Hello internet friends! Today, I’m doing something a little different. Although most of my content is either science-based, recipe-based, or eats-based, today, I’m sharing more of a “how I do this” style post, to document how I compost at home in a studio apartment, and going over what is in fact, compostable.
There are many reasons to compost, and investing time and energy into your own backyard compost bin certainly has its benefits. Perhaps in another post, I could dive into that topic more deeply, but I am less familiar with the actual execution of outdoor composting compared to indoor composting.
Composting indoors in a small space is much different than composting outside in a yard with a designated bin. While I hope to one day have a legitimate compost set-up, and use my compost to nourish my garden, I am at a stage of life where that is not in my nearly forseeable future. For the past many years, and at present, I live in a small studio apartment, with about 500 feet of rented space to my name.
What I am sharing today is not an exhaustive instructional manual on how to compost, but rather, a couple of tips I have from doing this myself for a few years. If you are interested in composting in your apartment and don’t know where to start, I hope you find this post useful in some way. Now, let’s compost!
First of all, what is compost?
According to the EPA, compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.
Composting is the biological decomposition of solid organic materials into a humus-like substance. It is a naturally occurring aerobic process (meaning it requires oxygen). Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi (among others) break down the organic compounds.
The process is affected by multiple parameters, including temperature, and surrounding levels of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and moisture. There are optimal ranges of each parameter to ensure composting efficiency, and the science of composting is quite interesting. However, I will save all that for another post, and in this post, share some tools and tips for how to get started in small spaces.
Food scraps and yard waste make up 28% of what is thrown away.
Composting these materials, rather than placing them in the trash, not only prevents them from ending up in landfills where they take up space and release methane (a potent greenhouse gas), but also help to create an organic material that can be used to fertilize plants.
Although it requires a bit of effort, it can help reduce your carbon footprint, and (at least in my opinion), it can be oddly satisfying to see how much less trash you produce when composting compostable waste.
How I compost at home in a small studio apartment:
Composting in a small studio apartment requires a bit of creativity. In a small space with no ventilation, a large, complete outdoor compost system is out of the question.
But, there are things that I have done (and that you can do too) to ensure an odor-free, mess-free, relatively hassle-free composting experience.
Now, some general tips:
First and foremost, you should find out where you can drop off your compost. Most communities have drop-off sites, either at the dump, a community center, and/or at farmer’s markets. I’d suggest searching your city or town’s website to find out if your community has a compost site, and if so, where it is located, and what days and hours are designated for compost drop-off.
If you are a student, check with your university and their dorms. Many universities now have large-scale compost initiatives with multiple drop-off sites.
You may also want to check local regulations, because certain items may or may not be compostable in your area, depending on the equipment and technology they have at their facilities.
Next, you will need something to store your compost in. This can be a small, odor-proof compost bin (I have had success with this one in the past, as mentioned in my ‘Eco-friendly Products I Really Love‘ post), a bucket with a lid (like a paint budget) or simply some compostable bags.
I used to purchase compostable bags off of Amazon. However, in the last couple of years, I’ve just been taking them from grocery stores that have replaced plastic produce bags with compostable produce bags.
Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Whole Foods, and several other chains have all made this swap in recent years. Check your local store to see if they have made the swap, and if they have not, consider asking the store customer service or management team if they’d consider it.
So now, rather than buy my own compostable bags, I use the compostable bags available in these stores to bag my produce, and repurpose them for composting. If you are on a budget and don’t want to buy anything, this is a great place to start.
If you are using a compost bin or bucket, I would recommend ensuring you get one with a tight seal to contain the odors. Some bins made for in-home compost are designed to ensure an odor-free compost experience, either with double-layer seals, or charcoal air filters. Either way, if you have a food-obsessed pet like I do, I would recommend keeping it under the sink or locked away in a safe place so the smells don’t tempt your furry friend.
