Dear PoPville – Composting

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Dear PoPville,

I live in an apartment complex on 14th and N and have on and off searched for a composting receptacle or perhaps even a local service, to no avail. Our building offers regular trash and recycle services, but the vast majority of refuse is compostable food waste. Any thoughts?

We talked a bit about composting back in Jan. 2010. Anyone successfully compost in an apartment building?

41 Comment

  • Food waste will biodegrade in landfill.. Unless you want the nutrient rich dirt out of the compost heap, no need to compost..

    • claire

      Hm, I’ve heard before that trash is actually packed so tightly in a landfill that biodegradation can’t happen (not enough air)… Here’s a short link about it: Seems to be saying that food waste in a landfill will biodegrade eventually but at a much much slower rate.

    • It might biodegrade in a landfill, but if you are able to compost and contribute to the creation of quality soil and less waste in general, then why not?

    • Composting reduces landfill usage, leaving room for non-recyclable waste, and reduces landfill methane from anaerobic decomposition. It makes sense to do even if you don’t want the organic stuff for your garden.

      I wish DC would start a curbside composting program.

    • Actually, it doesn’t. There is no oxygen nor any way for composting organisms to reach the stuff hermetically sealed inside landfills. You can dig into a landfill today and read every word on a piece of newspaper from the 1920s.

  • Vermiculture (composting with worms) is one option – possible to do in small spaces. Another is to sign up with Compost Cab – they pick up your compost once a week.

    • claire

      Yes, worm composting is much faster. Just read an article on Lifehacker recently about how to set it up (even in a small space like an apartment):

      • we’ve used worm compositing for years. it’s clean and easy. you basically rotate the trays in which you place the food. there’s no smell and the “worm tea” is collected at the bottom of the unit. a starter kit + worms ran me about $125.

        • – I second that worm composting is probably your best bet. A friend of mine does composting on a BOAT(!). If they can do it on a boat you can do it in an apartment! Once you have a lot you can grow plants inside the apartment or just add your compost to the trees in your area.
          – Compost Cab is also a great alternative, but you have to pay some regular fee and you don’t get to keep any of the compost. My work is using composting through a local compost cab. They pick up the bio trash and offload it in the gardens of local schools. That means you’ll still be doing tons of good!

          • This works! I use composting worms in my building. We have a small storage space in the basement, and keep them down there. Generally they don’t smell.

  • Successful composting requires both enough volume and the proper mix of nitrogen rich and carbon rich products (also known as green and brown materials). In addition, you have to make sure that you keep the ratio consistent over time and keep the moisture and heat level up. I have found it hard to do on small basis – garbage can size – but it can be done if you are diligent enough about it. There are innumerable sites on the web giving advice on creating a bin. I made mine out of a metal trash can with lid, in which I drilled numerous smaller than dime-size holes so as to keep out rats and mice. You’ll also need a way to shred the materials as much as possible – you don’t want to just throw an entire orange in. In short, it’s easier said than done on the small scale.

  • I have long lived in apt. buildings and save my compost and then go for strategic walks, where I scatter it in various parks and shrubs. It’s easy to do if you do it regularly, and chop up bigger items into smaller pieces.

    • This is not composting, it is littering.

      • Well, it’s tempting to see it that way, but I am careful to leave out stuff like bones and eggshells and stick to material that is basically fertilizer and thus good for the plants.

        • If you do it in YOUR yard, it might qualify as composting. (Your neighbors might not be too happy about it, though.)

          If you do it in someone else’s yard or on public property, it’s littering.

          I’m sure I speak for many D.C. residents who are tired of picking up other people’s trash. It’s bad enough having to clean up after litterers who don’t care or don’t know any better; it’s perhaps even worse to have to clean up after well-intentioned but deluded litterers who are using other people’s space to try to realize their dreams of “green”-ness.

          • My, my. Such anger. Let me clarify. I cut everything up into small pieces and scatter it in Rock Creek Park, not unlike seeds or autumn leaves, where it then returns to the earth. I have done it for years. Coffee grounds can be easily dried on your counter and scattered out the window. I do not throw cabbages in the road or carrots onto mowed lawns. I scatter compost where other compostable materials, such as dying leaves, are already found. There are many such places in D.C.

        • Loose plant matter just sprinkled under bushes does not decompose in the same way as materials in a compost bin, where temperature and bacterial activity (and possibly worms, depending) work to break down organic material. If lots of people “composted” in your way, Rock Creek Park would be knee-deep in rotten lettuce and apple cores.

        • And that’s not even considering what your method does to increase vermin populations.

