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Greening the Co-op: Countertop Compost Chic
Emily Gertz, 14 Apr 07

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No sooner did I grumble/comment to Amy's introduction to community-supported agriculture that composting wasn't feasible in my apartment, than the following little helpmate popped up on Apartment Therapy: a compact stainless steel composting pail. It's a petite 11" high with a 7 1/2" diameter, has a capacity of 1 gallon, and features a charcoal filter to cut down on the fragrance of rotting veg trimmings and apple cores...which are likely to be minimal anyway, if the organics are breaking down at the right rate.

I wouldn't call the price especially petite -- about $45 plus shipping at But it's an interesting addition my current options for keeping kitchen waste out of the garbage stream: either saving everything up and periodically lugging it to the compost bins at the 6-15 Green Community Garden, or going for tabletop vermiculture.

Imagine if even five percent of the apartment-dwellers in a megacity like New York used one of these little buckets. How much biomass could we be reclaiming and making useful for our windowboxes, blocks, gardens, yards and parks, instead of trucking or barging it to out-of-state landfills as useless waste? And what might the city save on garbage hauling costs?

According to the Department of Sanitation's NYC Compost Project, "the average New York City household discards two pounds of organic waste each day -- adding up to more than one million tons of organic material a year." This program already offers New Yorkers yard-sized compost bins at a reasonable price. I'd love to see it add a subsidized program to make these little compost pails affordable to every New Yorker who wants one.

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If you're just concerned with smell until you put it in a communal compost pile, would freezing work? An other trick I've seen to minimize odours is drying. One person I know cut up large leftovers and let them dry on a cookie rack.

I've seen disposable containers (!) which also handles the mould issue - but freezing seems to be the easiest.

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 14 Apr 07

I once had a short correspondence with a woman in Japan that had the same problem. Her solution was to be a clandestine composter. She would make a shallow excavation under the mulch in the apartment complex flowerbeds each night and make her contribution to the health of the plants.

Another way to achieve similar results is to have a spare yard sale blender to 'liquefy' food scraps, then pull back the mulch layer in a bed to make a liquid deposit.

Posted by: Terran on 15 Apr 07

Apartment composting is completely feasible. Vermiculture, or worm compost, is cheap, clean and effective. There are many websites that can help you determine what exactly you'll need for your apartment size and the amount of food waster you generate. Earth911 is a good place to start:
There is also a very simple book called "Worms eat my garbage" that can help you get started.
The beautiful, rich compost you generate can be added to your houseplants, or given to your neighbors, or donated to a community garden.
When done right there is no odor to worry about. The only thing you'll smell, and only when you open the bin, is the sweet smell of fresh'll be taken away to magical times of youth when you spent hours digging for treasure in the backyard.

Posted by: stephenie on 16 Apr 07

what really stinks and terribly so is the bin for plastics (containers or wraps that have been in contact with meat or fish).

Posted by: Hans Suter on 16 Apr 07

Seattle Tilth, an organic gardening nonprofit, has developed an apartment composting system called the "Off-the-Shelf" compost bin. The bin is a rubbermaid container that can be stowed under the kitchen sink, and is easy to build with a few supplies from the hardware store. The plans are available at:

I have a compost pail that I think is even better than the one featured in the article. (I got it at It's stainless steel and looks good on the counter, but it doesn't have the charcoal filter that you have to keep replacing--the stainless steel just doesn't absorb any odor. It's also half the price of the other one!

Posted by: Sandy Pederson on 17 Apr 07

I started kitchen composting and we're not having a problem with odors. We put our organic waste first in an open receptacle in the kitchen...then once a week I put the scraps in the worm bin. The worm bin is a plastic filing box (measuring 18"x11"x14") I got from the hardware store.
The red wrigglers I got from the Lower East Side Ecology Center in NYC ($18.50 per pound). The waste and worms are covered with slightly damp newspaper scraps. I keep the lid of the box cracked for air. There are some small fruit flies, but not so many that they are bothersome. From time to time I need to moisten the paper scraps. It's surprised me how easy it is.

Posted by: cori on 24 Apr 07



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