When the bin is close to full at an agreeable compost drop-off time, simply drop your compost off at the designated site, and repeat as necessary. If you don’t want to carry the bin, transferring the compost to a compostable bag (see tips above) or a reusable plastic bag may be helpful.
If you do not wish to use a bin, you can use what I call the “freezer method” to compost. This is the method I currently use. It works well for people who do not wish to use the compost to fertilize plants, or may lack the space capacity to commit to a complete outdoor compost system, but still wish to reduce the amount of waste they produce.
So how do you use the freezer to help you compost? Well, I just stick all of my fruit and veggie scraps and wads of my hair into my compost bag, loosely tie it up, and stick it in the freezer. Throughout the week I just continue to add food scarps, eventually leading to a hefty bag (or two) filled with compostable items.
Keeping compost in the freezer prevents food scraps from rotting and creating funky odors. It also keeps it contained and out of sight of my furry little friend who may otherwise try to break into a compost stash in hopes of finding some snacks.
When the bag is full and it’s an agreeable compost time, I take the entire bag straight from the freezer to a local drop-off center, drop the entire thing into the mix, and repeat the whole process over again.
What can you compost?
This is a great question! Before I started researching compost, I was under the impression that compost was mostly fruit and vegetable scraps and peels.
As it turns out, you can compost many things, including:
- Fruit and vegetable peels and scraps (including pits and seeds), and fruits and vegetables that are spoiled and unsuitable for consumption
- Food scraps such as breads and pasta
- Tea bags (the ones without a staple, string and tag; if those are present in your tea bags, remove them and dispose of them before composting)
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Nut shells
- Human and pet hair
- Leaves and grass clippings that have not been treated with pesticides
- Fireplace ashes
- Untreated sawdust and wood chips
- Shredded newspaper, cardboard, and paper (which can also be recycled)
Do NOT compost:
- Eggs, meat, fish, and dairy (unless your local composting site allows them, in which case, separate)
- Oil or oily sauces
- Pet waste
- Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
- Coal or ash
- Yard trimmings treated with chemicals or pesticides
Ask your local compost center if they accept the following, and if they do, bring these to their facilities separately:
- Compostable utensils and plates
- Eggs, meat, fish, and dairy if your facility allows it
- Wax colored paper
Is composting a lot of work?
Composting does require some effort. You have to obtain either bags or a bucket, and you may have to make weekly or bi-weekly trips to a compost drop-off site in your area, which may not be easy or convenient for some.
But, besides these logistical hurdles, the day to day act of composting is relatively easy and becomes routine.
That said, I can understand why so many people in small apartments (and people in general) do not compost. It does require planning, and transporting your compost to a drop-off site may not fit seamlessly or easily into everyone’s schedule. For example, last year I carried my compost in a bag for the entirety of my 80 minute train commute, and let me just say, if you’re unwilling to do something like that, I can’t really blame you.
I can only hope that composting becomes more mainstream in work and apartment buildings in the future, which I hope will make it easier for people to compost. In the meantime, if you’re not willing to commit to composting every last produce scrap in your life, try to make an effort at least part of the time.
For example, you can make an effort to utilize compost bins when they are readily available (some cafes, office, university buildings, and even airports have them). You can even try composting at least one bag in the freezer and dropping it off when you can, whether it be weekly or monthly.
Perfection is never the goal, so give yourself a break if you are trying to compost and you make some mistakes along the way. Every effort is worthy of your time and my applause!
Well, that is all for now. This blog post, as I mentioned earlier, is much different than my typical style, but I hope you enjoyed it none-the-less. I just thought I’d share how I compost at home in a studio apartment, in hopes that it may inspire some of you who may be curious to do the same.
Please leave me questions below, or feel free to leave requests for upcoming posts or post-topics! And, as always, feel free to say hello to me on the other corners of the interwebs, via my Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube channel.
Have a great one! Millie loves you (and loves to compost at home in a studio apartment)!
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