The benefits of composting are endless. It reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, all while providing an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Backyard composting might conjure up images of a vast, smelly pile surrounded by flies. But composting doesn’t have to be that way – there are plenty of different options that don’t take up a lot of room and don’t smell. Two things that are vital if you live in an apartment.
When I moved to the city and started looking for ways to compost indoors, I found it hard to find anyone recommending anything other than worm bins. There’s not much information out there, if, like me, vermicomposting isn’t for you.
To fix this problem I’ve put together a guide to indoor composting without worms.
Here’s how to compost in an apartment without worms:
- donate your food scraps
- balcony or indoor composting
- electric composting
Donate your scraps
Perhaps the easiest way to compost in your apartment without worms is to donate your food waste. This is a no-fuss way to divert your scraps from landfill and has the added benefit of helping someone else out.
Here’s a list of ways you can donate your kitchen scraps:
- see if there are any community gardens, local schools, or farms that have a compost pile and would like to take your waste
- list your scraps on craigslist or advertise them in your local store – someone might be interested!
- ask all your Facebook friends if any of them would like some free kitchen waste or know someone who would
- check if your area offers a curbside collection service for food scraps (if not, there’s always the option to pay someone privately to pick it up)
- use a service like sharewaste.com, which helps connect people with spare food waste to people who want that waste
While you wait for someone to take the scraps off your hands, you can either keep them in the freezer, or in a small, air-tight bin.
The freezer is best if you’re not sure how long it’ll be before the scraps are collected because they won’t start to break down prematurely. But if you have someone continually collecting the waste or don’t have room in the freezer (don’t worry, I’m a freezer hoarder too), then a bin is better. Make sure to line it with compostable trash bags.
- someone who doesn’t want to compost but also doesn’t want to send their waste to landfill
- someone who has a lot of scraps and not enough room to compost them all
- someone who doesn’t have enough uses for all the compost they can produce
- someone who has a use for their compost
Bokashi is relatively new on the scene, but it’s gaining popularity as an odorless system that, unlike traditional compost bins, can easily deal with meat and dairy products.
It’s an anaerobic fermentation process that’ll produce a safe soil builder and highly concentrated, nutrient-rich compost tea all within two weeks. You can repeat the process over and over, so it’s a type of continuous composting.
How does Bokashi work?
Bokashi is pretty simple and doesn’t require much maintenance. The basic idea is to mix your food scraps with microbes and then leave them to kickstart the decomposition. You introduce the microbes through an inoculated bran which you can buy.
The steps to follow are:
- at the end of every day take your scraps, chop any bigger pieces up and mix them with some bokashi bran
- put the coated scraps in the compost bin and cover them with some more bran
- push everything down to get rid of any air pockets – a plate is useful for this
- repeat this until the bucket is full and then seal it, making sure the system is void of air (the microbes flourish in anaerobic conditions)
- leave it for around two weeks, draining off the leachate at least every two days. If you have any house plants, you can use the leachate as you would compost tea, just make sure to dilute it first.
After two weeks you can open the bucket and will be rewarded with fermented scraps. The bucket should smell like vinegar, if it smells rotten, then something has gone wrong, and you should throw the contents away.
The fermented scraps are highly acidic, and therefore you can’t use them straight away. They’re what’s referred to as ‘pre-compost’ and need to be buried in soil for an extra two to four weeks where the final stage of decomposition takes place. This isn’t ideal for apartment dwellers because you’re unlikely to have a lot of spare space where you can bury the mixture.
To get around this, you can re-create a soil bed in your apartment:
- take a container and cover the bottom with a 3-inch thick bed of soil
- put the Bokashi scraps on top and then cover them with another layer of soil (around 6 inches thick)
- leave this for a further 2-4 weeks and then you’ll have ready-to-use compost!
If Bokashi sounds like something you’d like to try, I recommend this starter kit.
