Composting in an apartment?

Composting in an apartment?Composting in an apartment is not as simple as composting in a house. Apartment dwellers usually don’t have yards to grow food in, or any space suitable for more than little container gardening. Even if you do all the apartment gardening you probably can’t use all the compost your kitchen is likely to generate.

Another challenge is dealing with stink. When composting bins are working properly, they don’t smell. But sometimes things go wrong, and when that happens in a corner of your kitchen instead of a corner of your yard or garage, it’s pretty gross.

There are several ways to overcome these problems. Not all of them will work for everybody (I never have found anyone willing to take my compost, and I certainly can’t use it all, so that’s it for me), so don’t feel bad if you just can’t make it work.

Composting basics

The actual composting itself is pretty simple. In composting, you have what’s called “green” and “brown” waste. Green includes kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, tea grounds, hair (it’s a good idea to chop up long hairs and spread them around) and green (living) yard waste such as grass clippings or leaves (but nothing with seeds, because you know what happens when seeds are put into rich soil, and that’s where this whole compost project is headed). Brown waste includes dead yard waste, paper and dryer lint.

Now you just need to fill your compost bin with roughly equal amounts green waste and brown. Err on the side of adding more brown if you’re not sure. If your compost smells like rotten eggs, you need more brown. After a few weeks – probably not many, since the amount of material you’re generating is likely small – it should have an earthy smell.

The Compost Bin

You can buy a compost bin, or you can make one yourself. You just need an airtight container of some sort. Or you can create your own worm composting bin. It’s not the simplest thing to put together – you’ll need some tools and some patience – but it should cost under $50. Worm composting done properly has no stink whatsoever. Her design intentionally takes into account some of the problems you can run into and gives you a good start. There are troubleshooting guides to help you fix any problems that arise – worm composting is an extremely popular method.

Keep your composting bin outside, if at all possible. If not, many apartment dwellers have successfully composted indoors. It can be done! If you’re concerned about smell, you can buy specially made kitchen composting bins with charcoal liners to keep the smell down.

Apartment Composting Solutions

As I said above, the composting is fairly straightforward, assuming you can get your hands on brown waste (and if you recycle your paper and add some cups of dirt to the mix, you should be fine), but the problems are finding somewhere to use all your compost, and the possibility of your compost stinking and annoying neighbors. Let’s deal with the second one first.

Composting doesn’t stink. As long as you keep your composting in an airtight container, it’s not going to smell except – possibly – when you open it to check on it. And then it’s only going to smell if your ratios are off. If you open up a compost container and find it’s stinky, close it back up quickly. Then collect some more brown material to add to your heap, open the bag, quickly add the new material, and close it back up again. At most, your neighbors will get a brief whiff. They probably won’t have any idea where it’s coming from.

Where to use/put your compost. The bigger problem is actually using the compost you’ve generated. In an apartment situation, you’re very lucky if you can grow enough plants to actually use all the soil your composting will likely generate. What do you do with the excess soil? This is actually the part that got me all hung up for several years.

  • Give your leftover compost to friends and neighbors who can use it.
  • See if any local gardeners or landscaping contractors want it. (Surprisingly, many won’t take it for fear of violating some rule or regulation or another.)
  • A local farm might take it.
  • Call your city. There could be programs for taking composted soil, or they might simply have a use for it.
  • If all else fails, some people suggest just dumping it in a park or similar environment. I really doubt that would go over well in many congested urban environments. Typically, what little greenspace they have is manicured and cultivated to within an inch of its life, and your pile of dirt would not be welcome on it. But look around – you may find a place.
  • If absolutely everything else has failed, why not tie your compost in a re-used biodegradable plastic bag (that was going to the landfill anyway) and send it off to the landfill? Seriously, if anyone knows why this is a bad idea, please let me know, but it seems to me having some soil in a landfill couldn’t be a bad thing.

Additional Resources

The suggestions I gave for composting up above were pretty general. For more information on exactly which waste items are good for composting, Webecoist has some advice. Don’t worry – it’s not nearly as complicated as memorizing the list of things you’re not supposed to put down a garbage disposal.

