Completing the Cycle: A Guide to Composting in Urban Environments


(By guest author John Magee) Everything in nature works in cycles, and while humans are obviously a part of nature, the modern Western food system has gone very far in disrupting the connection humans have with their environment, and with the foods they eat.

While organic back yard farming has become more and more popular over the years, it’s easy for those who dwell in cities, and those with busy lives in general, to ignore one of the important steps in the life cycle of plants. Composting kitchen scraps is very much a viable task that is appropriate for those who live even in urban areas, though you’ll need at least some outdoor space to make a go of it.

Bin - Completing the Cycle - A Guide to Composting in Urban Environments

This article is for those who live in urban areas without much yard space, and who are interested in reconnecting to the food cycle, and turning their food scraps into healthy garden soil, which will in turn help produce organic produce to feed the family.

What Can Be Composted?

Kitchen and lawn scraps are the primary focus of composting for home use, however newspaper and non-glossy mail can be composted as well! All fruit and vegetable scraps can be composted, and yard waste is needed as well. It’s generally wise to avoid meat, dairy, fats, bones, and the like, as they don’t compost well and produce odors, which in turn attract pests.

Compost - Completing the Cycle - A Guide to Composting in Urban Environments

If you want to go for it and compost your newspapers and junk mail, be sure that you shred the newspaper and junk mail before you throw it in the compost bin. That can be a big project, but it can really cut down on a lot of waste!

Composting for those Who Have Small Yard Spaces

For those who have small yards, composting can be a bit of a challenge, but there are several avenues to make the composting process easier.

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Click here to access the larger info-graphic from

Often those who have small yards don’t have the space for large out-of-the-way composting areas. Additionally, such composting areas can be smelly, and can often attract pests, especially in urban or dense-suburban environments.

A pre-made compost bin can be a good solution for composting in these environments, as they take up vertical space as opposed to horizontal, and are usually made of recycled materials themselves.

An even more useful composting system for those who live in urban areas is a tumbling composter. These units are barrel-shaped structures, containing one or more aerated chambers inside, which hold kitchen and lawn scraps. These barrels are then rotated every day or so in order to rapidly mix the contents, and to quickly produce viable compost.

Tumbling composers tend to be relatively rodent and pest resistant, because they are sealed and raised off of the ground, and they are often less prone to foul odors as well.

For a deeper look at tumbling compost bins, see our Guide to Composting with Tumbling Composters, and if you’re interested in a Tumbling Composter, be sure to check out the Best Compost Tumblers here.

Composting for Apartment Dwellers

For those urban dwellers who try to make the most of small outdoor balcony gardens, composting can be a challenge. Worm-based compost systems aren’t for the faint of heart! However, there is another path for apartment composting: Bokashi!

Bokashi style composting is a great pathway for those who live in environments without a ton of outdoor space to compost their kitchen waste. Bokashi composting differs from traditional composting in that kitchen scraps are placed in a sealed, anaerobic environment with inoculated Bokashi Bran. The microbes in the bran break down food scraps rapidly, and without much of any smell whatsoever. It’s even possible to compost meats, dairy, and fats with Bokashi style composting!

Unfortunately, Bokashi composting only half-completes the compost cycle. After the Bokashi process is complete, the finished product needs to be mixed in with garden soil and left to complete the compost process for at least a couple of weeks. Those with small balconies may struggle with this, but you can use bagged soil in a pinch.

The other obvious negative of Bokashi composting is that one needs to buy Bokashi Bran regularly to accomplish the composting process. It can be made, as well.


Composting is a rewarding, environmentally friendly, and fun task that can be accomplished even by those who live in urban areas with small outdoor spaces. With the right equipment and the right strategy, composting is a very viable activity. It’s friendly to the planet, and friendly to your health!

If you don’t think you think you can fit composting in your lifestyle, but still want to reduce your waste, consider a Compost Pick-Up Service!

Complete the Cycle.


About the Author
John has been an avid patio, backyard, garden, and sustainable living advocate, and blogger, for several years now. As part of his real job, he works with land conservation and sustainable outdoor environments. He writes at

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The barrel-style composter is great & what I use. Because there is a lid, moisture stays insides. A trick I discovered by accident is to put earthworms inside the bin. The earthworms quickly break down everything and reproduce. Then I will pluck a few bucketfulls to transport my garden, allowing the earthworma to airate the soil.

I also keep a small bucket by my kitchen sink to throw in my fruit and vegetable scraps, old flowers, egg shells, tea, & coffee.