Urban Composting Tips: Apartment Composting 101

by Megan Kioulafofski
urban composting

Composting isn’t what you might think. Yes, it can involve worms, dirt and bacteria but that doesn’t mean it is gross or smelly. In fact, there are methods you can try that won’t require any mess and will keep your space clean and tidy. Also, many of these methods are small enough to be done in an apartment! 

If you’ve been interested in learning how to compost in the past but thought that your space was too small or that you needed outdoor space to try then this guide is for you! We’ve sourced 5 different methods for composting that are easy enough for beginners and small enough to be stored under your sink. Plus we offer alternative methods like donation and collection that can help lower your carbon footprint without the need for worms! 

Let’s get started by discussing the composting materials you will need. 

Ingredients for Composting

There are four integral materials needed in order to compost. While each method does differ a bit, these materials are needed for natural decomposition.  

ingredients for composting

    1. Oxygen is necessary when using a worm bin. The organisms in your pile that break down the food scraps need air to breathe in order to survive. 
    2. Water is also a staple ingredient as it helps with decomposition and regulates the pile’s temperature. You won’t need water when using the Bokashi method. 
    3. Brown materials like shredded paper and dead leaves are also essential as they add carbon to your pile. 
    4. Green materials like vegetables and fruit scraps add nitrogen to your pile. 

What To Compost

What you can add to your compost pile are any brown or green materials that can naturally decompose. Jot down or print the following list of materials to stick on your fridge for easy reference! 


  • Cardboard
  • Nut shells 
  • Food soiled paper goods 
  • Dead leaves
  • Eggshells 
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Twigs and branches


  • Coffee grounds 
  • Grass and leaves
  • Loose leave tea and tea bags
  • Dead flowers
  • Vegetables 
  • Fruits

What To Do With Compost

Check out the infographic below to see all the uses for compost.

what to do with compost

Next, we can dig into the different methods for composting in an apartment. We’ll move from most work required to least to provide a broad range of ideas to try. 

1. Use a Worm Bin

The first method doesn’t necessarily take the most work but does require the most upkeep and monitoring. Vermicomposting or creating a worm bin is just like it sounds and is a great composting method for smaller spaces. The most important part of having a worm bin is providing proper living conditions for them. Explore the visual below to learn how to create your own DIY worm bin. 

how to create a diy worm bin

2. Use the Bokashi Method

The second method for apartment composting is using the Bokashi method. The Bokashi method is a Japanese technique that relies on inoculated bran to ferment organic materials into nutrient-rich soil and tea for plants. It was originally created by Teruo Higa, professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa in 1982 after he developed the microbial starter later marketed as “EM-1” or Essential Microorganisms.

To start you’ll need a sealed container that has a spout for draining Bokashi tea. You’ll want to avoid opening the sealed container throughout the process to limit air and moisture getting in. Next you’ll need a bag of Bokashi starter. Bokashi bran is made from EM-1, molasses, water and an organic carrier that has a high carbon content. You can purchase ready-made Bokashi bran or find recipes online to make your own. 

To start, just add a layer of about 3 inches of food scraps to your Bokashi bucket. Chop up any large pieces into small ones. Add in the starter Bokashi layer next and cover the food scraps fully. If you are composting tough foods then be generous with the starter. Use ⅓ of a bag for each full bucket. Put a plate over the fermenting scraps to lock out air and place the lid tightly on top of the bucket 

Every few days, open the spout and drain off Bokashi tea. Dilute the tea to a ratio of 1 tablespoon to 1 gallon of water to use in house pants or in your garden. Repeat this process until your bucket is full, and then set it aside out of the sun for 2 weeks to further ferment. Avoid adding water as excessive moisture can make the mix rot.

bokashi composting

3. Use a Compost Tumbler

For anyone who has a larger balcony or accessible outside area such as a communal area, a compost tumbler is another option for composting in an apartment. Compost tumblers are larger than worm bins and are the most efficient enclosed bin method. They are fully sealed to preserve the heat generated by your compost — increasing the speed of decomposition. They come with a handle to help aerate and mix the contents, and some work so quickly they can process household waste in as little as 13 days.

4. Use a Food Digester

Another method for composting in an apartment is using a food digester. Food digesters are small enough to fit on your counter and use electricity to quickly break down food scraps. They can be discreetly hidden and don’t require worms! 

5. Collect and Donate Food Scraps

One of the easiest ways to limit food waste is to donate food scraps to a local farmer’s market or community garden. They will take care of the composting for you and all you have to do is collect and save food scraps. In order to prevent your scraps from smelling, we recommend storing them in a plastic container inside of your freezer.

There are so many different ways to compost that can be easily incorporated into apartment living. For more inspiration and ideas, check out Zolo’s visual guide below. Their composting guide offers urban composting tips and easy, no mess methods for lowering your contribution to food waste.

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