Posted on 22 May 2010 by

Composting for Renters

compostBy Sonya Welter

I grew up composting, so when I rented apartments, it was always kind of heart-breaking to have to throw away perfectly good garbage because my landlord wouldn’t let me start a compost pile in the backyard.

Renting unfortunately means living by somebody else’s rules, and even landlords who are in favor of flower gardens or pots of tomatoes on the back steps may still nix composting, since they think it might smell bad, look untidy or attract pests.

You may be able to sweet talk your landlord into a traditional compost bin if you can convince him or her that you will maintain it religiously, but if not, there are still a few composting options for renters.

Compost Tumblers

If your landlord won’t approve an open compost bin or loose pile, he or she may be amendable to a fully-contained and completely portable compost tumbler. Ready-made compost tumblers are on the expensive side, but you can easily make your own by drilling a bunch of holes in a round garbage can with a tight-fitting lid and propping it up on cinder blocks. (More detailed plans can be found in this PDF.)

Add equal parts “greens” (kitchen waste like potato peelings, carrot tops and coffee ground) and “browns” (fallen leaves, dried grass clippings or shredded paper) and roll the barrel about once a week to mix it up. Compost tumblers produce finished compost so quickly that there shouldn’t be any problems with smell, and visually they look they same as any other trash can.


If you have no yard space at all, you can still compost indoors with the help of worms, specifically red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). Commercial worm bins are fairly affordable, and adventurous souls can make one themselves by drilling several drainage holes in the bottom of a 20 gallon plastic storage container, or building a similarly sized wooden box. Prop the bin up and place a tray underneath to catch any drips.

Lay down a bed of peat moss and a little bit of sand, then pour in a pound or two of red wigglers, available online or at some garden centers. Cover the worms with several inches of dried leaves, and add small amounts of kitchen waste as you generate it. The finished compost can be used for houseplants or container gardening, or you could donate it to any outdoor gardener. The classic book “Worms Eat my Garbage” by Mary Appelhof can tell you all the nitty-gritty details you need to know about vermicomposting.

Community Compost

More and more waste management facilities are offering commercial composting. Some offer curbside pick-up services alongside regular garbage and recycling, but most have a few centrally located drop-off sites for people to bring kitchen or yard waste. Community garden programs may also have compost piles that are open to everyone in the neighborhood.

The finished compost is often used in public gardens, or may be sold to local garden centers. With communal composting, you don’t get your own personal finished compost back, but you’re also excused from all the muscle work, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that your banana peels and tea bags have gone on to serve a great purpose that building up a landfill.

5 Responses to “Composting for Renters”

  1. Kitchen Composter Filter Replacements 3 Pk | Compost Equipment Says:

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  2. Kimberly Says:

    Can I just add that I’m a renter, and I can’t say enough good things about my NatureMill composter? A little on the pricey side, but so worth it. I wanted to compost, but was worried I’d forget to maintain it. And I have no yard, just an itty bitty apartment. They even sell kids so you can mount it under a cabinet. I have no affiliation with NatureMill, but I wanted to add it as an option.

  3. They Sell Kids? Says:

    Hey Kimberly,

    NatureMill sells “Kids”? Yikes!

    Seriously, though, I’m happy for your input. We won’t be able to afford one of those composters here in rural Kenya, but we are trying our best to get beyond the harmful fertilizers that these NGO’s are pushing on us. It’s ruining soil that has been doing just fine for centuries. We need to get back to nature if we want to have a sustainable way of growing food for future generations,and this is one great way to do it. Do you know how long it takes to replenish soil after it has been stripped by fertilizer?

    Kimberly or anyone else can reply PLEASE! Please also spread the word for us. Internet is hard to get, so we need voices to help us.

    Thank you,
    Youth of Kenya

  4. Matt Says:

    Vermicomposting is a lot of fun, but you definitely have to bear in mind that your worms are animals, and need to be tended to. I killed my first colony by not keeping the balance between “food” and bedding, and they essentially drowned as a result.

  5. cath Says:

    I want to second Kimberley’s comments. I also have a NatureMill composter. It’s not perfect — there have been a few minor mechanical issues, and I find that the compost needs to be allowed to season for quite a while before using — but it’s a good solution for someone like me. I have very little space, and I’m afraid I’m not responsible enough for pets (even worms).

    I’ve now reduced my food waste to nearly zero. This is my first year using the Nature Mill and compost, and so far the garden seems to be doing great! I’ll report back at the end of summer 🙂

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