Did you know that organic matter (i.e., food) doesn’t break down properly in landfills? It’s true. When buried under layers and layers of trash, organic matter lacks access to light and oxygen—two things it needs in order to decompose correctly. Without these elements food releases methane as it breaks down, which is a greenhouse gas even more detrimental than carbon dioxide.
And that’s why so many sustainability advocates (myself included) are passionate about composting. Because when you compost your food scraps, they can properly break down and return to the earth, no methane involved.
That said, it can be an intimidating topic. Believe it or not, words like “dirt”, “rotting food”, and “worms” can be off-putting to some people. It’s time to get rid of the stigma though, because good news is, composting is actually easier and more accessible than you may think.
So whether you live an apartment, condo, or a ten-bedroom castle in Switzerland, here’s how you can start composting at home.
How to compost if you do have a yard
Compost tumblers are an incredibly easy way to start composting at home. If you’re not familiar, they’re essentially trash bins, tipped on their sides, and propped in the air by two legs, so that you can easily mix your compost by spinning, or “tumbling” the bin.
They range in sizes—you can find some as small as 18.5 gallons, which could actually fit on a small patio if you live an apartment, or as large as 43 gallons if you’re working with more space and / or more organic waste. Prices range from $72 all the way up to $150 or more for larger ones.
Regardless of which tumbler you choose, they’re generally pretty low maintenance. Melissa, the creator behind the Youtube channel, Urban Chickadoodle, shares her experience using a tumbler in this video.
When it comes to spinning it, Melissa says you don’t have to do it on an exact schedule.
“Every time I put something in [there] I just spin it,” says Melissa. “Doesn’t have to be anything special, just every time you’re out [there].”
In terms of contents, she recommends ensuring a even mix of browns (paper, leaves, cardboard) and greens (grass cuttings, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds). She also notes that it’s essential to keep it moist (but not drenched), by adding water when needed.
And finally, as far as timeline, Melissa says you can expect two to three months for it to break down.
“It [turns] into a really really nice soil for your garden,” says Melissa. “It’ll make your vegetables and your fruits super healthy.”
Open Air Composting
This composting method is likely the most simple and cost effective, but may not be practical if you don’t have adequate space.
According to Lawn Starter, you should begin by clearing a space in your yard until you see bare soil. Next build a base layer for drainage purposes. This can be accomplished by piling straw or twigs on top of each other until it’s a few inches tall.
Now you can start adding compostable materials one layer at a time alternating between brown and green materials. To kickstart decomposition, adding a nitrogen source, such as a handful of nitrogen fertilizer, is recommended.
Finally, you’ll need to turn the pile every couple of weeks. This’ll aerate the pile and provide oxygen needed for the composting process to take place.
How to start composting in an apartment
Subscription Pick-Up or Drop Off Service
If you’re lucky enough to one, live in a city that offers a subscription service and two, have some disposable income to spend on discarding your organic waste, this is a great option. I personally use this method, and it’s made composting a breeze for us (and totally worth the $15 per month).
The service we use is called The Urban Canopy. They provide us with a bucket that we fill with our food waste and other backyard compostable items like paper towels or cardboard. Each month they pick up our full bucket and replace it with an empty one. They then handle the actual composting process from there.
Alternatively, you may find that there are drop-off services available in your city. These tend to be slightly more affordable options, since you’re doing the leg work of delivering the waste yourself. They function in essentially the same way though. You collect your organic waste in a bucket and then drop it off at a designated area where someone else will handle the actual composting process.
Indoor Worm Bin
Yes, you read that right, indoor worm bin (although you can do this outdoors too). There are a variety of bins you can use, but one of the simplest methods is to just grab a plastic bin from the thrift store. You’ll want something that’s sturdy and opaque because worms prefer darkness.
That said, they also prefer air. So before you do anything else, you will want to add holes to your bin so there is proper ventilation. It’s recommended that you use a 1/16-inch drill to drill holes about every 1.5 inches toward the top of your bin.
Next begin to fill your bin with bedding. In a Youtube video, Deanna, the creator behind Homestead and Chill, walks through exactly how to do this. She recommends starting with coconut coir, soil, and shredded newspaper.
You’ll lay this mixture on the bottom of your bin and then dig a slight hole. Proceed to add some food scraps into the hole (more on what you should and should not feed your worms here). Finally, add your worms (red wigglers are the best for composting) and then cover them up with some bedding.
Deanna also recommends layering damp newspaper on top of your freshly-made worm pile to prevent the worms from leaving.
You’ll then check back in about a week to see how much food the worms have eaten and add more if needed.
“If you put too much food in there and they’re not breaking it down it can get stinky and get anaerobic and it gets gross,” says Deanna. “A healthy well maintained worm bin will not smell.”
I’m just going to get this out of the way—this is not an inexpensive way to compost. Lomi is a countertop composter that costs $499—I’ll give you a moment to take in that sticker shock. Though expensive, it can make it very easy to compost in your own home. And quickly might I add.
You simply add your food scraps to the bin and in as little as three hours you can have quality dirt ready to be used by your indoor or outdoor plants.
According to its website, the device is “about the size of a bread maker” making it a space-efficient way to dispose of your food waste, but again it is the most expensive option on this list.
Before you start the freezing method you’ll want to see if there is a community garden or farmer’s market near you that would be willing to take your food scraps. If so, this is a super simple way to start composting at home. All you have to do is store your food scraps in a bag or bin and keep it in your freezer. This’ll prevent it from becoming smelly. Once it’s full drop it off at the garden or farmer’s market near you so they can return the nutrients back to the earth.
If you enjoyed learning how to start composting at home and are craving more sustainable living tips, then sign up for The Eco Edit! You’ll be joining hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.