Urban Composting Tips for City Dwellers and Apartment Renters

When you think of composting, do you envision large piles of organic waste turned regularly by dedicated farmers, pitchforks in hand? While large composting bins do yield more soil, urban composting is becoming a popular activity for anyone trying to go green. Just because you live in a city or rent an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t compost like a pro. Here are a few urban composting tips and basics to help you reduce your trash output.

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Urban Composting Tips for City Dwellers and Apartment Renters

What Is Compost?

Compost is decomposed organic matter. That organic matter can consist of leaves, wood chips, coffee, tea (with the bag or staple removed) and kitchen scraps like veggies, fruits, eggshells and grains. However, you should never compost meats, bones, oils, dairy products, pet waste or any plants treated with pesticides. 

These items will only attract unwanted scavengers and detract from the quality of your compost. Composting inside is quite different than an outdoor compost pile.  Follow a few of these indoor urban composting tips for healthy compost year round!

woman composting kitchen scraps in small countertop compost container with text overlay 'Urban composting how to compost in small spaces

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Containers You Can Use

The key to composting in an urban setting is to find the right compost bin. Even if you have a small outdoor area for compost, many urban communities have regulations regarding open compost piles.

Without any outdoor space at all, you’ll need to find a small compost bin that can be kept indoors, usually on the counter, underneath the sink or in the garage. Larger alternatives like trash cans or plastic storage containers also work.

Indoor Composting

Commercial indoor compost bins are available for purchase; try a few different methods to find what works for you. You can look into Bokashi, which is an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, into homemade compost.  

Products for Indoor Composting:

orange peels

How Does Urban Composting Work?

Small-scale urban composting works on the same principles as larger compost bins; you’re just composting on a smaller level, usually in your home in a closed system rather than outdoors.

You combine brown material rich in carbon (leaves, straw, woody materials) with “green” material rich in nitrogen (grass, food scraps, manures). Just the right amount of moisture, air and heat allow the right microorganisms to grow and the material begins to break down into its most basic components.

For specifics regarding the ratio of certain materials, temperature and similar details, check out the Urban Garden Center.  They are a great resource for urban composting tips! 

More Urban Gardening Tips

Small compost bin

How Is Compost It Made?

When your organic material breaks down, the dark, crumbling substance created is one of nature’s best garden fertilizers, or the perfect source of nutrients for your potted plants.

Make sure you include a wide variety of compostable material in your compost bin, and be patient; it’ll need time to turn from raw material into usable compost. A regularly tended compost pile can be ready to use in several weeks, although time requirements vary depending on how often you turn it, the amount of sunlight it gets and what type of matter is being broken down. 

Consider Worm Bins

Worm bins are a great way to compost in the city, and they’re relatively easy to make. Yes, there is a bit of an ick factor if you’re not a worm person (or a fisherman), but worms are masters at breaking down organic products and turning them into compost.

As long as the worm bin is taken care of properly, it won’t smell. Make sure you only add what the worms can break down in a short amount of time — three times their weight per week, according to research from Cornell — and keep the proper ratio of brown to green material.

Keep in mind worm bins must be kept inside because they’re sensitive to extreme temperatures. If you kill your worms, these urban composting tips will do you absolutely no good!

How to Make a Worm Bin

One of the best indoor compost tips I can share is to learn how to make a worm bin!  Check out this video below from  Epic Gardening on worm composting works!


What to Do With Your Compost

Once you’ve become a master of indoor composting, you’ll have a ready supply of nutritious, organic material for your plants or patio garden. You don’t have to be a master gardener to make compost.  In fact, you don’t have to garden at all!  What can you do with compost if you don’t garden?  Here are a few ideas:

  •  Use a Curbside Compost Service: Find a curbside compost service that will pick up your food scraps right at your house.  According to EarthShare, more than 150 U.S. cities now offer curbside composting along with trash collection and recycling.
  • Add It to Your Potted Plants: Mix your compost with store-bought organic potting soil to ensure good drainage.  
  • Make Friends With Your Neighbors: What better way to make friends with your neighbors than to offer them some free compost, right?  
  • Donate It to a School or Community Garden:  Find a school nearby with a garden or your local community garden center and give them your homemade compost.  
  • List it on Craigslist:  Don’t know your neighbors?  Offer your compost on Craigslist so that other people nearby can benefit from your urban composting.  

What About the Smell?

When you think about rotting food and yard waste, you probably assume there will be a foul odor involved, right? Not if you properly maintain it.

Compost is pretty easy on the nose when taken care of. If your indoor compost starts to stink, you may be adding the wrong foods, not using the right combination of green to brown material or giving your worm bin more food than the worms can handle.

Things You Can Compost

A slight earthy smell like mowed grass is normal for a healthy compost, but some indoor compost bins include a charcoal filter, which helps to keep even that slight odor at bay.  If you follow these urban composting tips, you should not notice a bad smell coming from your compost!

Things You Can Compost Inside:

Compost is a great organic gardening solution for your balcony garden or indoor flower post.  Here are a few things you can compost inside. 

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps 
  • Eggshells  
  • Coffee grounds and unbleached filters
  • Natural Tea bags  (make sure you know what the filter material is made out of.  Do not compost synthetic materials)
  • Loose leaf tea  
  • Used paper napkins and paper towels 
  • Houseplant trimmings.
  • Shredded paper

You can create nutrient-rich soil for your flower or vegetable garden, even if you live in an apartment, by following these tips for composting in a city.  Whether you want to grow your own vegetable garden or just start a windowsill herb box, the secret to healthy plants is all in the soil.

Make sure to check out my article about non-compostable items before you get started.  Have any other easy urban composting tips to share?


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