Reader Question: Apartment Composting

Sometimes readers write in with questions and I answer their email, but occasionally I feel like they may not be the only one having that problem.  This is one of those times, when elizabeth is asking about composting.  (also, if you’ve got a question, feel free to email me)

Elizabeth writes in:

I have a sustainability question for you – composting in a suburban environment. My neighborhood isn’t very compost friendly – you have to have a fence to do so in your yard, and (1) we’re planning on moving in the next few months and (2) putting up a fence costs thousands of dollars! Do you any ideas for a “covert” compost in a suburban area – one that might fly under the radar, or be mistaken for something else?

Thanks for writing in Elizabeth.  Composting is something that really is not that difficult to do, though it does get more difficult if you’ve got a small space.  I’ve lived in a few apartments, and never really was able to get composting going when I lived in them, but I do know there are a few ways that you can do it – and they my be easier to do than outside composting because the heat is regulated inside (my compost heap froze this winter).  No matter if you do compost inside or outside you can still compost the same things (no meat, no dairy).  One suggestion that I would make though is get a small bucket or pail or something (typically, I use the paper bags that come with our fruit shares and just throw everything in the bin, bag and all) to put all of your scraps in.  I was using a small pail at one time, but the dog chewed it up, so I found something else.  Keep it near your garbage pail so you make sure to put all the compostable food waste in there and the rest into the garbage.

Essentially your only option for apartment composting is worm composting (sometimes called vermicomposting).  This involves having a place for your compost, filling it with worms and letting the worms do their thing.  When the worms eat  all of the scraps, they poop out some awesome stuff (for plants, not people) that is really nutrient rich and can be used as fertilizer for your soil.  Typically, the best types of worms for the job are earthworms, specifically the red wigglers, but the red earthworm and european nightcrawler will also work.  Since you dont live in an apartment, you may be able to go a bit bigger than this, but I’m not sure how much.

You can probably get an old garbage pail or something and apply the same principles to this, but I’m not sure how that will work out.  One option is to build a “worm farm” like DIY Natural worm farm.  This is a cheap and easy solution, and you could probably leave it in a discreet place in your backyard and the neighbors wont even know what it is.  That particular worm farm you may be able to build with stuff you already have laying around the house, but you’ll probably have to buy some worms for it.  It uses the same approach (and the same worms) as the apartment style, but it’s a bit bigger and can be stored outdoors if you wish.  I’m not sure where you live, but if it’s near wildlife of any kind, you may want to keep the lid on it or leave it inside.

Readers: Have you been wanting to do more DIY/sustainable projects but feel limited based on your living situation (rent, apartment living, etc)?  Are you interested in composting like elizabeth? 

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About Jeff

Jeff is the founder of sustainable life blog and has been interested in sustainability for most of his life. After realizing in 2007 that his finances were a total wreck, he started reading financial blogs and quickly realized that what is best for your wallet is typically better for the earth, and is usually healthier. On sustainable life blog Jeff shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. For updates, subscribe by email or like us on facebook.


  1. My brew shop sells mini composters for apartment dwellers. Just search “compost keepers” and you’ll find something. Also, I’m planning on building a big compost system in my new house. Martha Stewart has a great blog post on it:

  2. Very interesting. I never even considered composting when I lived in an apartment because I thought it was impossible. I’ll have to pass these tips on to my sister.

  3. Vermicomposting is jus swell for apartment dwellers. The worm bin can fit under free-standing shelves, in a corner, or even a closet.

  4. Depending on her motivation for composting, Elizabeth may have another option open to her: pit composting. If she wants to compost so she can apply the finished product to her garden in a certain way, vermicomposting sounds like a great idea. But if she wants to compost to reduce her waste stream and to generally feed the soil in her yard, she could simply drop her compostable peelings, etc in a hole in her garden bed/yard and cover it with soil. If she doesn’t put meat or dairy in the hole/pit she shouldn’t have any problem with animals digging it up. I once stayed overnight at a small, hobby farm in central Illinois and this is what the owners did with their waste. In rural areas you have to haul your own trash and pay to dispose of it, so they just dug holes in the yard and dropped their food scraps in the holes. They dug several to use during the winter when the ground would freeze and just covered the hole with an old pot lid until they were ready to move on. In my own city yard, I’ve buried the waste from cleaning fish, and a few of my chickens that have died or been put to sleep due to illness; I just buried them deep enough and covered them with some brick pavers so the dog wouldn’t dig them up.


  1. […] For one thing, much like wind and solar and biomass, composting is a small-scale solution the economics of which don’t scale up too well at an industrial, capital-intensive level. (for real small-scale composting solutions, try Sustainable Life Blog‘s latest post, Reader Question: Apartment Composting) […]