How to Make Compost in an Apartment: 5 Ways that Work

How to make compost in an apartment

Composting is one of the best things you can do to reduce your waste, help the planet, and make your garden blossom.

Most people are familiar with composting outdoors, but what if you live in a small apartment? This article is your guide on how to make compost in an apartment

Basics of Composting

According to the EPA, 22% of household waste that ends up in landfills is food waste. Food waste is also the only waste that can be easily repurposed and used to improve your garden without the harsh chemicals and pollutants found in synthetic fertilizers.

The basic idea of composting is to use the power of microbiology to turn food waste into useful soil additions for your garden.

This usually means making compost (decomposed food waste) but composting can also be used to make manure (animal waste) or mulch (larger, slowly decaying material). For more information on the science of composting, check out this post.

How to Make a Good Compost Pile

Composting microbes

A well-maintained compost pile takes advantage of the microbes and natural resources found in food waste and the surrounding air to turn waste into an organic, high-quality addition to your soil.

The success of a compost pile depends on how active and healthy your microbes are. Keeping happy, healthy microbes requires four key ingredients: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen.

These ingredients are easily found in food waste, the secret is picking the right materials to go into your compost pile. Compostable materials include anything that was once a plant, even non-food products like paper.

One rule of thumb as far as a composting recipe is 3 parts brown (tough, carbon-rich materials) to 1 part green (softer, nitrogen-rich materials) Brown materials include:

Green materials include:

  • Kitchen scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Manure and other organic fertilizers

Why is Apartment Composting So Difficult?

You may already have a good idea on one of the big reasons apartment composting can be difficult: the smell. Since composting is all about decomposing food, it’s easy to assume it can’t be done without stinking up your whole apartment.

This is not always true. In fact, compost should not smell bad at all. If it does, you have a problem with your compost pile. There are two main reasons for smelly compost:

  • Rot: Good compost depends on aerobic microbes, which use oxygen. Rot happens when anaerobic microbes take over that don’t use oxygen. This can be easily fixed by turning (stirring) the pile more frequently to give the pile the oxygen it needs.
  • Ammonia: An ammonia smell will happen in compost when the composter has added too many nitrogen-rich ingredients (“green” materials). This can be fixed in the short term by turning or spreading the pile, but also needs to be fixed long-term by revisiting the balance of brown verses green (carbon verses nitrogen) in the pile.

Other issues with composting indoors can include finding the space and intrusion to neighbors and roommates. However, there are a number of composting options for apartment-dwellers to make the process easy and fun!

How to Make Compost in an Apartment: 5 Methods

Depending on the size of your apartment, you may not be able to make the same huge compost pile you could if you had a massive back yard, but this doesn’t mean you can’t compost at all. Here are some apartment composting ideas to help you start a pile:

Kitchen Compost Bins

Bin for apartment composting

As long as you are properly maintaining your compost pile, there is no reason that you cannot keep a compost bin in the kitchen. These can be made yourself with items like a five-gallon bucket, small plastic storage bins, or even old drawers.

This is a great option because you can easily control the size of your bin to accommodate your space, the results are direct, and it requires no specialized materials, unlike vermicomposting that requires worms, and bokashi composting that requires inoculated grain.

The most important thing for a kitchen compost bin is making sure to maintain it correctly. A compost bin that is too wet or has a poor balance of brown and green material will smell, and also will not produce good compost.

Composting by Tumbler

If you’re having trouble turning your compost pile or live in a city with especially cold winters, then a tumbler is another great option for apartment composting. These are simply round compost bins that are outfitted with gears and a handle for easy rotation.

They have all the same benefits as traditional compost bins but tend to be small in size and are also much more convenient to maintain. The tumbler essentially turns your compost pile for you, which is critical for maintaining oxygen levels and keeping compost dry enough.

Vermicomposting

Worm bins for apartment composting

Vermicomposting is just a fancy word that means making a worm bin. Worm bins are a great option for apartment composting because they are inexpensive, can be made at any size, and they can be covered by a lid.

The EPA has a detailed guide on how to start a vermicomposting bin, but the basic idea is to set up one bin with the worms, and another bin beneath it to collect liquid that will fall from the upper bin. This liquid is called worm tea and can be used elsewhere in your garden in addition to the compost from the upper bin.

Vermicomposting works because worms have a specialized digestive system that can process food waste into a type of nutrient-rich compost called vermicast.

Surprisingly, vermicomposting is often less work than traditional composting. This is because traditional composting relies on curating the correct conditions for microorganisms, and worms are a lot less fussy. As long as they don’t drown, they’re usually just fine.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is quite different from traditional composting because it relies on anaerobic bacteria to ferment plant waste, instead of using aerobic bacteria to decompose it.

Bokashi composting is a great method for apartment composting because it has to start indoors, and only later can be transferred outdoors or to another indoor composting system.

The system works by adding daily layers of food waste mixed with bokashi bran (grain that has been inoculated with the necessary bacteria) to a special, airtight bokashi bucket. The layers are then tightly covered to allow no air to escape, and the bacteria do their work fermenting the material.

The product from Bokashi composting is not technically compost until it has had time to decompose outside of the bokashi bucket. It’s more like a supercharged pre-compost.

It will decompose in a traditional compost bin in a fraction of the time and can do wonders for plants 2-3 weeks after being buried in soil. Before then, it’s highly acidic and should be kept away from your plant roots! Worms can also eat bokashi product, but only if you introduce it to them slowly.

Giving Food Waste Away

While this last option won’t get you any compost of your own, it’s a great option for reducing waste and contributing to other’s compost, especially if you are not a gardener yourself. Here are some ways to get your food waste into the right hands:

  • Use a food waste collection service. This will vary based on your region, but a quick Google search should yield some options.
  • Bring your food waste to farmers markets. It’s almost a guarantee that anybody selling produce at a farmers market is a composter, and they will be happy to take food waste off your hands. You may even get some free produce out of the deal.
  • Use apps like ShareWaste. ShareWaste connects people with extra food waste with farmers and gardeners who need it, so nothing has to end up in a landfill.

Final Thoughts

No matter your level of composting know-how, the 5 methods that we’ve outlined for how to make compost in an apartment are straightforward and effective. 

You don’t need a large outdoor space to turn your daily kitchen scraps into black gold for nourishing your own small garden or sharing with your community.

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