How to Compost in an Apartment

  • By: Sam Richards
  • Date: August 21, 2023
  • Time to read: 13 min.

Urbanization has undoubtedly reshaped the way we live our lives. As apartment living becomes a prevalent mode of accommodation worldwide, the need to adopt sustainable practices within the confines of these smaller spaces is becoming increasingly important. One such practice is composting – a simple yet effective way to minimize waste and promote greener living, irrespective of where you reside.

While composting may be traditionally associated with ample garden spaces, the truth is, it can be seamlessly incorporated into an apartment setting as well. Yes, you heard that right – composting isn’t exclusive to sprawling backyards! The core essence of composting revolves around transforming organic waste into nutrient-rich soil, a process that can just as conveniently take place in a small container within your apartment as it would in a larger outdoor compost heap.

This guide aims to dispel the myth that composting and apartment living are incompatible. It will walk you through the entire process of setting up your mini composting station right inside your apartment, offering a deep dive into different composting methods suited for smaller spaces, addressing potential challenges, and sharing tips on maintaining your compost system efficiently. From understanding the science behind composting to reaping its multitude of benefits, we’ve got you covered.

Regardless of whether you’re an experienced composter looking to adapt your practices to a smaller living space, or you’re entirely new to the concept and eager to make your lifestyle more sustainable, this guide is a comprehensive resource. So, let’s embark on this journey to turn your apartment into a haven for waste reduction and sustainability.

A Deep Dive into the World of Composting

Composting is a rich and complex process that, at its core, is essentially the art and science of accelerating the natural decay of organic material. This process takes what would be regular waste and transforms it into something beneficial, creating a full-circle, zero-waste lifecycle.

Let’s break down the composting process further. Composting is essentially the controlled decomposition of organic material. Nature is responsible for the original composting process where leaves fall in a forest, break down over time, and turn into a part of the soil structure, thus enriching it. We replicate this process in composting, but we speed it up with a little human intervention.

The real heroes in the composting process are the billions of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, that consume organic waste. These microorganisms break down the material into simpler organic compounds. This process of decay is their way of consuming the materials and using them for energy and growth.

Worms, insects, and other small organisms further assist in breaking down the materials. They add to the process by creating air pockets as they move through the compost, which helps to aerate the pile and accelerate the breakdown process.

The end result of composting is a dark, crumbly substance that is rich in nutrients and beneficial organisms. This substance, known as compost, is similar to fertile garden soil. It is excellent for adding to garden beds or potting mixes to provide plants with nutrients, improve soil structure, promote soil health, and aid in moisture retention.

Composting brings with it a host of benefits. It not only helps reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills but also diminishes the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas produced when organic waste decomposes in an oxygen-deprived environment like a landfill. By composting, you are not only contributing to a healthier and more sustainable earth but also creating a nutrient-rich supplement for your plants or community garden.

Apartment Composting Challenges

While composting within an apartment setting is entirely feasible, it does present a unique set of challenges. Understanding these potential difficulties ahead of time can equip you to manage them effectively, ensuring your composting journey is a successful one.

1. Limited Space:

Living in an apartment usually means dealing with limited space, and it’s one of the significant challenges when it comes to composting. However, with some innovative solutions, you can make composting a reality even in the smallest apartments. Here’s how:

1. Choose Compact Composting Systems:

There are composting systems specifically designed for small spaces. Worm composting bins and Bokashi buckets, for example, are compact and can easily fit under the kitchen sink or in a corner. Electric composters are also a suitable option as they expedite the composting process, reducing the space needed to store compostable waste.

2. Utilize Your Balcony or Patio:

If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony in your apartment, it can be a perfect location for your compost system. A small compost bin or tumbler can fit comfortably on most balconies. This not only provides a ventilated area for your compost to thrive but also keeps it outdoors, minimizing potential odor issues. Remember, the key to successful composting is maintaining a balance between green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials, and regular turning of the compost to aid aeration.3. Be Organized with Your Waste:

Make sure to compact your compostable waste as much as possible before adding it to your compost system. This could involve cutting larger pieces into smaller chunks or even blending or juicing scraps.

4. Collaborate with Neighbors or Join a Community Garden:

If your apartment complex has a community garden, they may have a communal compost system where you can contribute your kitchen scraps. Alternatively, team up with neighbors to create a shared composting system.

5. Use a Composting Service:

If composting at home is not an option due to limited space, consider using a composting service. These services collect your compostable waste and compost it off-site, saving you space and the hassle of composting.

Remember, the size of your living space doesn’t have to limit your commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. With these tips, you can successfully compost, reducing waste and contributing to a healthier environment.

2. Smell Control:

A well-maintained compost pile should not emit any unpleasant odors. However, if you do notice a foul smell from your compost bin, don’t worry, there are some simple steps to take to eliminate the odor and prevent it from happening again.

