Spread a little good...compost
While apartment life may make composting more challenging, it is not impossible. You can compost your food and plant wastes in a number of ways on your balcony, rooftop or indoors. Here are some ideas on how to compost if you live in an apartment. Note: Please check with your building superintendent before beginning composting.
Garbage can with airstack
If you're using a commercial garbage can, make sure it has a minimum base diameter of 38 centimetres (15 inches). If making your own square container, its base should be a minimum of 1 metres sq. (1.25 yards sq.). Both types of composter require an unobstructed height of 85 to 105 cm (34 to 42 in).
There should be a minimum of 4 holes, 5 cm (2 in) apart, in the bottom of the container. Start your compost pile 7 to 15 cm (3 to 6 in) up from the bottom of the bin to allow for sufficient air circulation and drainage. This can be done by building a "false bottom". Place a heavy gauge screen (1/2 inch hardware cloth) on top of blocks placed inside the unit. Add a 1/2-cm (1/4-in) layer of newspaper to absorb liquid. You can also use a layer of sticks and twigs. Remember to always keep the drain holes clear of obstructions. Note: Hardware cloth is galvanized wire mesh in various sizes and is available at most hardware stores.
You will also need an "airstack" of approximately 12 cm (5 in) in diameter, leading from the false bottom up through the top of the container. Commercial airstacks can be purchased at gardening centres or you can create your own with a piece of plastic plumber's pipe or weeping tile. There should be holes drilled all the way down the sides of the pipe or tile. A roll of hardware cloth or a bundle of sticks can also be placed in the centre of the container as an alternative. A hole must be cut in the lid of the composter for the airstack to fit through. It should be a snug fit to help prevent insects and other pests from entering your composter. For extra protection from pests cap the airstack with some fine mesh.
Place your composter in a sunny area if possible. To ensure there is enough air circulation around the composter, set it approximately 30 cm (12 in) away from any walls. Also make sure the container is raised 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) above the ground and a tray is placed underneath to catch any liquid that may drain out.
You can use the same materials for apartment composting as you would for regular outdoor composting (see factsheet entitled Materials to Compost for a detailed list). Although this type of composting can accommodate yard waste, it is primarily for household kitchen and plant waste. All materials should be as small as possible and well-mixed (use a variety of materials). When putting in fresh kitchen waste always bury the food into the pile and add some leaves or soil on top to help control insects and odours.
- For every 13 cm (5 in) of organic material, add 2.5 cm (1 in) of garden soil or finished compost.
- The pile should always be as moist as a well-wrung sponge.
- It is a good idea to stockpile some fall leaves to add to your pile all year round.
- Make sure your container has a tight-fitting lid.
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is another way for apartment dwellers to compost. A worm bin can be set up indoors or can be insulated to stay outside on a balcony.
By getting together with other residents and staff in your building or community garden, it is possible to establish a single backyard composter or a larger 3-bin composter on your grounds. If you have a rooftop, consider placing a composting unit there.