composting small spaces apartments

The composting craze has taken the world by storm. From city councils introducing large-scale food composting programs to restaurants sending their food scraps to local farms, it appears that more and more of us are turning our food waste into a valuable product.

Unfortunately, for those of us who live in small spaces, we might be feeling left out when we see our friends’ compost heaps or outdoor composting bins. Fortunately, composting is possible for us, too!

Let’s break down (pun intended) the misconception that you need a large garden in order to compost. Here are our top 4 small space and apartment composting tips.  

1. Know Why You Should Compost—Even if You Don’t Have a Garden

More of us live in small spaces these days. In fact, the percentage of Americans who live in apartments has increased more than 10% over the past decade, now totaling more than 100 million renters. 

If you’re in a studio apartment or without a garden of your own, you may be wondering if there are any benefits to composting. While you may not be able to see your compost collection directly support any plants, it’s important to realize that the unseen benefits of composting are perhaps more important. 

While compost is a great way to enrich soil without fertilizer and prevent plants from contracting diseases and pests, it’s also beneficial for another very important reason: It reduces methane emissions and lowers your carbon footprint (EPA).

You see, food waste is a big problem, and composting is a big solution—even if it happens in a small space.

Here’s some food for thought, courtesy of RTS:

  • Every year, Americans waste about 80 billion pounds of food. To put this in perspective, this is equal to 1,000 Empire State Buildings. 
  • This means that each person is wasting about 240 pounds of food each year. 
  • Our total food waste amounts to more than $161 billion dollars and makes up 22% of what ends up in our trash cans.
  • Of the entire US food supply, we waste around 30-40%—even when 37 million Americans are food insecure. 

Then there’s the fact that wasting food is responsible for 7% of global emissions—equivalent to 37 million cars. That said, if you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint, cutting down on food waste is one of the biggest things you can do. 

Even if you aren’t using the compost yourself in a garden, keeping it out of landfills is a great way to support our planet and preventing food from truly being wasted.

2. Choose the Right Bin

So now we know that composting is important, how can you actually start? There has never been a better time to start composting because it’s easier than ever in a small space.

No, you don’t need to design and construct a bin yourself, nor do you need to save hundreds of dollars for a fancy composting tumbler. Here are a few of our favorite options for composting in apartments and small spaces:

  • Worm Bins: Haven’t thought of inviting hundreds of worms over to your apartment? Maybe you should. Worms are easy to manage and they’re extremely effective at breaking down your food scraps. 

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is great for small spaces, apartments, and composting indoors. It’s easy to fit into small spaces, requires very little maintenance, and the worms break down all the food for you! 

You can either make a vermicomposting system with a couple of 5-gallon containers and a drill, or you can purchase one. We like the Worm Factory 360.

  • Bokashi Bucket: For those of us who are uncomfortable about sharing a home with some wriggly worms, a Bokashi Bucket might be a better option. Unlike most other composting systems, a bokashi bucket is anaerobic (i.e. it doesn’t require oxygen).

While this is a great smell-free way to process harder-to-compost food scraps like dairy and meat, it doesn’t fully compost everything. At the end of the cycle, you’ll be left with fermented ingredients, which will need to be buried. 

  • Electric Composters: While traditional composting methods take weeks to months to transform food waste into compost, an electric composter can do it in just a few hours. While these tend to be a pricer option, they’re also one of the most effective ways to compost anything—even bones.  

Even better, many electric composting systems include a carbon filtration system that blocks odors. They’re also quiet and dishwasher-friendly—making them perfect for tiny spaces. 

For those of us who know and love the Vitamix brand, it’s worth checking out their FoodCycler FC-50

  • Local Compost Network: If you’re concerned about the finished compost going to waste, or simply want to give back to your local community, take some time to look for local compost networks in your area. Many schools, farms, and non-profit organizations offer an easy and affordable way to put your food scraps to use. 

In most cases, you simply sign up for a subscription to have someone come and pick up a weekly bucket of table scraps to turn it into valuable compost. All you have to do is fill it up and remember to leave it outside! If you want a hands-off way to recycle your food scraps, this is it. 

3. Know What You Can Compost

For most of us, we’ve never spent a weekend on a farm or in a landfill and we have little to no idea exactly how food scraps breakdown—and even less of an idea about how we can help the process. 

While each composting system is different (and it’s recommended that you check with each system specifically), here are some general composting do’s and don’ts:

Generally allowed in all systems:

  • Most fruit and vegetable peels (including skins and rinds)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea (for teabags, check to be sure that they’re plastic-free)
  • Pasta (without sauce or oil)
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Herbs and spices
  • Dust
  • Dryer lint
  • Paper towels
  • Crushed eggshells (but not entire eggs)
  • Nut shells

Avoid or limit with vermicomposting:

  • Onions (including onion skins)
  • Citrus fruits (and peels)
  • Potatoes (and peels)
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Fatty foods

Throw in the trash:

  • Animal waste (some electric composting systems can process it)
  • Meat and dairy products (except in Bokashi Buckets and some electric composters)
  • Fats, oils, and lard

4. Compost Best Practices

If you get sad thinking about all of the possibilities of an outdoor composting system, realize that indoor and small space composting has its advantages.

Most importantly, composting requires heat, so a small space or apartment that remains above 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round is going to be more effective than an outdoor system exposed to cold temperatures. 

To keep your indoor composting system working well, here are a few extra tips:

  • Ensure an adequate moisture level. In some composting systems, too much or too little moisture could be a problem (i.e. a vermicomposting system might require you to spray water every couple of days). As a general rule of thumb, your compost bin should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. 
  • Don’t add too much food. Try not to overwhelm a composting system with too much food. With some systems, it’s best to wait until everything is decomposed before you add more. 
  • Notice a foul smell? Anything aside from an earthy scent could be a sign that something’s not working properly. 
  • Add brown matter. Compost breaks down easier when high-nitrogen food scraps are combined with high-carbon brown material. Dead leaves and shredded newspaper are good to mix in. 
  • Are fruit flies a problem? If you see fruit flies, it could be a sign that your compost is exposed to too much air. 

Bonus: How to Prevent Food Waste to Begin With

  • Fall in love with imperfect/ugly produce
  • Plan meals and use grocery shopping lists
  • Donate leftover food
  • Use your freezer
  • Be thoughtful when eating out 
  • Understand expiration labels (here’s a good resource from the National Resource Defense Council)

Have any more small space or apartment composting tips? Feel free to share them in the comments!

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