      • oh shush – you clearly need to do some reading… don’t say stuff that you don’t have any idea about.

    • I have composted for years: with worms, with piles, with tumblers even with the lasagna method in my garden. “scatter(ing) it in various parks and shrubs” is not composting, even if it is finely chopped.
      please don’t “compost” any of your food waste near where I live.

    • NO! That is feeding the RATS, not composting! Stop! This is the worst rat year in DC in the past 25 years already because of warm winter and garbage everywhere.

  • Check out the wesite The website is for a catalog called Gardener’s Supply Company and they have composters of all sizes!

  • Maybe the Whole Foods might have an idea? I’d imagine there has to be some sort of establishment that will take your food waste. Since small scale composting is difficult to manage in an apt building that may be your best bet.

  • There’s also Compost Cab, though I hesitate to recommend them because it gets up my nose that you have to pay even if you were to bring your compost to them at the farmers markets (e.g. Dupont, where they always have a table). I totally understand the fee for having your compost picked up, but they’re reselling the compost itself so don’t know why they are charging to receive the material that they turn around and sell.

    • +1
      I stopped using them because I couldn’t understand why they charge for drop offs.

      I drop off my compost at Whole Foods. They have a bin in the “cafe” area. But if anyone has any other ideas, other than composting myself (no room), I’m all ears.

    • My condo building recently started using Compost Cab (, and so far so good. Response in the building has been positive. I cook a lot, and have a lot to contribute, which feels a lot better than tossing plants in a plastic garbage bag.

  • I am repelled by the idea of composting in DC. We have a horrible, horrible rat problem in this city. You can use rat wire to keep the rats out of your compost, but the smell of rotting veggies will still bring more rats to the surrounding area. Would the rat wire keep cockroaches out? Please don’t do this.

    • We composted for years in our Mt. Pleasant house using a pine bin in the back yard. We NEVER had a rat problem, except for one year when a critter burrowed in and helped himself to the pickings. That was also the year we had the best compost because he really churned it. However, I decided we couldn’t have the rat, so I put some poison on the trail and never saw him again. And then I felt really guilty. Also, our composter never smelled, despite some of the assertions made here.

  • If you do compost, please do it responsibly. When I lived in a basement in Col. Heights. my upstairs neighbors had a heap and they attracted a TON of rats. More than your usual amount.

  • Nature Mill makes a composter for inside of the home or apartment.

    I have had one for several years and it works very well. You just need to make sure the ratio of sawdust to baking soda is correct, otherwise it will smell. Usually i clean it out twice a year and put the compost in my garden.

  • You can drop your compost-able waste off at Common Good City Farm:

  • we lived in a 725sq ft apt in Logan circle and composted for years. it was in our hallway and we entertained quite often. No one ever complained about the smell and everyone wanted to see the worms. The only time it ever smelled was one time in August when it was hot as [email protected] and the moisture content was too high in the composter. The wee worms were jumping out of the bin. We added some shredded newspaper and it sorted it self out in a day or two. Composting with worms is incredibly low maintenance. You can even go on a 2 week vacay and not worry about them, as long as you give them a good pile of food (which if you’re leaving for 2 weeks, you’re probably going to clean out your fridge…just give it to the worms).
    I think Martha Stewart had a cheap DIY solution…llikehacker/makemag probably do too. Or you can go the fancy route and buy a worm condo.

  • My workplace of 300+ people enacted a composting program as part of a going green initiative. While I applaud their effort, it hasn’t really taken off very well. I’d say only half the staff uses the compost bins. Another problem is the bins themselves. Even though they get fresh liners regularly, they emit the most foul, putrid, vomit-inducing smell when you open them. Last, there has been an uptick in mice sightings inside our building. I cannot help associating this problem with the composting. It’s gross.

  • Compost cab yall! They provide you a bucket and bag, and each week CC dudes come to your home and pick up the scraps. Highly recommend.

  • I also recommend compost cab for this situation.

    And if the $7 a week or whatever is just too steep for you like some folks here (I mean, why don’t they just provide this service for free, right?), see if you have any neighbors that would like to split the cost with you.

  • In the spring, summer and fall I keep a bag of vegetarian scraps in my freezer and drop it off on the weekend in the compost bin at Common Good City Farm –

  • Common Good community garden in shaw/bloomingdale has a compost receptical on its grounds, right on the fence line thatis easy to access. I am a juicer and throw all my veggie pulp here each day. Anyone can throw compost in there! it is a green trash can close to V street on the fence that seperates the garden from the park. There is a sign pointing you to it also! Those who manage the garden do a great job of processing it too.

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