The Best Composting Options for City Dwellers

Growing up, my family had an incredible compost mound in the backyard. Month by month, the pile — with the help of a mass of worms and other critters — turned eggshells, vegetable peelings and even chicken droppings from our flock into a rich black compost which my dad would later use to give his plants a boost.

Idyllic as it sounds, there’s no way this method would ever work in an apartment (What landlord would be cool with a rotting compost pile in the corner of the living room?), which is why many city dwellers assume composting is totally out of reach. That’s just not true! With the green movement growing stronger every day, companies and individuals alike are stepping up to find composting solutions that work well in small spaces.

container garden

But before we get into what I consider the best small-space options for city dwellers, let’s first take a look at three great reasons to compost in the first place:

  1. Apply nutrient-rich compost to houseplants and patio containers to help the plants grow tall and strong. Anything you don’t use can be shared with friends or donated to a community garden in your area.
  2. Limit the amount of waste you send to landfill by making productive use of kitchen scraps (35 percent of the average garbage can is filled with wasted food). Save scraps in your freezer in the intermediate.
  3. Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. The same food waste that is filling up your trash can will later emit methane in the landfill, a greenhouse gas that’s increasing the rate of global climate change. Eek!

Now onto the good stuff. Here are four of the most effective composting options you have available to you if you live in an apartment, tiny house or similar urban situation, ordered from least to most complex.


Option #1: Compost Collection

Many large cities have started adding compost pickup to their waste collection services. Composting not expressly listed? See if you can opt in individually on the waste management company’s page, or look into privately-owned services.

Pros: Compost collection is convenient and trouble free. Plus, you’re supporting local business!

Cons: Paying for compost pickup year round can be expensive.

Option #2: Countertop Composting

Countertop composting is beyond simple. All you have to do is get a container with a tightly-sealed lid and start saving your scraps bit by bit. I highly recommend that you crush or shred them before adding to the bin. Layer scraps with a scoop of new soil and dry natural papers (newspaper works perfectly) once a week and mix frequently.

Pros: Countertop composting is hassle free and inexpensive.

Cons: Fruit flies can be trouble. Saving scraps in the freezer can help with this!

Option #3: Compost Tumblers

If you’re fortunate to have a good-sized balcony or patio, a compost tumbler might just do the trick! Tumblers are fully sealed to preserve the heat energy produced by decomposition and protect against vermin, and are equipped with a turning mechanism to help aerate and mix the scraps. They’re also bigger than vermicomposting bins (see below) so you can compost in larger amounts.

Pros: Tumblers are tidy and efficient — perfect if you have the space!

Cons: These can be hard to rotate/mix when full and require careful ratio management.

Option #4: Vermicomposting (a.k.a. Worm Composting)

Ready to get serious about indoor composting? Vermicomposting with redworms is the way to go. Adding worms to your compost setup helps replicate the outdoor environment, allowing nature to take its course a little more easily, and they don’t require any turning like tumblers do.

Pros: Vermicomposters quickly and easily process household waste, inside or outside.

Cons: Worms need to be protected from the elements and compost on a small scale.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to get a more in-depth look at small-space composting, I highly recommend that you check out the book Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living. It’s very comprehensive. Best of luck!

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Mike R
Mike R11 months ago


Melanie St. Germaine
Melanie St. Germaineabout a year ago

Compost is picked up on weekly collection routes. It does get stinky in the summer months.

Olga Nycz-Shirley
Olga Nycz-Shirleyabout a year ago


Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a year ago

Glad I live in rural America! No composting worries!

Olivia M
Past Member about a year ago


Sophie L
Past Member about a year ago

Thank you

Cindy S
Cindy Smithabout a year ago


Angela J
Angela Jabout a year ago


Christina M
Christina Mabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

Angela AWAY K
Angela Kabout a year ago