At-home composting for apartments, houses, anywhere with a freezer

Sustainability is a spectrum and there is no wrong way to get involved. If you’re thinking you want to find real, tangible ways to make a difference in helping the environment and preserving natural resources, composting is the best place to begin. Not only will you dramatically decrease your (inadvertent) contributions to toxic waste streams but you will also discover the magic of circular, closed loop systems as all your food waste transforms into healthy soil in your local community. It’s free, it’s simple and it’s not as gross as we thought it would be! The Back-Up: According to a Drawdown research of 100 solutions to reverse global warming, reducing food waste is #3 and having a plant-rich diet is #4. According to an Earth Angel presentation at Good Stuff, 1/3 of the average New Yorker’s waste comes from organic materials (i.e. compostable). Comparatively, textile waste is only 6%. This stuff matters.


Here’s how to start composting today:

  • Take an old brown paper bag and rip off the top portion. You can tear that part into smaller pieces, as these paper bags are also compostable when torn up. Find a spot in your freezer that can hold your new compost vessel (about the size of a shoebox).
  • To start filling the vessel, look inside your fridge and on your counter at your produce. Is anything spoiled? Add it to the bag!
  • Next time you’re prepping food, sweep the parts you don’t eat into the bag. Same goes for apple cores, banana peels, carrot tops. Add them in whenever.
  • If you’re eating a meal at home (whether you made it or take out), toss the parts you won’t or don’t eat into the bag. Put back in the freezer.

What goes in?

All fruit and vegetables and their skins are compostable. Nut shells, egg shells, even human hair or nail clippings are healthy additions to the soil. Small torn-up parts of paper, cards, and napkins (not with text on it unless it’s soy-based ink). Flowers and plants (unless they are diseased — that’s not healthy to bring into the soil), some compostable food containers (if they are not lined with plastic and soft enough to rip).

Where do you bring your frozen compost?

  • Search your local listings for compost drop spots. Farmers markets, greenmarkets, some areas have a weekly neighborhood drop spot, and some areas have compost-specific bins (for example, we found brown bins in NYC, green bins in ATX) — you can drop off at any time and trucks will empty them. Request a bin for your building if you have ~10 or more units and get your neighbors in on the compost party! We use a local drop spot and try empty the bag 1X per week. Some weeks don’t have enough to dump, or we get busy and miss the window. It can keep in the freezer a long time. (With no smells or critters!)

Circularity is a beautiful, calming, and healthy process. We are big fans of closing the loop: knowing where our stuff comes from and where it belongs next. This interconnectedness is no different for our “food stuff.” Composting helped us understand what is “food” vs. a “food-like object” (often harmful to soil, and our bodies) and thus rely less on packaged, processed goods. We don’t feel as guilty if we overbought produce because at least it can become food for another living organism (plus, noticing the patterns of over/under-buying helped us budget better for next time).

Do you compost? Share why or why not in the comments.

Further discovery:

What happens next to your compost deposits? Watch this video from Lucy Biggers

What you cannot compost:

  • Check your local rules.
  • Some systems do not accept meat, dairy, oils (or oily foods like chips).
  • Be mindful of this confusing trend: packaging that is marked “compostable” is often not meant for consumer composting. It would require access to industrial compost, which many cities and towns do not offer. Check with your local experts (bring it with you!) and keep this in mind when choosing packaged goods (if recyclability is something you are interested in).
Local soil made from local compost in NYC.

Local compost after it transformed to soil, a process that takes 3 months. This was a gift from the Lower East Side Ecology Center in NYC, as a thanks to all local residents who compost at the GrowNYC dropspots. Looked good enough to display!

By allison v.

Designer and DIY'er in Detroit by way of NYC

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