By Teresa J. Frith
Many people nowadays are looking for ways to help reduce landfill waste and thereby help to lessen pollution and protect our planet for future generations. Why is this such a widespread concern?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 22 percent of the household waste produced in the US ends up being dumped in landfills. However, there is a simple procedure you can complete if you want to be part of the solution to this alarming statistic, and that is composting.
What is composting?
Composting is a natural process in which organic material such as kitchen waste and other items are allowed to decompose and be turned into a rich fertilizer great for helping your garden or other plants thrive. It’s full of beneficial bacteria, minerals and nutrients plants need to be heathy.
The composting process can take several weeks, dependent on the type of composting used, as well as the size of your bin or pile, the kind of waste materials being composted, and the temperature of the contents in the compost bin. The finished product should be a moist, slightly sweet and earthy smelling dark colored fine material that resembles soil.
Composting is normally done outdoors, but some of you reading this may want to be part of the solution to the pollution problem, yet are saying, “Hey, I live in an apartment. I don’t have the room to compost.” However, you’d be wrong, as there are several ways you can do apartment composting.
Before we delve into the composting methods best for apartment dwellers, we need to cover a few composting basics. To start, what can be composted? The following are the most commonly composted items:
- Rotten fruit and veggies
- Fruit and vegetable peels, cores and scraps (be sure to remove any of those little stickers)
- Coffee grounds
- Stale bread
- Old herbs and spices
- Cooked, plain pasta or rice
- Eggshells (no white or yolk)
- Corn cobs and husks
Nonfood items can also be composted, to include:
- Houseplant trimmings
- Tea leaves
- Grass clippings (not if treated with pesticides)
- Fur and hair
- Paper Products (i.e. napkins, paper towels, coffee filters, unused toilet tissue)
- Some types of paper (not colored papers due to the dye)
- Shredded newspaper
- Leaves, twigs, and tree branches (except from walnut trees, as they release a harmful substance that can poison plants
- Wood chips and sawdust (don’t use large pieces that would take a long time to decompose
There are also things you shouldn’t put in a compost bin, to include:
Pet or human waste, i.e. feces or cat litter (it might contain harmful parasites or bacteria
- Bones, meat scraps or scraps from poultry or fish (it could smell as well as attract pests)
- Dairy products (produces odor and attracts pests)
- Coal ash or charcoal (has compounds which are toxic to plants)
- Fat, cooking oil, and grease (smells and will attract pests)
- Coffee pods (i.e. Keurig since they are made of plastic)
- Diseased plants (could spread disease)
Benefits of Composting
Composting has other benefits besides keeping stuff out of landfills, to include:
- It helps to enrich the soil by inserting needed nutrients
- Reduces the dependence on toxic chemical style fertilizers.
- It also helps soil to retain moisture better
- Prevents soil erosion
- Minimizes methane development in landfills
- Adds biodiversity to the soil via adding different kinds of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms
Things that stop apartment dwellers from composting
One thing that stops some apartment dwellers from starting a compost bin is the smell. They assume that since it involves decomposition of food and waste that it will stink. However, this is not necessarily true.
Smell- That rotted smell associated with decomposition comes from anaerobic microbes, which don’t need oxygen vice aerobic microbes that need on oxygen. But if you turn or stir your compost mixture regularly, it will get more oxygen and thus produce less of the type of microbes which stink.
Another thing that sometimes causes a bad odor is ammonia. That means there’s too much nitrogen containing items in your compost, i.e. green materials. Again, you can lessen that via turning or mixing the contents up regularly plus not put in an abundance of green materials and balance it out with other items.
Additionally, you can use carbon filters or other things to help lessen any possible odor in your compost bin.
Lack of Space -- The next thing that stops apartment composting is the lack of space. Of course in an apartment situation you wont be able to have a huge compost pile like you could outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you cant do composting on a smaller scale.
