Composting is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint and food waste. You don’t have to live in a house or even have a yard, either. Here’s how to compost in a small space with three easy options.

Like writing a thank you note or going to the dentist, composting has always felt like something I should do, even if I’m not legally obligated. I felt this for years, but I didn’t get serious about it until last year when I was locked inside with my trash. It started spontaneously. One day, I began collecting food scraps in an empty milk carton on the kitchen counter. I didn’t know what I’d do with the contents when the vessel filled up, I just felt guilty trashing egg shells and onion peels every day. 

Read more: How to Grow Mushrooms at Home

Turns out, I had reason to feel guilty. About 103 million pounds of food is wasted a day, which is approximately 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in America. A lot of what’s wasted could be used to feed the more than 35 million people struggling with hunger. And once food ends up in a landfill, the harm’s not done — it sits, decomposing while emitting methane into the atmosphere and destroying the ozone. 

With this in mind, I buried the tangerine peels and moldy lettuce from my kitchen counter carton in the dry earth in front of my Santa Fe apartment. (Spoiler alert: The stuff didn’t break down. I checked.) 

Read more: How to Propagate Your Plants

A year after my initial experiment, I’ve done significantly more research and learned there are a handful of ways to compost effectively even in a tiny apartment. I’m now collecting my scraps in a five-gallon bucket and dropping them off at the farmer’s market to be processed by The Urban Canopy, a composting collective. It takes between two and three weeks for the bucket to fill up and costs $5 every time for a clean container. I also talked to Celeste McMickle, a sustainability consultant and self-proclaimed “crazy composter,” for insight and tips about how to easily turn produce trimmings, paper bags, and more into nutrient-rich soil. Here are the details:

Worm Method

What you’ll need: 

  • A plastic bin
  • 500 red wrigglers 
  • Newspaper scraps
  • A dark, cool space, like under the sink or in a closet 
Worm Method Compost Bin

The worm method doesn’t take much to maintain — it’s more like caring for a fish than a recycling bin in terms of effort. Photo courtesy of Stocksy.

Check out this guide and/or book for step-by-step instructions on how to get rolling. 

Pros: This is the least expensive and most fun option. You’ll see your food processed in real-time, and you can use the soil for your plants or garden. McMickle told me that once a worm bin is up and running, it doesn’t take much to maintain. She spends just 10 minutes a week tending hers. 

Cons: For some, sharing a space with a bunch of worms is a big con. And even though a bin is low-maintenance, you have to keep up with it — it’s more like caring for a fish than a recycling bin in terms of effort. Plus, worms can’t eat everything that can go in the compost. They don’t like citrus, bread, meat, or oily food.

Donation Method

What you’ll need: 

  • To link up with a compost pickup service, local garden, farmer’s market, or food co-op 

Here’s a database of composting spots in every state.  

Pros: You don’t need to fret about what you throw in your donation bucket — pretty much all food waste is fair game, including paper towels (as long as you haven’t used them to wipe up chemicals or non-organic substances). And once you find a spot to process your scraps, it’s a cinch. You’ll also get the benefit of being part of a community of composters to assist you as you get started. 

Cons: This method can be expensive depending on the service you choose. Some weekly collection services add up to hundreds a month. But you can cut costs by opting for biweekly or monthly pickups or by going in on a service with other neighbors.

Woman Putting Food Scraps into Compost Bin

About 103 million pounds of food is wasted a day, which is approximately 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in America. Photo courtesy of Stocksy.

Countertop Processor

What you’ll need: 

  • Counter space
  • A mini compost tumbler or grinder

Pros: This can be a sleek and easy option for processing scraps, and many models don’t require worms if that’s a turnoff. 

Cons: If you’re just getting into composting, McMickle says this might be a big investment; most processors are upwards of $200. 

Whether you’re hands-on or hands-off, low- or high-tech, there’s a method for you to give your old scraps new life — you just have to figure out which is best for you and you’ll be in business. 

Did you try any of our composting methods? Share it with us by tagging @avocadomatress on Instagram or Facebook


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