If you’re looking to reduce your overall food waste and start composting but are worried you don’t have enough space— worry not. Composting is something everyone can do no matter where they live. Whether you’re out in the open prairie or a small NYC studio apartment, you can definitely compost. It’s cheap to start and requires little additional time from your daily life to do. Here’s a quick guide on how to start composting in a small apartment.
Everything You’ll Need
- A Small Compost Bin
- Paper Towels/Newspaper
- Extra Filters (Optional)
The first thing you’re going to want to get in order to start composting in a small apartment is a compost bin, of course. These are readily available on Amazon or at any local gardening center. You’ll want one that is small enough to sit on your counter or in a cabinet below. You’re also going to want one that blocks out smells. Composting is natural, but natural doesn’t mean it’s going to smell like daisies.
The Exaco 2.4-gallon compost pail is great for smaller apartments. It’s not even a foot tall and has a carbon filter to cut down on smells. Once it’s in a cabinet, it’ll smell less than your trash. You ideally want something that can hold a few gallons of compost, and 2.4 gallons is the sweet spot. You’d be surprised at how quickly these things can fill up, even if you live alone.
If you’re still worried about smells or you have particularly smelly food scraps, you might want to invest in additional charcoal filters that fit over the lid of your bin. While the original one should be more than enough and last months, it’s not a bad idea to have extra filters on hand. These filters should fit most compost bins and can be cut to any size, but double-check the size of the filter you need before buying anything.
Lastly, you will need some dirt and shredded newspaper or paper towel to begin the composting process. You can’t just throw eggshells in the bin and magically hope for something to happen! If possible, try and get a small amount of dirt from somewhere— legally.
Either purchase some soil from a garden center or find a way to legally get soil from a local community garden. If you mention you’re trying to start composting in a small apartment, they probably won’t mind you taking a small bucket’s worth.
How to Start Composting
Starting a compost bin is extremely simple. You’re going to want to take your dirt and line the bottom of your bin with it. Once you have a good base with room to place food waste on top, add your shredded towels or newspaper. This will help keep your compost from getting too wet and becoming soupy as you add more scraps.
It’s important to have some form of airflow in your bin. Most bins from a store will have their own holes blocked by a charcoal filter. If you’re making your own, make sure it isn’t airtight. Cut some holes in the lid and add a charcoal filter using hot glue or something else. This will help keep smells from leaking out, as well as keep bugs from entering or leaving your compost.
You don’t have to wait for the soil to adjust to its new home; you can immediately start throwing food scraps in your compost bin. Congratulations, by the way, on starting your own compost bin in your tiny apartment! We said it would be simple, didn’t we? Before you go throwing everything in there, though, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
The Dos and Don’ts of Composting
You might think you can throw any food scrap in the bin and that it will break down over time, and you’d be right; given enough time, organic matter will break down, but did you stop to think about the smells? Remember, you’re composting in a small apartment, there isn’t a lot of room to hide from rotting meats.
There are a number of things you want to keep out of your compost bin for one reason or another. It’s definitely not obvious what should and shouldn’t go in your bin either if you’ve never composted before. The wrong scraps can turn composting in a small apartment into a nightmare quick if you’re not careful.
We have a full guide on what you can and can’t compost, but if you’re interested in the abridged version, here’s a quick summary. It’s not a full list, but it should cover most of your food waste.
- Fruit and Vegetable Scraps (Avoid Citrus)
- Coffee Grounds
- Used Paper Towels (Non-greasy)
- No meat or fish
- No onions or garlic
- No dairy
- No grease
While on the topic of dos and don’ts, keep an eye on the liquidity of your compost. You want it to resemble soil and not look like some sort of primordial soup. If it is getting moist and smelly, add some dead leaves or shredded paper towels to try and help offset the moisture content of your bin.
You may encounter a problem with fruit flies since they often lay eggs on fruits— which is also why you should wash your fruit before eating or cooking with it. If you do have a fly problem, try to cut back on the number of food scraps you’re adding to your compost or install some fruit fly traps near your compost. These traps are great and remain inside your compost bin, keeping unsightly traps out of view.
You should also stir your compost at least once a week to mix it up, get the new scraps on top to the bottom, and give it a general once-over. Cutting up your food scraps or crushing them also helps your compost bin work faster and easier. If you follow these dos and don’ts, you’ll find that composting in a small apartment is way easier than you originally thought.
What to Do With Your Compost
Now that you have compost, what do you do with it? Well, that’s up to you. If you have plants in your apartment, which you should, you can easily add some of it to their pots to help their growth. You can also head back to the community garden where you got your starting soil and repay them for their generosity.
You can also just toss it into the trash if you have nowhere else to put it, but that should be a last resort. Don’t let your hard work go to waste! Reach out to friends and family or even make a post on Facebook Marketplace advertising your compost. Someone somewhere is going to want free compost; trust us.