The Food Sustainability Series: Four Methods For Apartment Composting

The world has a food waste problem, and we know that the corresponding emissions are both destructive and preventable. Both industrialized and developing nations tend to waste food. While they vary at the different stages of food cultivation, both contribute to carbon emissions. One way to combat that is through composting. In fact, composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the US by 30%, according to the USPIRG. Many homeowners have the luxury of creating a compost pile in their backyard, but for those of us who rent or live in smaller spaces, our options may seem more limited. If you want to reduce the impact of their carbon footprint from food waste, I’ll share with you four long-term sustainable ways to compost in your apartment or small space. 

A Case for Compost

Our food waste calculations don’t often include food disposed of in our garbage disposal. It’s complicated to calculate the plate waste but to read more about our most accurate calculations, check out my articles on the implications of food waste. Food waste contributes to about 18% of the overall carbon emissions. We produce more food than we can consume. We overspend at the grocery store. I am guilty of it too! While we can do our best to meal prep, plan, and freeze food, the fact is that we will end up discarding some food. 

Ultimately, Americans and many other developed nations experience food waste at the consumer level. That’s why we’ve included the basics of different composting methods and some resources to get you started. Whether you have a balcony or a patio, or you’re restricted to indoor methods, you’ll be sure to find something to kick-start your composting goals.

earthworms on a persons hand
Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn on Pexels.com

1. Vermiculture – Worm Composting

Vermiculture is often known as worm composting. This composting method is excellent for school projects with kids and can be a rewarding way to compost. Worm composting can range from very inexpensive to a few hundred dollars, depending on the type of equipment used, making them a great way to integrate it into apartment composting.

Pros of Worm Composting

  • Easy to set up
  • It typically does not smell when the waste is evenly balanced
  • Indoor and Outdoor options
  • Congratulations! You now have pet worms.

Cons of Worm Composting

  • Worms can only eat so fast – if you’re generating a lot of food waste, this may not be the best option for you
  • Worms are sensitive to temperature, so you may need to relocate them inside during more extreme temperatures
  • If your compost is not balanced correctly, you may begin to notice an odor

How to get started with Worm Composting

One of the best places to get started is through Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. You can buy a worm starter kit for about $100 or DIY your worm farm with guidance from various sources like the University of Maine and buy your worms online through Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. For a complete worm starter kit, you can check out these from Amazon below.

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food vegetables industry tomatoes
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

2. Bokashi composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic composting method that ferments the organic waste using anaerobic bacteria. The concept has East Asian origins but, Dr. Teruo Hiya modernized the practice in Japan through the study of Effective Microorganisms. According to the University of Vermont, Effective Microorganisms address an array of environmental concerns such as water quality, remediation of heavy metals from the soil, and the malodor typically associated with composting. Because the compost containers are enclosed, they usually don’t emit odors. This is excellent news for your neighbors and your apartment!

Pro’s of Bokashi Fermentation

  • Bokashi composting is a contained mixture with a small footprint
  • Supplies relatively inexpensive 
  • The method is much faster than traditional composting. The complete process only takes about ten days to convert organic material into usable material compared with conventional methods, which can take months
  • Nutrient value is very high for the plants
  • Use the compost tea to nourish both indoor and outdoor plants

Con’s to Bokashi Composting

  • Potential to spill liquid mixture, which could be very messy
  • Special equipment required – airtight containers
  • Ideally, you’d want a temperature-controlled space to store your mix for the bacteria to work
  • You need to bury the waste to dispose of it, and then cover with topsoil 

How to get started with Bokashi Composting

To start Bokashi Composting, you can check out this video link from Epic Gardening. You will also need to buy the material, such as the bin, the bacteria, and the bran. Bokashi is not as common of a composting method, but many benefits come with the technique. Most importantly, it is a great way to begin composting in a small space.

Photo source: Vitamix

3. Electric Food Waste Composting Machine

My personal choice for composting in an apartment is my Electric Food Waste Composting Machine. I’ve been using my Vitamix Food Cycler for over a year, but many new products are entering this space. The kitchen waste composting machine expedites and accelerates composting using mechanical force rather than natural force. While I love this composting method, you should note that the equipment can be a bit of an investment.

Pro’s of Electric Machine Composting

  • A quick and efficient way to compost.
  • Composts in less than 8 hours, which would generally take 6-8 months
  • Ready to use compost 
  • Instant gratification to use your compost right away

Con’s of Electric Machine Composting

  • The machine is expensive
  • The composting vessels have a small capacity, not suitable for large loads
  • Filters require changing, depending on the frequency of use. We use ours daily, and the filters typically last 3-4 months. It will run without filters, but it does get smelly.

Getting started with Electric Kitchen Composting

First, you’ll need to buy the equipment. Again, I highly recommend my Vitamix Food Cycler. We have been using it almost daily for about a year now, and it’s still holding up. I also recommend setting aside a container or bowl to collect kitchen scraps while you cook. If you don’t fill the container up all the way, I would highly advise refrigerating it as the rotting food stench can become quite intense in the summer months. Last, I would recommend a place to collect compost once you’ve finished the run. We use an old cat litter pail to collect and store all the compost, and it works great.

Photo Source: Ryan Stanton | The Ann Arbor News | April 6, 2020

4. Curbside compost pick up

If none of the above-listed options sound feasible to you, or like you would want to commit to the process, it may be worthwhile for you to look into Curbside compost pick up. This option is often neglected but can be great for small apartment dwellers in more urban areas. You can check with your local municipality to see if there is a service near you to collect your compost.

Pros of Curbside Compost Pick Up

  • If it’s part of your municipality, the service may be a residential perk
  • Less room needed to collect compost
  • No upfront investments
  • Minimal work from your end

Cons of Curbside Compost Pick Up

  • Limited Presence, Not every town has this set up
  • You may not get to reap the rewards of the compost

How to get started with Curbside Compost Pick Up

To get started with curbside compost pick-up, you need to do a bit of research to see what services are available in your area. You can check out https://compostnow.org/compost-services/ to see if your neighborhood has a service locally. If you find one in your area, the service will tell you how to get started.

red and green fruits on brown wooden bench
Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

What do to with your compost

You may notice an accumulation of compost once you select the method that’s right for you. If you’re wondering what to do with your compost, here are a few ideas.

  • Share it with friends and family who like to garden
  • Sprinkle it over your garden beds or house plants
  • Befriend a local farmer at your farmers market and offer him your compost if you have accumulated too much

Thanks for stopping by to read our post!

Hope you enjoyed the post! Check out more on our homepage, and feel free to send to a friend. Let me know in the comment section if you test it out yourself!

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