Composting In The City (Best Ideas for Urban Composters!)
You probably know that composting is an environmentally friendly thing to do.
But composting in a city environment can be a struggle.
Certain constraints make it less easy for city dwellers than those of us who live in a more rural setting.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it!
There are lots of composting solutions available for folks who live in an urban setting.
I’ll tell you all about them below…
City composting uses simple, inventive ways of turning your food and organic waste into compost in an urban setting. There are several methods to achieve this, and utilizing your food waste for compost reduces waste and contributes to healing the global environment.
Cities and urban communities produce vast amounts of food and organic waste! This can be composted into a valuable product for yourself or even sold to other urban gardeners.
The food waste that cities produce is staggering!
In the USA, it’s estimated to be almost 40 million tons annually, which averages to about 219-pounds of waste per person each year. This is about 30% to 40% of the total food produced in the USA!
The bulk of this food waste is dumped in landfills, contributing to waste disposal problems for cities and increasing the production of greenhouse gasses.
Every one of us can make this situation better! You just need to start composting 🙂
Turning your household scraps into useful compost will benefit your plants, your family, your city, and the global community.
Urban Composting For Beginners
Composting uses natural microbes to break down organic waste, especially food waste, and transform it into nutrient-rich compost that can be used to grow your own food and other plants.
Composting requires 4 main elements to produce healthy compost:
- a source of carbon.
The nitrogen component is commonly known as “green” compost ingredients and includes vegetable scraps and used coffee grounds. The carbon stuff is called “brown” ingredients and comprises things like shredded paper, coffee filters, and dryer lint.
When these components are correctly balanced, decomposers such as bacteria, worms, and fungi, can flourish. This accelerates the decomposition process to produce rich compost in a few weeks.
In my experience, composting is not a complicated process. Still, the traditional methods for creating compost may not be suitable for the unique challenges presented in the city.
The most significant issues with composting in the urban environment are:
- and time.
Most folks living in the city have limited space. Rats are also a big pest concern, and city people lead busy lives that may not include much time for composting.
But that’s OK!
Because several methods can be used to compost in the city that takes these challenges of city life into account. They make it possible to produce compost quickly and with minimal effort and time commitment.
How To Compost In A City
Many city dwellers don’t know where to start to produce their own compost. But in this guide, I’ll explain how you can compost in the city using several simple methods.
There’s a solution for everyone, whatever your situation.
My philosophy is to become part of the solution rather than contribute to the problem of food waste in our cities. The following are some ways that make composting in the city achievable.
- Indoor composting. Composting indoors is easy and not as gross as you may think, and several methods make this a popular choice.
- Small yard composting. This is an option for people who have a small yard or space around their building that can be used for composting.
- Municipal composting programs. City municipalities are aware of the enormous food waste problem, and some have created composting programs to help alleviate it.
- Community composting. Working together with other like-minded people to develop a composting program.
Indoor Composting Methods
If you’re new to composting, you may have a mental image of composting, including a pile of rotting vegetation surrounded by flies and unpleasant odors!
However, as you will discover, composting indoors can be an easy, odor-free activity, using one or a combination of the indoor methods explained below.
Indoor Worm Farm
A small indoor worm farm is easy and fun (kids love them!). They are probably the most suitable indoor composting method for anyone with limited or no outdoor space. A worm bin can be used 100% indoors. There are no odors, and you don’t need to turn the compost (the worms do all the hard work).
Commercial indoor worm composters are not expensive and are designed to look elegant enough not to be an eyesore in your home.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this! (Amazon)
The worms can be fed unbleached paper, cardboard, and specific food scraps from your kitchen. The only items you should not feed worms are citrus food scraps, pineapple scraps, meat, dairy, and eggs.
The citrus scraps are too acidic for the worms, and they do not consume meat, dairy, and eggs because they are not vegetation.
Specific worms (red wigglers) can be purchased from any garden supply store. They consume large amounts of food scraps in a short period. These critters will reproduce quickly if you give them a continuous food supply and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures.
Once the worm farm reaches total capacity, you’ll be producing rich, organic compost from your kitchen scraps.
After a while, you’ll end up with nutrient-rich worm castings that are highly beneficial for your houseplants. These castings actually have a higher nutrient content than the food scraps you put in the bin!
Bokashi method of indoor composting
Bokashi composting is another popular indoor composting method that works very well and very quickly. The process uses a kitchen composting bin with the addition of a compost accelerator to speed up the decomposition.
Bokashi is a Japanese method of fermenting food scraps indoors. The fermentation boosts and accelerates the composting process. A specialized bin for the leftovers is needed, with a faucet at the bottom to tap off the liquid fertilizer produced in the composting and fermentation process.
The advantage of a bokashi system is that any kitchen scraps, including animal products, can be placed in the bokashi container. The additive in the Bokashi process is a product called “Bokashi Bran,” a mixture of grain products, sawdust, molasses, and microorganisms.
Bokashi requires much less space than traditional composting methods, can be kept inside or on a balcony, and produces fast decomposition.
The bokashi bran kickstarts the process and speeds up the decomposition of the food waste.
You’ll need a Bokashi composting kit for indoor composting like this All Seasons Indoor Bokashi Composter. Replacement Bokashi Bran supplies are easily purchased online or from garden supply stores.
Every few days, you can remove the liquid made by the composting process (known as leachate) using the special spigot at the bin’s base. This leachate is full of beneficial microbes and can be diluted for use as fertilizer for your indoor plants.
Countertop Food Recycler
Kitchen food recyclers are electronic devices that speed up the food recycling process. They are particularly well adapted to city dwellers who have limited space and time or for people who don’t have an exterior.
