Guerilla Apartment Composting

Sometime around two years ago, I began obsessing about compost. My eyes were opened to how much waste I was making and how much organic waste that I had in my trash that would likely never decompose in a landfill (packed too tightly for the decomposition process to take place)– meanwhile it could be doing so much good in soil. It was like a part of me was in pain every time I threw away kitchen scraps because it felt like such a waste.

Having no yard or even balcony, I thought I couldn’t have a standard compost bin. I spent many hours online looking for other solutions. One tempting option was vermicomposting — or composting with worms. There are various vendors that sell bins with worms that will do the work. I’m oddly fascinated by this, but had to rule it out due to our curious and rambunctious cat, Stella. The idea of coming home to an apartment full of liberated worms did not appeal to me.

(By the by, can I say here how much I love my husband?  Instead of considering me a total freak for this, even though he didn’t necessarily have the same visceral reaction to organic waste, was willing to support me in whatever way he could to work towards a solution.)

Then, I discovered the indoor composter made by NatureMill.  It appeared to be the perfect solution.  I’ll spare you the infomercial, but there is video footage on the website and was so seductive, so easy, such a perfect solution.  It claims you can compost your kitchen scraps, including dairy and boneless meat.  All this without odor or messy harvesting of completed compost.  Plus, the energy usage was low (50 cents a month), and it was made from recycled materials.

J. bought me the NatureMill as a birthday gift last year.  Now, it’s not like we thought this was a gift that paid for itself in compost.  Afterall, we have no yard and we don’t buy compost.  We also don’t pay for our garbage to be hauled away.  We considered this more of a donation to the environment, an investment in progress, a science experiment and quite frankly, a toy. 

This machine arrived in February.  We planned to keep it in our guest bathroom — which makes for interesting conversation with guests.  We had a bit of a bumpy start.  The first few days the machine has some sort of adjustment issues where it makes loudish clicking thumping sounds every 3 hours.  But as the machine gets filled, they subside, and then they go away all together.  We also never felt brave enough to put meat and dairy in there because we had some odor issues early on.  You need to balance different types of organic material (dry and wet) to make the chemical reactions work and not smell.

We thought we could give gift packs of compost to our parents who do some gardening and fruit/veggie growing, however, we didn’t think our compost was “ready for prime time.”   We’ve figured out that some stuff doesn’t break down as well in there — onion peels, unless in really small pieces, avocado peel, really fibrous things.  Over time, the compost bin seems to have adjusted to us as much as we adjusted to it.  Early on we avoided putting coffee grounds in it because the whole apartment smelled like stale coffee.  Now, we no longer get that smell.  I bet the living organisms in there have figured out how to digest it.  The mixture starts to look like rich healthy soil — but we still don’t quite feel comfortable “gifting” it to people who think we’re bat-shit crazy for doing this in our apartment.  

So, what do we do with the fruits of our labor (so to speak)?  Guerilla tactics.  We hide it in bushes around our apartment building — and smile every time we pass the spot.

You know you want to see the pictures…



  1. December 10, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Many people don’t take the time and stop and realize how much compostable material they throw out every evening. Good on you for going above and beyond and taking action for yourself!

  2. Theresa said,

    December 10, 2008 at 9:01 am

    My goal this year was to start composting in our backyard…it didn’t happen. I think I am intimidated by the whole thing, because I don’t understand it. If I could buy a machine like this, I think I would be much more likely to do it. We don’t have the room for it in our house though…

  3. Gretchen said,

    December 11, 2008 at 10:40 am

    I had started “composting” in my backyard this past year – just keeping a bucket by the back door and putting kitchen scraps in it and then piling them along with leaves and other green things from my garden in one of the corners of my backyard. Not sure it was the “right” way to do it, but I know I enjoyed not having to take out a trash bag that often and returning my scraps to nature. I put coffee grounds in the pile too but obviously didn’t have the stink factor that you guys faced.

    Sadly I no longer have a fence along my backyard line so am not sure where my pile will end up now…

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