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How to Compost in an Apartment - Tips & Methods

By: Justin Chaplin
January 29, 2020

Trying to figure out how to compost in an apartment? You've probably heard that composting can help save the environment and grow a lush garden at the same time. 

Most composting is done outdoors. However, that doesn't mean apartment renters are left out. Read this guide and you can start apartment composting in no time, even without the smell!

Here's an overview of how to compost in an apartment and how to get started.

What is Composting?

Compost is a collection of organic matter like vegetables and dirt that is decomposed. Through the composting process, the organic matter is recycled. It produces nutrients for your soil or garden. 

You can reuse the compost to grow your own indoor or outdoor garden. Or, you can ask a service to pick up the compost for you. Some people even sell their compost. 

People traditionally compost outdoors. However, the rise of composting in an apartment has opened up the door for products and services that make the experience more accessible. 

What Can You Compost?

Successful composting in your apartment relies on organic matter like vegetable food scraps. However, there’s more stuff around your house that you can add. 

You can throw in things including:

  • Fruit 
  • Banana peels 
  • Coffee grounds 
  • Avocado peels 
  • Old herbs and spices 
  • Other similar items 

Make sure to peel off stickers from any fruit or vegetable peels before you compost them.  

Food isn't the only thing that you can throw in compost. You can also add in things such as:

  • Wood shavings or sawdust 
  • Some printer paper 
  • Black and white printed newspapers 
  • Grass clippings 
  • Tree leaves 

Remember, you can overwhelm your compost with paper goods. They may take months or years to break down. 

Instead, slowly add in paper scraps along with a variety of other ingredients. As a general rule, the more varied your compost, the richer and more nutrient-rich it will be.

What Shouldn't You Compost?

Just because an item is a food scrap doesn't mean you should automatically throw it into the compost bin. 

Bread, cakes, pasta, and baked goods can attract pests. Meat and milk products can rot quickly. 

You should also avoid sickly plants and colored paper. Also, avoid plastic or products you would normally recycle. 

Farmers and gardening enthusiasts may also throw in vegetarian animal waste from rabbits and horses to their compost. The manure might improve the quality of your compost. 

However, this route isn’t advisable for composting in an apartment. Focus on food scraps and paper items. Leave the manure to the farmers.

Benefits of Composting

Composting helps enrich the soil. It reduces reliance on chemical fertilizers. 

You enrich the soil when you compost. You also encourage organic waste to break down naturally into nutrients suitable for your apartment garden

Compost also makes excellent earthworm food. It helps protect plants from common garden diseases and pests.

Composting is also good for the environment and can help reduce landfill waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the generation of municipal solid waste was 267.8 million tons in 2017. Only 27 million tons of that waste was composted. 

The EPA also reports other benefits of composting, including:

  • Composting reduces organic waste in landfills that generate methane and greenhouse gases
  • Composting helps soil's water retention
  • Composting can help improve contaminated soil during reforestation, wetland restoration, and other efforts

Does Composting in Your Apartment Smell?

Despite the growing popularity in composting, many still think composting in an apartment is going to smell pretty bad. It makes sense. Combining various food scraps and things you might throw in the garbage should stink, right?

Well, not necessarily. Composting should smell fresh and earthy. Your garbage smells terrible when you mix waste with the non-organic matter. Doing that prevents the organic matter like food scraps from breaking down properly.

Those sensitive to smell may find their composting pail can start to smell unless you dump it daily. However, you can use a composting tumbler, ceramic pail, or save your scraps in an airtight container with a snug lid to help reduce the odor. You can also add a charcoal filter to absorb the smells.

Once you’ve sealed your scraps tight, you can make a space in your freezer instead of leaving it out in your entryway or countertops. However, the freezer trick stores the scraps. It keeps them from breaking down until you dispose of them with a composting company. 

In this case, you’re not making compost. You’re just storing the scraps. 

This isn't ideal if you plan to use the compost for your garden, but it is an excellent solution if you're looking to contribute to the composting movement and lessen your food waste.

Will Composting in Your Apartment Attract Pests?

Other renters worry that composting in an apartment will attract pests. Airtight containers, compost tumblers, and proper storage are essential when it comes to composting. 

Keep your scraps sealed until you’re ready to move into a compost tumbler or other product. If you do that, you shouldn't have any issues with pests.

What Should You Do With Your Compost?

1. Compost Collectors

So what do you do with a bunch of food scraps turned into compost? 

You can: 

  • Use it in your garden 
  • Donate it to a neighbor with a green thumb 
  • Look into curbside pick up 

However, composting in an apartment usually works well if you have a compost collector to help.

More companies are offering free or affordable pick-ups. They take your compost to local gardens and communities who need it. Start with a company like Compost Now. You can also look at area retailers like Whole Foods, which offers composting bins for employees and customers. 

Local schools and gardening clubs may also take an interest in your compost. If so, they may arrange for pick-up or drop-off.

2. Compost Tumblers

Once you collect your scraps, you still need to turn it all into compost. You can accomplish that through a series of aerating it, turning it, and letting it sit. 

Doing this all by hand is possible, but messy. Also, it might yield inconsistent results. 

Instead, you can use a compost tumbler. You can rotate these large, cylindrical containers and mix up the materials. 

These aren’t the same thing as compost bins that have open bottoms. They’re usually more portable. 

A compost tumbler usually requires some space in a garage, backyard, or an oversized utility or laundry room. However, you can find smaller options on the market. Those might work in a larger apartment or rental house. 

Whatever kind of compost container or tumbler you use, remember there must be air holes or ventilation of some kind. That’ll help the necessary aerobic bacteria to thrive.

3. Worm Composters

Composting in an apartment requires some space when using a large, traditional compost tumbler. However, worm composters, or vermicomposters, are small. They quickly process your household organic waste. 

Worm composting bins are what they sound like. They use live worms to help turn the organic waste into compost. 

Worms may not sound desirable to have in your apartment. However, worm composters are easy to use and contain the worms. 

When worms eat the food scraps, it turns into compost when it passes through the worm's body. You can make a DIY worm composter with containers. However, you will likely need to purchase the worms. 

Red wigglers are efficient for composting. They’re readily available from compost suppliers. 

Final Thoughts

Composting in an apartment doesn't need to be complicated. Focus on appropriate food scraps and some paper products around your home. Then, add them to a portable, easy-to-use compost bin, tumbler, or worm composter. 

You can rest easy knowing you're doing your part to help the environment. You’ll also have some fantastic food for your balcony garden!

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Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
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