1. Maintain a Balance of Green and Brown Materials

Smelly compost is often a sign of too many green (nitrogen-rich) materials, like vegetable peels, fruit scraps, or grass clippings. Balance these with plenty of brown (carbon-rich) materials, such as dry leaves, straws, or shredded newspaper. A good rule of thumb is to use two parts brown materials to one part green materials.

2. Turn Your Compost Regularly

Turning or mixing your compost heap regularly is essential. It helps to aerate the pile and speeds up the composting process. Lack of oxygen can cause the compost to start anaerobically decomposing, which can create a strong odor. Aim to turn your compost once a week.

3. Keep Your Compost Moist, But Not Wet

The moisture level of your compost should be similar to a wrung-out sponge. If it’s too wet, it can create an anaerobic environment and cause odor issues. If your compost heap is too wet, add more brown materials to absorb the excess moisture.

4. Avoid Composting Certain Materials

Avoid composting materials that are known to cause odors, such as meat, dairy products, and pet waste. These materials can also attract pests to your compost heap.

5. Use a Compost Bin with a Lid or Cover

Using a compost bin with a lid or cover can help to control odors and prevent them from spreading. It can also help to keep pests away.

By following these tips, you should be able to keep your compost heap odor-free, making composting in an apartment a more pleasant experience. Remember, a healthy compost pile should have a pleasant, earthy smell, similar to a forest floor.

3. Pest Management:

The prospect of attracting pests is another concern for many potential composters. The last thing any apartment dweller wants is an invasion of unwanted bugs or rodents due to their composting efforts. But don’t worry – pests are generally not a problem if you follow correct composting practices, which include not composting meat and dairy products, maintaining the right moisture level, and using a compost bin with a secure lid.

4. Composting Speed:

In an apartment setting, you might generate waste faster than it can decompose, especially if you’re working with limited space. However, using a composting method that accelerates the process or partnering with a local composting service can alleviate this challenge.

Despite these challenges, with a little bit of planning and the right tools and methods, composting in an apartment can be a rewarding and environmentally beneficial endeavor.

Types of Indoor Composting Methods

When it comes to indoor composting, not all methods are created equal. The key to successful indoor composting lies in selecting a method that best fits your lifestyle, your space, and your personal preferences. Below, we take a look at three popular methods of indoor composting that are ideally suited for apartment living.

Vermicomposting (Worm Composting)

Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a method that uses red wiggler worms to eat and digest kitchen scraps, producing a rich and fertile compost known as worm castings. Vermicomposting systems are compact and odorless when maintained correctly, making them an ideal choice for apartment composting.

In a worm composting system, worms are housed in a bin with bedding such as shredded newspaper. You feed them by adding your kitchen scraps to the bin. The worms eat the scraps and produce castings, which can be harvested for use in your plants.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is a Japanese method that uses a specific group of microorganisms to ferment organic waste. In this method, kitchen scraps are placed in a special Bokashi bucket and then sprinkled with Bokashi bran, which contains beneficial microorganisms. The bucket is sealed, and the microorganisms work to ferment the waste.

The Bokashi method is an anaerobic process, meaning it takes place in an environment without oxygen. This process does not produce the same compost-like end product as other methods, but it does pre-digest the waste, making it perfect for further composting or burying in soil. The process also produces a type of “compost tea,” which can be used as a fertilizer.

Electric Composting

Electric composters are another great option for indoor composting. These devices use heat and rotation to speed up the composting process, producing compost in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months. This type of composter can handle a wider variety of kitchen scraps, including cooked foods and small amounts of meat and dairy. However, they tend to be more expensive than other composting options.

Each of these methods has its own set of advantages and considerations. Your choice will depend on your space, budget, and the amount and type of kitchen waste you generate. With the right method for your situation, you can successfully compost in your apartment, turning your kitchen scraps into a valuable resource.

How To Start Composting In An Apartment

Starting to compost in your apartment might seem like a daunting task at first, but with a few simple steps, you’ll be on your way to reducing waste and creating your own nutrient-rich soil. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Decide on a Composting Method:

Based on the overview of composting methods suitable for apartments, choose the one that best suits your situation. Consider factors such as the amount of space you have available, the type and quantity of waste you generate, your budget, and your personal preferences.

2. Gather Necessary Supplies:

Once you’ve chosen your composting method, gather the necessary supplies. For worm composting, you’ll need a worm bin, bedding, and composting worms (red wigglers). For Bokashi composting, you’ll need a Bokashi bin and Bokashi bran. If you opt for electric composting, you’ll need to purchase an electric composter.

3. Select a Location for Your Compost Bin:

Find a suitable location for your compost bin in your apartment. This could be under the kitchen sink, in a closet, on a balcony, or in any other convenient spot. Ideally, the location should be easily accessible, out of direct sunlight, and in a place with a stable temperature.

4. Start Composting:

Now it’s time to start composting. For worm composting, this involves adding bedding to the bin, adding your worms, and then starting to feed them your kitchen scraps. For Bokashi composting, add your kitchen waste to the Bokashi bin, sprinkle it with Bokashi bran, and seal the bin. For electric composting, simply add your kitchen waste to the machine and let it do its work.

