If the idea of composting fills your head with images of a large backyard and a big compost bin, it's time to rethink what composting means. Today, everyone can compost — even if you live in a bustling urban center. If you think your city balcony is too small for composting, think again. Even a fire escape is big enough for a small compost bin. There are many compost options that allow city dwellers to save valuable landfill space. Read on to learn how to compost in the city — without attracting pests or creating a bad smell.

Bins, pails and buckets

Newfangled compost bins are perfect for city dwellers. For under $40, you can buy a chic and functional compost pail that doesn't take up much space. You'll find lots of bamboo compost pails, ceramic compost pails, and stainless steel compost pails on the market right now. These pails have tight-fitting lids to keep pests out, and carbon filters to keep them odor-free. Most of these containers come in different sizes and shapes to suit your needs. They're attractive and clean enough to keep on a countertop, or you could store one on your balcony or fire escape.

If you're living in a small space where moisture and bad odors proliferate quickly, it's imperative to buy a compost pail with a carbon filter. DIY solutions are generally a good way to save money, but your average plastic Tupperware-type container will inevitably generate bad smells. If you must use a container other than a compost pail with a carbon filter, store the compost in the freezer. This will prevent your apartment from stinking of week-old vegetable peels.


Worms are fascinating creates that immensely enjoy your leftover food scraps. When fed food waste, red worms will consume this waste, and later excrete the waste in the form of small nutrient-packed pellets. Worm waste is the best kind of soil that you can provide your plants with, which is why so many "urban farmers" choose this form of composting over all others. In order to become a worm composting enthusiast, you will need the following objects:

  • A proper container
  • Bedding, like strips of old newspaper
  • Non-fat food scraps
  • Worms (about 1,000)
  • Water
  • A great worm composting guide book (Follow the steps carefully — worm compost requires the right balance of water, air, bedding and food.)
Yes, I know what you're thinking: "No way am going to keep a bin full of worms on my balcony! Eeeewww!" The truth is, vermiculture creates almost no mess, and it's possible to compost without ever having to touch the worms. No one needs to know what's inside that large bin on your porch, although divulging its contents will provide some environmental inspiration to your cocktail party guests.

Guerrilla composting

Urban dwellers that have no place to dump their compost bins are taking matters into their own hands. These eco-enthusiasts have been known to dump compost waste into a nearby composting bin at the wee hours of the morning. Aside from this sneaky tactic, scope out your city for the following compost dumping locations: 

  • Urban gardens: Head over to your nearest urban gardening center, and ask about donating your compost. Also, speak with some gardeners — many of them will be glad to have your nutrient rich compost!
  • Horticulture centers: Any savvy horticulturalist knows the value of good compost. See if you can bring yours to a nearby horticulture center once or twice a week.
  • Neighbors: Does your next door neighbor have a garden? If so, educate your neighbour on the importance of compost, and then ask if they'd like to have yours. Just make sure to gain your neighbour's permission before you dump out your compost pile!
  • Your own container garden: Nothing beats the taste of vegetables and herbs grown in your own container garden. You don't need a large space or lots of land to produce your own goods. All you need is a nice window spot or balcony. Just think — you already have the compost!
  • Public places: Guerrilla composters tend to find public parks, gardens, and grassy areas that look like they could use a bit of attention. While this form of composting is an entirely noble feat, it's best to do this kind of compost dumping during the evening hours — this way, you'll avoid a large city fine!
  • Craigslist and other public forums: Why not donate your compost? Sell or give away your compost to those that need some top-notch soil. You'll be surprised at the number of responses you get!
Smells, pests and other concerns

Containers that have been specially made for urban composting are often equipped with anti-odor features. Some of these items contain carbon filters that must be changed once every couple of months, while others contain natural deodorizers.

Worm compost piles don't actually smell at all, though it's important to control the amount of food that your worms eat. By feeding your worms a small amount of food waste at a time, you can ensure that rotting food won't be left lying around.

Generally, small pests are not a problem when it comes to urban composting. However, it's important to keep tight lids on compost jars, do not pile compost higher than the container that you are using, and keep your compost container in a secluded area.

Harriette Halepis originally wrote this story for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission here.

The ultimate urban composting guide
Composting has come a long way from its roots. There are lots of composting options for urban dwellers.