PlanetGreen tells you how to make two composting boxes, one for finished compost and the other for compost in process.

Comments

  1. SnappyLiving says

    Thanks, that’s very cool! I’ll definitely look into that.

    I’ll have to see if my landlord wants the compost. My city is really, REALLY far behind on getting the whole green thing. Drug stores won’t dispose of old meds unless you pay them, for example. Charities won’t take stuff unless it’s like new (as if a perfectly usable but slightly worn item wouldn’t be welcomed by people who need charity???). Of course, this is a city that’s known for tearing down perfectly good old apartment buildings and building brand new (cheap) ones in their place to avoid rent control (there’s a loophole for buildings constructed after 1978). It’s pretty vile, really.

    I’ve heard that Whole Foods has some sort of composting program. Surely if I do enough research I’ll find someone who’ll take it off my hands. And by asking people who’ve “never heard of that” and think it’s really “weird” I’ll be exposing folks to the ideas that they really need to embrace.

  2. says

    Hey there, I realize I’m a little late to jump in here, but I figured I’d add my two cents. I live in an apartment and I have been composting for a couple years, on and off. However, I do have some outside space where I can keep my bin, so it makes it easier, and not as critical if the flies come around. But for the most part it’s never gotten smelly on me, so that’s good. I just wrote up an article about how I do it. I’m no pro, but it works, and my method is pretty simple and straight forward, and I didn’t buy any special equipment for my composting.

    http://www.idealistcafe.com/2008/09/apartment-composting-how-to-compost.html

  3. CompostScoop says

    I am guessing you might be in your house by now. But I just moved from a home with two large compost bins and four worm bins to a small apartment. Now I have one worm bin under the sink and it is working great. Did you really find that you had too much compost when you were composting in an apartment?

  4. SnappyLiving says

    I never did find a good composting solution for apartments. For one thing, absolutely no one seemed to want the compost, and it turned out I couldn’t use it as I’d hoped.

    • Danie says

      If your still having a problem finding someone to take the compost try seeing if there is a CSA (or Certified Organics farm) anywhere near your town. I am signed up with a CSA to have all of my organic fruits and vegetables delivered to a drop spot in my town and I just have to go and pick it up. I drop off my compost for them to pick up when they deliver. You might try that.

  5. says

    Hello!

    Your situation sounds very much like mine – most people in my country (Singapore) live in apartment flats. Therefore composting at home is very rare, and our culture have yet to pick up recycling habits as well.

    Nevertheless, my fiance and I created our own compost bin for under SGD$20, and it has been working well. We’re so inspired that we are planning to create our own vermicomposting bin soon :)

    Perhaps our blog might help you out with this – http://compostinginsingapore.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/compostbinforhdb/

    We have created 2 video tutorials to help people who might be interested too –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHhKkqzdIVY

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6EP6hE_wQ8

    All the best! :)

  6. Dimitri says

    Sending compostable wastes to the landfill will soak up lots of water during the rainy seasons, and slowly form with the other trashes (which are made up of all kinds of nasty, inorganic chemicals and products) to leech this gross, soil-destroying fluid. This stuff is called lechate, and can wreak havoc on the area surrounding the landfill. It’s enough of an issue to make more recent dumps planned with lechate in mind, constructing entire membranes underneath the dump itself. But that isn’t foolproof. It’s best to not send any of our precious compost to such a monument to our consumerism, IMO.

    • SnappyLiving says

      Dimitri, then what do you suggest as an alternative for people who can’t use it, can’t find anyone around who wants it, and live in a city that doesn’t want it or care about recycling?

  7. deirdre says

    I suggest Craigslist “free” or “gardening ” section! You’ll probably get several people answering, and make gardener friends! Also, most cities have gardening clubs, whose members would LOVE organic compost! Other ways to find them gardeners: post a note up at your local Whole Foods, contact your city CSA or a coffeeshop where artsy hippiepunks can be found ;)

    • SnappyLiving says

      They didn’t have any place to put the soil either, so how would that help? The complex I was living in at the time this was written had no balconies or patios, so window sills were the only places to stick containers. Even if all 80 units had been container gardening, it wouldn’t have taken much soil to fill them all up.

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