Living, Sustainability

How to Compost in a small space

It’s still achievable.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Oct 23, 2022

I’ve had a compost attached to my trash can for over a year now and still have no idea how to use it. The small tube is affixed to the side of my trash can, comes with its own green, biodegradable trash bags and is meant to simplify composting for beginners. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.


I had all these plans to be a New York City composter, turning the mush into soil for my house plants. I saw myself getting produce from the local farmers market, juice multiple jugs for the week, and store the compost in its own trash can until I had enough to make soil. Like I said, I had big plans.


But the truth of the matter is, composting is difficult. You need several items in order to be successful (more on that later), and so many people have their own variations of doing it, making it difficult to decide what route is right or where to start. In efforts to uncomplicate things for both you and I, ahead is a one-stop shop for composting. Think of it as composting 101.


What is compost?

Essentially, compost is a way to dispose of waste, decrease your carbon footprint, and produce healthy soil for houseplants. You need a good combination of green and brown materials for the optimal balance of bacteria, properly turning waste into compost.


Depending on the temperature inside the container, how many materials, and how large the bin is, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 months to complete the process. The key way to know you’ve finished is when you see very few scraps of food and smell a decent earthy odor. In appearance, it will look like soil when completed.


Why is it difficult to compost in an apartment?

If you don’t have a compost attachment to your trash can, you can also compost in a tub or plastic bucket. However, when you realize you have to leave scraps of food around for months, it makes it hard to imagine doing that in New York City, where bugs and rodents run rampant. It can also be challenging if the compost ends up smelling, as any smell can become quite dominant in closet-sized Manhattan apartments.


What food items can be composted? 

As amazing as composting is, you can compost every single thing in your fridge. To avoid odors, mold, and unsuccessful composting, be sure to only compost vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, fruit peels, stale bread, fresh and dried leaves, eggshells, cardboard boxes, and cooked rice and pasta. Do not put meat, dairy, bones, or fat in your compost container.


Here’s a deeper dive into what you can compost — and if you can’t, it needs to be trashed or recycled.


Photo via Nelly Cuanalo