option for composting in an apartment, but they also may be the most convenient.
This model from Vitamix has an inner container for you to store scraps with a carbon lid to reduce odors. Smart Cara makes one for a countertop and a taller floor model for larger families who produce more food scraps.
You can store food scraps in your refrigerator or freezer to avoid odors, but most brands designed their containers to eliminate as much of that as possible.
Pros of Electric Food Composters
- Electric food composters are small enough to be easily portable. Move it from room to room if you want.
- Convenience. Use it when you want to, then store it out of sight until next time.
- Because most machines look like small appliances, they won’t become an eyesore if you leave them out.
- You don’t have to wait weeks or months for food to break down. Make compost in mere hours instead.
- You’ll produce compost regardless of the temperature outside.
- The end product is dry and mess-free.
Cons of Electric Food Composters
- Electric composters are an expensive option. Most range between $300 and $500.
- If you use the composter regularly, it will add a few dollars to your electric bill.
- You still have to store the food somewhere until you’re ready to run the machine. Store your scraps in the fridge or freezer, or choose a model with a sealed container for storage.
If you love the idea of composting for the planet but don’t have plants to fertilize, you still have options. Family members, friends, or neighbors who have gardens or plants can use your compost and reduce their need to buy chemical fertilizer.
Some regions may have pick-up composting services you can pay to collect your food waste. You may also be able to find someone who wants your food scraps or completed compost by using a free sharing service with members in your area.
Final Thoughts About Composting in an Apartment
Apartment dwellers have composting options in every price range and level of convenience.
Whether you choose to keep a worm farm indoors or you invest in an electric food composter, you can feel good about keeping your organic waste out of landfills.