Instead of sending your food scraps to fester in a landfill, participate in an eco-friendly solution: apartment composting. The composting options in this post aren’t strictly specific to apartments; they’re good for all kinds of small-space situations in an urban context. If you have acreage or even a big backyard, trench composting is a great technique for breaking down your compostables. For the rest of us, these (mostly communal-based) options are how to make composting a reality.
Skip to a specific section of this guide on apartment composting, if you prefer:
- Municipal/Industrial Composting
- Compost Tumbler
- Third-Party Composting Subscription
- Third-Party Compost Drop-Off
I’ve personally engaged in three different types of apartment composting in the past five years: 1) municipal composting offered by my city of residence, 2) vermiculture and 3) third-party composting subscription.
Municipal composting and third-party compost drop-off both rely on counter-top compost bins.
Tip! You can store your compost in any kind of container if you have the room to keep it in your freezer. The freezer will completely prevent the compost from developing odor or attracting gnats or mice. This freezer compost bin looks like a great option to conserve space since it fits in the freezer door.
If you go the counter-top compost bin route, here are some of the best options I’ve found. The biodegradable bamboo compost bin is a particular favorite!
Municipal (sometimes called industrial) composting is a very straightforward option if offered in your city. An added bonus is that it can process things like compostable plastics, which are technically compostable but in actuality very difficult to break down.
When I was living in San Francisco, a company called Recology held a contract with the city to collect its landfill waste, recyclables, and compost (Recology also operates in Seattle and Portland). This was very convenient since it operated almost exactly like municipal trash or recycling: you put compostable materials in the big green bin just like you put recyclables in the blue bin and landfill waste in the black bin, and the city collected it on a set day every week. If you’ve just moved to an apartment in a new city and it’s not obvious whether municipal composting is offered, ask your landlord or inquire at your apartment complex’s leasing office to determine whether it’s an option or not.
A compost tumbler is an option if you have a deck, patio, porch, or some out-of-the-way space indoors (such as in a laundry room). A compost tumbler is a fully-sealed container that can be rotated to mix the composting materials. The sealed container also helps to trap the heat generated by the composting process, thereby speeding the process of converting kitchen waste into compost. Very easy to install and use, compost tumblers are a very tidy, low-odor option that protects composting materials from insects and animals. There are three main types of compost tumblers: sealed drum, aerated drum, and dual-bin and they all have pros and cons that should be fully understood before making a purchase. Compost tumblers come in different sizes, so be sure to select one that is appropriate for the size of your household of the typical amount of your compost material.
Vermicompost is the product of using various species of worms (yes, literal worms) to break down food waste and other organic matter into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner that is easy for plants to absorb. These worms can easily live on your porch, deck, patio, or even indoors in a specialized bin, which you can DIY (the EPA has a detailed guide for making and maintaining your own indoor vermicomposting bin) or buy. If you decide to buy a vermicomposter, or “worm farm” here are some of the options I like the best (“beetle-kill pine” means the vermicomposter’s wood is pine that was felled by rampant infestations of beetles in areas where climate change has made it newly-possible for the beetles to thrive):
One thing to be aware of is that, in my experience, vermicomposting is not a low-maintenance composting option. It’s important to be cognizant of how much the worms can break down at a time because overfeeding can result in odor and attract insects and/or rodents. The ambient temperature needs to be kept within a specific range, and the soil in the vermicomposting bin also needs to be kept at a specific level of moisture for the worms to thrive. Be sure to research the level of time and energy required to ensure your vermicomposting will be successful before you begin!
Third-Party Composting Subscription
We found a wonderful composting company here in northern Virginia called Veteran Compost, which has enabled us to compost in our apartment. While the details vary, Veteran Compost’s process is simple and I’ve included it here to illustrate how it works for our household:
- We collect food scraps throughout the week in the bin provided by Veteran Compost, then set it outside our door on the designated pickup day.
- Veteran Compost picks up our food scraps (leaving an empty bin for next week’s scraps) and takes them to one of their permitted compost facilities. They mix our food scraps with wood chips, place them in large aerated piles, and let the combination compost for four to six weeks.
- After active composting is complete, Veteran Compost screens the compost and then lets it further decompose for an additional two to six months.
- After the entire process is complete, we can either pick up bags of compost to use as we choose or donate them to a local community garden (we donate).
Be sure to get clearance from your building’s management before signing up for a third-party composting subscription and be prepared to collaboratively troubleshoot any access considerations if you live in a gated community, etc. Our apartment complex had no issues with the composting subscription since the model is very similar to the way in which Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and food delivery companies access the premises.
Third-Party Compost Drop-Off
If we didn’t have access to a company like Veteran Compost, we’d likely bag up our compost (compostable bags are widely available at grocery stores, Target, CVS, and Walgreens) and drop it off at a local independent grocery co-op. Mom’s Organic Market serves Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. in this capacity, but if you’re located somewhere else, food co-ops are a great starting place to ask about free compost drop-off options in your area. Some community gardens also allow compost drop-off, so they are good places to ask too.
If there’s something that you think I should include in this guide to apartment composting, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know! I love hearing from readers.
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