Organic farming and gardening is really all about the soil. And the way to good, healthy soil is all about compost.
Composting is also an important aspect of reducing household waste. Turn those food scraps into useful garden soil by breaking them down via composting.
It all sounds great right? But if you live in an urban environment without a huge garden, how do you turn your waste into soil? You can’t exactly just throw your scraps out the back window, or make a giant compost heap in your living room. Perhaps you only have a small back garden, or a tiny balcony. Maybe you don’t even have any outdoor space at all other than a window box.
Following are a few ideas for composting your waste that might be possible in an urban setting without a garden.
Worm composting or vermicomposting is just what it sounds like: using worms to break down kitchen scraps. Several varieties of worms can be used including red wigglers or European nightcrawlers.
Kitchen waste is added to the box containing worms and some sort of bedding material including sawdust, cardboard or other high carbon substrate. The worms basically feed on the by-products of the microorganisms that break down the food scraps, quickly turning waste into worm casings that make amazing compost for plants.
Vermiculture kits can be ordered from garden stores and other places, or you can do it yourself and make your own system.
Costs: medium, must buy worms and make some kind of bin
Pros: worms do all the work for you and quickly make incredible soil
Cons: worms are picky and don’t like all types of waste including animal products and citrus, also might have an “ick” factor for some people
Bokashi composting uses microorganisms including bacteria and yeasts which quickly break down food scraps. This system can be done in a large bucket indoors. Food scraps are combined with purchased bokashi bran which includes the microorganisms, or a starter mixture can be homemade. A healthy bokashi system produces no foul smells and does not attract pests.
After food scraps are broken down using the fermentation process, the remaining pre-compost can be added to soil in the garden to complete the composting process. If no garden space is available, the pre-compost can be added to an enclosed box with regular soil and should fully compost within a few weeks.
Would you like to learn more about the Bokashi method? Take a look at this book by Adam Footer.
Costs: medium, ready-made bokashi systems cost around €50-80 but DIY is possible
Pros: convenient system which works on all types of waste including animal products
Cons: buckets could be cumbersome in a small apartment, then must find a spot for the pre-compost to continue decomposition
The khamba pot was developed in India as a way for apartment dwellers in the densely populated cities to compost kitchen wastes. Three terracotta pots are stacked on top of one another and waste is rotated from top to bottom as the pots fill up. The lower pot will create healthy compost in about three months.
The attractive khamba pots can be placed in a quiet area of a patio or balcony to do their thing. Add kitchen scraps to the top pot with a layer of dried leaves or other high carbon and low moisture ingredient, then mix every few days.
This system is being implemented across the cities of India, but may be relatively unknown in other parts of the world. Thus it may be difficult to find the khamba pots for purchase. Perhaps a DIY solution can be accomplished by resourceful and creative folks.
Costs: medium, but the khamba pots may not be available in your area
Pros: easy, just toss scraps in the pot and stir
Cons: takes quite a while to break down and might attract pests in the meantime
For those gadget lovers among us there are also electric composting machines for apartment dwellers such as the Food Cycler Compost Machine. These machines work by aerating and heating the kitchen wastes so that they decompose more quickly. Simply add the kitchen waste (including animal products) to the machine with a sprinkle of sawdust and baking soda and close the lid. Compost will be created in a few weeks.
Costs: high, new machines typically cost more than €300 and electricity isn’t free either
Pros: easy and quick to use and looks like a sleek machine instead of some weird bucket contraption
Cons: buying a machine that uses electricity is not the most eco-friendly option out there and these machines may not work all that well
If you are lucky you might live in a city that collects green waste and composts it for you. Simply add kitchen waste and garden trimmings to the bin and put it out on the street on the designated day for pick up.
For ease of use and to keep pests out of the house it is usually best to leave the bin outdoors if possible. Use a “garbage bowl” or special compost container to collect waste while cooking, and then dump the bowl in the bin during clean up after the meal. Rinse the bowl afterwards to keep everything clean and odor-free.
Petition your city to collect green waste of they don’t already do so.
Costs: low, if available the cost is usually included with your regular utility bills
Pros: easy, just toss in the bin and set out for pick up
Cons: you don’t get to keep the resulting compost
Donate to City Gardens
If you check around in your local area you might be able to find a community garden that will take donations of kitchen waste. Not only will they take your waste, but some locations will even give you a free bag of compost in exchange for your food scrap donations.
Check with your local community or school gardens, or perhaps even ask a neighbor or someone with a lovely garden if they’d like your kitchen wastes. Perhaps they will even trade your kitchen scraps for some of their produce or cut flowers!
Costs: low cost, usually free!
Pros: easy, no need to set up a system yourself
Cons: logistics of storing and regularly transporting the waste to the garden might be annoying
When choosing the composting method that is best for you consider the amount and type of kitchen waste your household creates. For example, if you make large amounts of fresh-squeezed orange juice daily a vermiculture system may not be best for you as the worms do not break down citrus. Or if you want a quick turnaround time you might not be interested in the khamba pot as it takes several months to create compost.
No matter which you choose, composting is a valuable part of a greener lifestyle. An estimated 20-40% of household waste is organic and compostable. Let’s do our best to divert this waste from the landfill and create wonderful compost for our soil in the process.
For more information about various composting systems, visit the sites below:
- Compost Guy
- Bokashi World
- The Green Girls DIY vermiculture
- Funny NYT article about apartment composting