Can I Compost In My Apartment?

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes



Many people want to lower their environmental footprint and wonder if they can compost in their apartments. The good news is YES; you can compost in your apartment.

In fact, it is quite easy to compost many food items and paper waste with little effort at all. By the end of today’s article, you will learn how you can compost in your own apartment for $0 to get started.

Let’s get started.

Environmental Impact Of Waste

Municipalities across the united states offer curbside recycling pick-up. People clean and separate their recycling and place it in the curbside bin. However, we can never be quite sure of what happens to the recyclables after they leave your doorstep.

People have become aware that countries like China are no longer accepting many of our recyclables. This has lead to recyclables actually being taken to the dump and treated like trash. I believe many towns and cities are trying their best, but there are more recyclables than we can actually deal with.

Let’s break down the environmental impact of two types of recyclables you can easily remove from the waste stream.

Food Waste

Food waste is often difficult to reduce for people living in apartments.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated in 2011 that approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted. So much food that is produced goes into the trash bin.



We are trying to address this problem now as many towns and cities are starting to offer curbside or city food composting. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance estimates that 78 million tons of municipal waste (food scraps, yard scraps, paper, chipped wood, and some bioplastics) heads to landfills. They estimate that 21 million tons could be removed, composted, and reused.

However, many cities are still planning their composting programs, and food waste continues to find its way to landfills. Methane caused by decomposing food waste continues to contribute to climate change and global warming.

If you want to take care of your own food waste and compost in your apartment, it is possible.

Paper Waste

Thankfully, most paper products are widely accepted through city and town recycling programs. Paper is the #1 most recycled item according to a study by Green Student U. They calculated that 35 out of every 100lbs. is a paper product.

Science.com’s article Negative Effects of Paper Wastes states, “Transport for waste costs money. The more waste, the more the cost to transport it. As landfill volume increases, more and more land is needed for waste containment. Wastes often need to be burned, causing air pollution. The paper contains many toxins that leak into the soil from open and covered landfills and into the soil, where it causes ecological damage.”



Even though the paper is more widely accepted as a recycled product- much of it still enters a landfill. There is still an environmental cost for the paper that is truly recycled.

Once again, you can recycle and compost common paper products in your own apartment.

Now that we’ve covered common items you can compost at home let’s cover two apt. Composting common strategies.

Apartment Composting Solutions

It can feel frustrating to read the numbers presented earlier. The good news is that you can fully compost both of these products easily in your own home. There are two prevalent methods that people use today. The first strategy is through vermicomposting, and the second is via the Bokashi method.

Let’s explore each strategy and its benefits.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting or using bugs- especially worms to compost items and produce fertilizer. The most common species of worms used for vermicomposting is Eisenia fetida. They are also commonly called red worms.

Red worms eat a wide variety of common household foods. They can also eat half of their weight daily. You can compost both food and paper waste.

Common Worm Food Items

Common paper items like unbleached, undyed cardboard and newspapers make great bedding. Worms will eat both the food scraps you add to the bin and their bedding. How much you can compost depends on the size of the bin and the number of worms.

After a couple of months or a year, it will be time to harvest worm compost.

Benefits Of Worm Compost

One of the benefits of worm composting is the final product- nutrient-rich compost. Worm compost is cited as one of the most beneficial friendly fertilizers because of the microbial diversity. A home worm composting bin often contains other beneficial decomposers.

Mites, molds, and bacteria all help the worm break down the food scraps. Those beneficial items continue you survive in the compost. I personally have found that worm composting in my apartment is the easiest method.

I harvest the compost in the late winter and use it in my soil when I repot my spring plants. It is amazing to feel like these items go through a full recycling loop within my own home.

Bokashi

Another method of at-home composting is the bokashi method. I have never tried this method – but I know many who swear by it. This article wouldn’t be complete without at least a nod to bokashi.

According to Wikipedia, bokashi converts food waste into fertilizer through fermentation by bacteria. Like worm composting, you can add common household items. You can also add meat, fat, cheese, cooked leftovers, and more in bokashi composting.

bokashi compost in apartment system
Bokashi Home Composting Kit

To use this method, you place all of the items in the bin and add the Lactobacilli to the bucket. In a few weeks, the food waste has undergone anaerobic decomposition. After this process, your compost is now ready to use.

Benefits Of Bokashi Compost

Similar to vermicomposting, one of the major benefits is the bacteria added back to the soil. The final product can be added directly to the soil, ensuring the highest nutrient value.

Unlike vermicompost, I have not heard accounts of people adding bokashi directly to their houseplants. Instead, I’ve read more accounts of a trench method to reintroduce the compost back to the earth. Another account states that you can places it almost like frosting over the top of the soil you want to amend.

If you follow the bokashi method, please share some ways you use your compost in the comments below!

