Thinking about home composting can be intimidating, but it is much easier than you think. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead, to keep organic matter out of landfills, where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
What is compost?
Compost is the organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting.
Composting is a method for treating solid waste in which organic material is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled and applied to the environment.
So the result of composting is Compost, which is a soil-conditioning fertilizer rich in nutrients that helps soil retain water and grow vibrant and healthy plants without using chemicals.
Composting organic matter also reduces the amount of waste products and trash sent to the landfills, where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Benefits of composting
- Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
- Reduces and, in some cases, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
- Promotes higher yields of agricultural crops.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills.
- Lowers your carbon footprint (provides carbon sequestration).
Ways to compost in an apartment
Nothing breaks properly in a landfill, not even food scraps. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted, instead of being sent out to our landfills.
Actually, due to the lack of oxygen that characterizes this environment, our food leftovers break down in an anaerobic process while emitting methane and others greenhouse gasses. Moreover, all the nutrients are lost rather than being returned to the soil.
There are different composting options depending on where you live and how much space you have, as well as what you are going to compost, for instance, food or yard waste.
Nowadays, living in an apartment and thinking about home composting can be intimidating, but honestly, this is one of the most effective sustainable switches you can make!
1. Bin composting on a small scale
With a simple plastic bin or a wooden box, you can create a compost bin on a small scale at home.
The bin or box will need holes in the top part, so that air can come inside. To prevent water from collecting on the ground, create a drainage system at the bottom of the bin (f.e. with paper or small pieces of wood).
This is an aerobic compost technique, which means there will be living microorganisms in your compost. To support a good environment for the emergence of microorganisms, the trick is to maintain the balance between carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens). So each time you add some food scraps, add one or two handfuls of the brown and dry material. If you realize the inside is too moist, also add some browns. A compost that is too moist contains little oxygen for the aerobic (air-breathing) microorganisms. If it’s too dry, the process will slow down.
(At the end of this article you can find two lists with examples of green and brown materials.)
A tip: Turn, move and mix it at least once a week.
If your bin starts to smell, it indicates that your compost went anaerobic.
2. Worm bin (Worm composting – Vermicomposting)
To create your own is really easy: you will need two bins fitting inside each other (60 to 120 liters big). The inner bin must have holes in the bottom sides and holes in the lid. The outside must have just a few holes on the sides.
To create and have a colony you will need around 50 worms. You can find them in pet shops, flower shops or hardware shops (at least in Germany). If you don’t find them in any local store, you can buy them online, they will be shipped to you and they often come in soil. There is a variety of different worms (tiger, red wiggler…) and they have different preferences on food, so I will recommend mixing them up to make sure they are going to eat all your food scraps.
The next step is to fill up the bin with a mix of newspaper and soil (¾ full).
And after, the best worm composting technique is to add all-week food scraps on a different corner of the box, like this, you can take handfuls of soil every now and then while your worms are eating in another corner the scraps of another week.
The worm liquid appearing at the bottom of the box should be diluted in a 1 to 10 water ratio.
For this way of composting, avoid adding citrus, leeks and/or onion scraps.
3. Bokashi Method
This is an anaerobic composting method, and you will just need to buy these already made compost bins from the market together with a particular compost activator (it costs around 100€). It is like a bin with a tap at the bottom part, from where you will get your bokashi juice (always make sure the tap is not liking). For using the bokashi juice, dilute it in a 1 to 100 water ratio, like 1 teaspoon bokashi juice per liter of water.
With this technique you are no longer limited to basic compost, you can process prepared foods, bread, cheese, meat, cooked or not, etc. This method is able to process all your kitchen waste.
First, you will have to add bokashi bran, then push all the food scraps down and add bran again.
Keep adding like this until it’s full. Then you will have to let it for two weeks.
After that then you will have compost.
With this method, there is no smell at all.
4. Countertop compost bin and neighborhood organic waste bin
If you don’t have any space for a compost bin, does your local authority offers organic waste bins or Drop-off Composting programs? That is an important question to ask yourself if you can’t apply any of the above ways of composting.
Those drop-off neighborhood organic waste bins will be collected and brought to big Composting spaces, and the compost soil coming out of these big composting stations will be given to regional farmers.
That’s how I do it (watch here): I have a countertop compost bin, once is full I bring it to my building organic waste bin and, by doing that, I immediately help regional farmers get some nice soil for their crops, which then get back to me as delicious organic food!
Green and brown material
Making compost is easy and can be immensely satisfying. The golden rule of composting is to have roughly equal amounts of green and brown material as too much of either will cause poor composting.
Green Material (Nitrogen layers)
Grass clippings, Vegetable scraps, weeds (without seeds), seaweed, tea (loose), fresh leaves, garden waste (without pesticides), trimmings plants, animal manure (no pet), coffee grounds, fruit peels, egg shell, leftovers and food and kitchen scraps.
Brown Material (Carbon layers)
Straw/Hay, shrub prunings, pine needles/cones, chopped twigs, wood ash, dried grass clippings, fall dry leaves, twigs, chipped tree branches, sawdust, paper, newspaper, cotton fabric, corrugated cardboard, brown packing paper, toilet rolls.
- Black walnut tree leaves or twigs – Releases substances that might be harmful to plants.
- Coal or charcoal ash – Might contain substances harmful to plants.
- Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides – Might kill beneficial composting organisms.
- Diseased or insect-ridden plants – Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants.
- Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt)* – Create odour problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
- Fats, grease, lard, or oils* – Create odour problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
- Meat or fish bones and scraps* – Create odour problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
- Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)* – Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.
*Check with your local composting or recycling coordinator to see if these organics are accepted by your community drop-off composting program.
While it is possible to offset the harm of greenhouse gasses emissions through organic recycling, composting, and anaerobic digestion, the best way to reduce these emissions is to waste less food in the first place.
And remember: not all wasted food can go into a compost bin, but starting to divert your plant-based kitchen scraps into a compost pile, countertop, worm-box, etc. instead of into the trash can, is a great eco-friendly change to make at home.
Composting can help provide nutrients to the soil as the scraps organically break down, as opposed to giving off methane gas that’s produced when wasted food goes into a landfill.