Fear of Pests -- One more thing that stops people from doing apartment composting is the worry it will attract all kinds of unwanted pests. However, as long as you use the proper containers, have strong lids, and don’t use the type of scraps or other materials that will bring the pest, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Choosing a compost bin and type of composting method
There are several ways you can get started doing apartment composting. In fact you can even make your own composting bin using 2 same size plastic containers with lids. The size of your containers depends on how much room you have to spare. Plus you need a dark space that is at room temperature. A few great places in most apartments include under the sink, in a utility closet or in a laundry room closet.
- 2 plastic containers with lids
- Shredded newspaper or sawdust
- First you drill holes all around the top of each container. It doesn’t matter how big or small these are, but you should place the holes one inch apart. The holes work to let proper airflow get into the containers.
- Next drill some holes in the bottom of one container. The number of holes doesn’t matter, but put enough to be able to evenly drain liquid from your containers.
- Then put the container with holes inside the one without bottom holes. Put several inches of dirt inside the top container and top it off with shredded newspaper.
- Add your kitchen scraps and other waste to the bin and cover it with more shredded newspaper or some sawdust.
This method of apartment composting will take several weeks to complete and turn into usable compost. However, you need to clean out the bottom container each time you drain the liquid produced via the composting process.
Other composting methods you can use for apartment composting:
Compost Tumblers – If you have a balcony or patio, this method can work well. An advantage of these type of composters is you don’t need to turn or mix it by hand, as it uses a crank to mix the contents. The tight lid keeps pests away and lessens the possibility of releasing a bad odor. To use it merely put in your scraps and other items, secure the lid firmly, and turn it a couple times a week. It will take two or three weeks to turn into usable compost.
Vermicomposting or Worm Composting—This is a nice project for the kids! These bins are inexpensive and you can make them as large or small as you like. Plus there are readymade bins for vermicomposting you can buy, and you can buy the right kind of worms from bait shops, garden centers, etc. A popular type of worm for vermicomposting is red wigglers, for instance.
The way vermicomposting works is the worms in the bin eat the scraps and other materials you add a couple times a week (you may need to forgo putting in some of the previously mentioned materials as they could hurt your worms) and as they digest these the worms poop out what’s called castings and these form the rich fertilizer you can use on your plants. There is also a liquid that drains from the worm bin and this is called worm tea and can be used on your plants.
You don’t need to turn or mix the contents as the worms do that for you. You just need to make sure they get enough moisture as well as are kept in a warm, dark area between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, as they can’t live in the cold. Plus don’t put in too much water or you could drown your worms, use just enough moisture to make the dirt or shredded paper moist.
Bokashi composting – This method is a bit different. It uses anaerobic bacteria to ferment plant waste, vice aerobic bacteria being used to decompose the waste. You have to add layers of food scraps every day and mix it with a special bokashi bran. This is a special grain infused with bacteria.
However, one disadvantage of this is after about 10 days the material in the bin has to be allowed to finish decomposing in an outside compost bin, so it may not work for all apartment dwellers unless you have a balcony or patio.
Freezer Composting – This type is great if you’re worried about odor or pests. Plus it doesn’t take up your counter space. And you can use just about any container. However, it is not really true composting and all you are doing is saving your scraps until you can drop them off at a community composting facility, which is available in some cities.
Blender Composting – This method turns your food scraps into a sort of slurry, so it isn’t exactly composting, but the mixture can still be poured over your plants to enrich the soil. Just don’t try to blend things like pits or other hard objects or you may break your blender.
Electric Composters – If you have limited counter space you can also choose to use an electric composter. It isn’t true compost, but it aerates, heats, and pulverizes kitchen waste and produces a crumbly material you can spread on your plants to enrich the soil.
Government-Run Composting Programs – If you still want to help the environment, but don’t want to do apartment composting, see if your area offers a composing program. These allow people to fill up a container with scraps and put it out with your trash, sort of like a recycle program. It’s collected and turned into compost in a facility in your area.
So, if you are concerned about the state of our world’s environment and wish to help out in keeping it cleaner and greener with less waste going into a landfill, then consider the above options for apartment composting.