It comes with everything you need to get started, so it’s great for beginners. The specially designed compost bin has a siphon tap fitted that makes it easy to collect the liquid run off without opening the lid and letting air in.
I review other options in my guide to the best bokashi bins.
- someone who has a lot of meat and dairy scraps
- someone who wants quick results
- someone who wants compost tea
- someone who has no room to leave the Bokashi mix to fully decompose
- someone who wants traditional compost
Indoor or Balcony composting
A healthy compost pile doesn’t smell – so there’s actually nothing stopping you from having a regular compost bin in your apartment.
You can either fashion yourself an indoor compost bin out of an old trash can or buy a ready-made one. I prefer to buy containers because they’re well sealed, which means they won’t attract pests. And they’re very easy to rotate, which makes it easier to turn and aerate the compost.
It’s best if you have a balcony to keep your compost bin on because that way the sun can help heat your bin, which will speed up the composting process. However, it’s not essential. Chopping the scraps up into tiny pieces and mixing the compost will also help make the process quicker. But it’ll still likely take a couple of weeks or months before any compost is ready.
Composting in a small space does require a bit more effort than composting outdoors because there’s less margin for error.
You’ll need to monitor the condition of your compost carefully to make sure it’s decomposing as it should, and act quickly if you spot anything wrong. I have a useful troubleshooting guide in my in-depth article on how to compost – all the principles in this guide apply to indoor composting, just on a smaller scale.
Miracle-Gro Small Compost Tumbler
This compost tumbler can hold 18.5 gallons and is around waist height. It’s mounted on hinges so is very easy to rotate, and you can thoroughly churn your compost in seconds. Miracle Grow claims that the hexagonal design is better for turning the compost because it encourages more mixing.
Some users have reported that it’s a little tricky to put together, but once done correctly, it’s very sturdy and should be able to hold a full load.
If you have a bit more space, you can buy a two-chamber version. Having two chambers means you can have two lots of compost on the go at any one time.
- someone with a balcony or some sort of outdoor space
- someone who understands the composting process and what’s required (or who wants to learn)
- someone who wants to produce traditional compost
- someone who wants to collect compost leachate
- someone who wants a quick process
- someone who’s looking for an option with no chance of a few bad smells
The final way to start indoor composting without worms is to get an electric composter, otherwise known as a food recycler. This a serious bit of kit. It can take your kitchen scraps and turn them into a dry, nutrient-rich soil amendment in as little as 3 hours.
The machines work by dehydrating the food waste and then grinding it up, reducing volume by up to 90%. It can deal with all types of food, including meat, dairy and any greasy leftovers you have. A unique filtration system stops any smells from escaping.
You can simply fill the bucket up and leave it to run. Once the cycle’s finished, you can use the mixture directly on your plants as fertilizer or mulch. However, if you’ve put a lot of meat in there, then I would advise burying the mixture because these pieces will rehydrate as you water the plants and attract flies. Mixing them into the soil will solve this problem.
It’s pretty small (about the size of a bread maker) so can’t deal with a whole lot of waste. Depending on how much waste you have, you might find yourself running a cycle every day. However, it’s quiet and doesn’t use a lot of electricity (about 1 kWh per cycle), so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
- someone who has a lot of meat and dairy scraps they want to get rid of
- someone who wants instant results
- someone who is very tight on space
- someone who wants no hassle and no chance of bad odors
- someone who wants traditional compost
What can I do with excess compost?
If you live in an apartment, you might only have a few plants – and there’s only so much compost one plant needs!
If you find yourself with too much compost, you can always donate just like I suggested doing with your food scraps. Any schools, gardens, farms, or people who were willing to take your raw kitchen waste will likely be more than willing to also take your finished compost.
Anyone who owns plants can benefit from some compost so you can even ask your other friends without gardens if they’d like any. Or put an advert up on your building’s notice board and see if any of your neighbors respond, chances are someone will.
Let us know if you have any success with these methods, or if you’ve come up with another smart way to compost indoors without worms.