5. Maintain Your Compost Bin:

Maintenance is crucial to successful composting. This can involve turning or mixing the compost, adding more green or brown material to maintain a balance, keeping the compost moist but not wet, and regularly harvesting the compost.

6. Use Your Compost:

Once your compost is ready, you can use it to enrich the soil of your houseplants or balcony garden. If you don’t have a use for it yourself, consider donating it to a local community garden.

Remember, composting is more of an art than a science, and it may take a bit of trial and error to get it just right. But don’t be discouraged. With time and patience, you’ll be able to turn your kitchen scraps into valuable compost, all within the confines of your apartment.

Maintaining Your Compost System

The maintenance of your compost system involves regular turning or mixing to ensure adequate aeration, monitoring moisture levels, and adding new waste materials. Regular monitoring will help you identify and address issues such as foul odors (usually due to an excess of green materials) or a lack of decomposition (often because of insufficient green materials).

Benefits of Apartment Composting

Apart from contributing to environmental sustainability, apartment composting offers numerous tangible and intangible benefits that make it an excellent practice to incorporate into your apartment lifestyle. Let’s dive into some of the remarkable advantages you’ll reap from composting in your apartment:

1. Reduction of Waste:

It’s estimated that about 30% of what we throw away are food scraps and yard waste. Composting diverts this waste from ending up in landfills, where it takes up space and contributes to the creation of harmful methane gas—a potent greenhouse gas. By composting, you reduce the need for plastic garbage bags and the energy required to transport waste to landfills.

2. Creation of Nutrient-Rich Soil:

Composting transforms your kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich compost that can vastly improve the health and productivity of your plants. This compost is full of beneficial microorganisms and nutrients that help plants grow strong and healthy. Whether you use it for indoor houseplants, a balcony herb garden, or donate it to a local community garden, this “black gold” is incredibly valuable.

3. Financial Savings:

Composting can help you save money in a few different ways. Firstly, it reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which can be expensive. Additionally, if your city charges for waste disposal, composting can cut down on the amount of waste you produce, potentially reducing your waste disposal costs.

4. Educational Opportunities:

Composting can be an educational experience for both adults and children. It offers a unique opportunity to understand nature’s recycling process and the circle of life. This deeper understanding can foster an appreciation for the environment and encourage more sustainable living practices.

5. Encourages Sustainable Living:

Engaging in composting makes you more mindful of your waste production and consumption patterns. You become more aware of what you’re throwing away and more likely to consider how you could reduce waste in other areas of your life. This mindset shift can lead to other sustainable practices, like reducing single-use items, recycling more, or buying in bulk.

In conclusion, composting is an eco-friendly activity that brings several benefits to you, your plants, and the environment. It helps close the loop of waste, is financially advantageous, and supports your journey towards a more sustainable and mindful lifestyle. Even in an apartment setting, it is a step towards a greener future that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Innovative Composting Solutions for Apartments

New products and services are emerging to meet the demand for apartment-friendly composting solutions. Some companies offer compact, odor-free composting devices designed specifically for small spaces. Other services will collect your compostable waste and compost it for you, perfect for those who lack the time or space to compost at home.


What Can I Compost?

You can compost fruits and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, crushed eggshells, leaves, newspaper, and cardboard. Avoid composting dairy products, meat, diseased plants, and glossy or colored paper.

Will My Compost Bin Smell?

A properly maintained compost bin should not smell bad. If it does, it may be due to a lack of aeration or an imbalance in your compost materials.

Will My Compost Bin Attract Bugs?

Composting can attract some bugs, but these are usually beneficial for the composting process. However, if your compost bin attracts pests like flies or rodents, it may be due to improper composting practices such as including meat or dairy products in your compost.


Embracing composting within an apartment setting may seem like an ambitious endeavor, especially given the unique set of challenges it presents. However, as this guide has aimed to demonstrate, not only is apartment composting entirely feasible, but it also brings a host of compelling benefits that make it well worth the effort.

Composting in an apartment is about so much more than merely reducing waste or creating nutrient-rich soil for your indoor plants or balcony garden. It’s about fostering a deeper connection to the environment, understanding the value of what we often consider as ‘waste,’ and actively contributing to the cycle of sustainability, even within the confines of a smaller living space.

Getting started with composting in your apartment doesn’t require a significant investment or a vast amount of space. With just a few simple tools, a small corner of your apartment, and a bit of patience, you can start a composting system that transforms your organic waste into a valuable resource. You’re not only creating a healthier environment within your apartment but also contributing to a more sustainable world.

As we wrap up this comprehensive guide to composting in an apartment, remember that every bit helps when it comes to sustainability. Even the smallest composting efforts can have a significant impact over time. So, don’t wait – start your composting journey today, and turn your apartment into a beacon of sustainability and environmental responsibility. After all, change starts at home.

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