How To Worm Compost In Your Own Apartment

So, I’ve talked about why composting is necessary. Then I shared two types of apartment composting methods to consider. Now, let’s talk about how you can get started today with common items you have on hand.

Containers

First, you will need to find a suitable container to house your new worm colony. Many people use old plastic storage totes like the one pictured below.

Worm Composting Containers tote bin with compost

It is worth noting that you can use all sorts of containers. Ideally, you are looking for a container that is:

  • Opaque
  • Wide vs tall
  • You can make holes in it
  • It has a lid, or you can cover it

I currently use 16 1/4″ x 11 1/4″ x 6 3/4″ storage containers for my worm bin. These items were left over after downsizing some previously stored items. I’ve also used large totes and plastic cat litter bins. Over the years, I’ve seen people use old ice cream buckets, restaurant bus totes, and more.

You can find more information about all things bins here. Honestly, finding a container is all up to your imagination.

Bedding

Next, you will need to find some suitable bedding options. There is a common misconception that you should add dirt. However, composting worms live in leaf litter and the top section of the earth. Earthworms do live much deeper into the dirt, but they are not the type of worm used for composting.

Common household items you can use for bedding are shredded or cut up:

  • Newspaper
  • Unbleached Cardboard
  • Unbleached Paper Egg Crates
  • Toilet Paper/ Paper Towels

You can also use items like organic coconut coir (make sure the coconut coir did not rinse it with saltwater), some clean outdoor leaves (those far from frequent car exhaust and pet traffic). I traditionally start with roughly 75% paper goods, 25% mix of leaves and coir.

First, you should wet the paper goods before adding them to the mix. The ideal moisture level is that of a well-squeezed sponge. I often pour my sink or a large bowl with some filtered water from my Brita pitcher. Then I add the scraps to absorb the liquid and soften the paper and cardboard.

Wait until the bedding items are fully soaked with water. Then grab a handful of paper scraps and writing them out to that damp sponge consistency. Then, scatter the bedding items in your worm bin and eventually mix in with the leaves and coconut coir.

Worms

Next, you will need to source some composting worms. I’ve been working on a state-by-state list of where you can buy worms here. Overall, if you want to go the 100% free route, you can check your backyard or local park for worms.

red wigglers composting worms
A handful of red wigglers

If you are open to purchasing your worms, you can check local bait and tackle fishing shops. You can also search Craigslist as well as a Facebook marketplace for resources in your hometown.

There is also the option to purchase your worms online and have them shipped to your home. I advocate for finding a seller as close to your home as possible. This often leads to the best shipping outcomes. However, there are plenty of amazing national sellers that you can turn to as well.

Food

Once you have your worms and you’ve added them to your bin, it’s time to feed them. How much you feed them depends on the total number of worms you have in the bin. A typical redworm can eat half its weight a day under the right conditions.

Worms love to eat common household food scraps. Red wigglers love items such as vegetable peels, fruits, eggshells, and even avocado. You can even make a dry feed called worm chow – I’ve made a full guide to worm feeding here.

The initial population can double or triple every 90 days. That means over time; you will need to feed your worms more and more food. This means that more food and paper are composted instead of wasted. After a few months or a year, you will have a decent amount of nutrient-rich vermicompost to harvest.

Compost

So all things go well. It’s now time to harvest and use your worm fertilizer. How you collect the worm compost often depends on the type of bin. It can also depend on how you’ve been feeding your bin or the tools you have to harvest.

I converted my old organization totes into a stacking bin system. Every six months, I add a new tier to my worm bin and remove the bottom tier. Remember, worms prefer to live on the top of the soil near the air. As I add a new bin and begin feeding there, the worms travel from one bin to another. Note that’s via holes that are drilled in the bottom – not magic.

New light red wiggler egg
New, light worm egg

You can screen the compost you collect to ensure no cocoons or worms are displaced in the process. This is especially important if you are putting your compost in an outdoor garden. You don’t want to add an invasive worm species to the outdoor ecosystem.

Next, find a nearly air-tight container to store your vermicompost. I use an old coffee can for my compost. I took a tiny drill bit and drilled two small holes in the lid to allow for airflow. The bacteria and microbes are still alive and need air to live. However – you don’t want it to dry out. The moisture/ fresh air balance is critical, and why I find that is why a coffee can is a perfect storage container.

Whenever you are repotting a plant or need to fertilize it, use your homemade vermicompost!

Summary

Now you know that you can compost in your own apartment and how to get started. I absolutely love vermicomposting and advocate for everyone to give it a shot. This method will help you reduce both food and paper waste. However, the hands-off bokashi method may be a better fit for your lifestyle.

It doesn’t matter which option you choose, but that you start. You can make a dent in your environmental footprint and reduce food waste in your own apartment. Composting is not just for those with expansive land- you too can compost.

So get started, and let me know how it’s going in the comment section below!

Happy composting!

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