However, there’s a misconception about these products being “composters.” They do not produce compost because there is no decomposition!
They work by drying and reducing the volume of the ingredients. However, you need to be careful about the moisture content since very wet ingredients don’t work so well.
One of the only companies that are forthright about what this appliance does is the brand Vitamix (see their “FoodCycler” here). They market their product as a “compost alternative.”
These machines can be an excellent way to make the most of your kitchen scraps. The end product looks and feels similar to potting soil and has a neutral odor.
The final output could be said to have “fertilizing” properties. Their studies show that the recycled end result has an NPK value of 4-1-1.
But I would be careful about using this “fertilizer” directly on house plants. Because the ingredients have not yet decomposed, they could harm plants. This is because of a phenomenon called “plant burn” (so called because it turns the leaves yellow-brown in appearance).
When organic matter decomposes, the beneficial bacteria responsible use a large amount of nitrogen. Unfortunately, this means that nutrients (nitrogen) are not yet available to plants. Only when the decomposition process has advanced, and the composting ingredients have stabilized can the nutrients become available again for feeding plants.
Does this mean that food recycling machines are no good?
I don’t think so. You just need to be aware of what you’re getting.
The final dried byproduct can be used as mulch on top of your plants (as it decomposes, it will slowly add nutrients to the soil).
If you do bury it in the soil, leave it for a couple of months before planting on top. This will give the product time to decompose naturally.
Indoor Compost Bins
I think indoor compost bins are not the best option for city composting. The biggest problem with indoor compost bins is how fast they become full with your kitchen waste.
Once they are full, you must leave your compost ingredients to completely decompose. This makes it impractical if you have a large amount of kitchen waste.
If you have a balcony, I recommend you use a small outdoor compost unit, such as a small tumbler like this or a worm factory. (Amazon) Alternatively, you can collect your kitchen scraps in a countertop compost pail, then take them to a community compost pile!
If you do want to try an indoor bin, I’ve found that the best strategy for using indoor compost bins is to have 2 compost bins on the go simultaneously.
When the first bin is full, leave it to fully compost down while you begin filling the second bin with fresh scraps. Then, you can use your finished compost from the first batch when the second bin is full.
To avoid nasty odors, I recommend the bins with a carbon filter in the lid for indoor composting, such as this kitchen composter. The carbon filter absorbs any smells from the composting inside the container.
You must layer the compost in the compost bin with 3 parts brown or carbon material such as shredded newspaper to 1 part organic kitchen scraps.
Do not put any animal products in your indoor compost bin. These items will not decompose quickly enough and can present health problems when composting indoors.
Simple Ways To Compost In A Small Yard
If you have a small yard, you have a composting advantage over other city dwellers who do not have an outdoor space! In addition, this extra space increases your composting options.
The best composting options for a small yard are as follows.
- Outdoor compost bin. Outdoor compost bins have a larger capacity than indoor bins. You can continually add to the container at the top and extract completed compost from the hatch at the bottom of the bin.
- Compost tumbler. Compost tumblers come in various sizes and are an excellent option for small yards. The elevated tumblers are great for keeping pests out. They are easy to turn to aerate and mix the composting material inside.
- Outdoor worm farm. Outdoor worm farms can be small and compact and are an excellent choice for composting in a small yard.
If you have a small yard, a good option is to combine indoor and outdoor composting to maximize the volume of the waste produced by your household.
Municipal Composting Programs
Many cities have realized the enormity of the food-waste problem in their cities and have introduced municipal composting programs. As a result, household organic waste is sent to composting facilities rather than landfills.
For these programs to work and be effective, the cooperation of city residents is required to separate the compostable trash from the non-compostable waste and use the correctly designated trash bins.
So if your city has a municipal composting program and you don’t want to make your own homemade compost, you can still contribute to solving the waste problem by actively participating.
There is a growing list of city composting programs available throughout the US.
But if your municipality doesn’t yet offer it, you can subscribe to a curbside composting service near you. These companies provide a bin for separating organic compostables and a regular pickup service for a monthly fee.
Community composting is when a group of like-minded people in the community get organized and create a means of recycling food waste into usable compost rather than throwing it in the trash.
The best way to establish a community composting program is to make use of a central space, accessible to all, where the compostable material can be placed.
Community composting is a great way to raise awareness of food waste in your local area and do something about it!
Community members can use the resulting compost to grow their own food, or it can be bagged and sold to raise funds for other community projects. It can even compensate members for bringing their kitchen scraps to the compost site.
How To Set Up A City Compost System
To set up a community composting system, you need to follow a process and get the appropriate permission from the authorities.
- Get organized. Meet with interested community members and come up with a plan.
- Find a suitable location. A central place where community members can bring their scraps that will not contravene any by-laws is the best option. Some municipalities may be willing to participate and allow compost bins to be built in a community park. The compost program can also include organic waste from maintaining the park.
- Organize duties. Get the youth involved in the process, or get community members involved to help manage the compost and turn the compost on a rotating roster basis.
- Raise awareness. Raise awareness in your community to get people to participate in the program.
A community composting program can lead to many other benefits. For example, it can teach people how to use compost to grow their own fresh vegetables in the city using container gardening.
Composting in the city may require more planning and ingenuity, but it is not difficult to achieve. The main problem is maintaining the discipline to regularly compost your food scraps.
City composting will reward you with clean, nutrient-rich compost that you can use to grow your own healthy food indoors. Or become a small side business if you decide to sell your compost to members of your community.
Whatever way you decide to compost in the city, whether actively composting yourself, or participating in a municipal composting program, get involved and be part of the solution rather than the problem!