Composting in the City

Turning Waste into Gold

Urban living generates large volumes of organic waste. An age-old solution exists for recycling these scraps into black gold – composting. City composting reduces landfill contributions, nourishes gardens, and closes the food production loop. This guide covers techniques for sustainably composting within crowded cities.

Introduction to Urban Composting

Up to 30% of city waste streams consist of organic matter like food scraps, leaves, and yard trimmings. Composting offers an eco-friendly way to redirect these nutrients to urban farms, gardens, and landscapes.

This article explores:

  • Benefits of composting city waste
  • Overview of composting methods
  • Setting up compost systems
  • Maintaining optimal conditions
  • Utilizing finished compost
  • Large-scale community composting
  • Composting challenges and solutions
  • Advocating for municipal composting programs

Follow along to see how urban composting creates sustainable cities!

Why Compost City Waste?

Diverting organics into compost heaps rather than landfills offers many advantages:

  • Reduces greenhouse gases from landfills
  • Generates a free, nutrient-rich soil amendment
  • Suppresses plant diseases present in city waste
  • Saves money spent on commercial fertilizers
  • Encourages urban gardening and food production
  • Closes the food production loop locally
  • Engages communities and teaches circular systems thinking

Composting also helps cities meet ambitious waste diversion targets through recycling organics.

Overview of Composting Methods

Several composting approaches work in urban settings:

Backyard Composting – Small-scale outdoor compost piles or bins for household food and yard waste.

Vermicomposting – Indoor composting using worm bins to break down food scraps.

Community Composting – Neighborhood collection points and compost sites for local organic waste.

Aerated Static Pile – Forced air blown through piled organics speeds decomposition.

Anaerobic Digestion – Organics break down without oxygen to produce methane used for energy.

Commercial Facilities – Large centralized compost facilities process waste from entire cities.

Setting Up Your City Composting System

Composting at home requires a suitable indoor or outdoor system:

Outdoor Compost Bins – Use multi-chamber bins or simple enclosed piles in the yard, rotated occasionally.

Vermicomposting Worm Bins – Maintain moisture and bedding for red wiggler worms that break down food scraps indoors.

Aerated Trench Composting – Dig narrow trenches filled with layers of organic matter and aerated with buried perforated piping.

Turning Units – Rotate drum composters periodically to aerate and mix contents.

Forced Aeration – Use fans and ducting to blow air through piled waste for faster hot composting.

Bokashi – Ferment food scraps anaerobically using inoculated bran before burying or composting.

Maintaining Optimal Compost Conditions

Proper maintenance results in rich finished compost:

  • Mix nitrogen-rich “greens” like fruit and veggie scraps with carbon-rich “browns” like leaves and cardboard.
  • Fluff and stir piles weekly to circulate air and redistribute moisture.
  • Monitor temperature and moisture. Turn piles as needed to reheat and humidify.
  • Cover piles to retain heat and moisture.
  • Turn finished compost and allow further curing before use.
  • Troubleshoot issues like odors, pests, slow breakdown, or overly dusty end products.

Utilizing Finished Urban Compost

Mature compost offers many uses around cities:

  • Mix into garden beds and planters as a soil amendment before planting.
  • Top-dress lawns, trees, shrubs, and landscaping to add organic matter and nutrients.
  • Blend into potting mixes for container plants and seed starting.
  • Brew soluble “compost tea” to use as a plant fertilizer.
  • Spread pathways and suppress weeds on trails.
  • Mix into bioretention ponds, swales, and raingardens to filter stormwater.

Community-Scale Composting

Neighborhood compost sites allow urban participation in closing the food loop:

  • Establish drop-off locations where residents can contribute food scraps and yard waste.
  • Recruit community volunteers to manage larger volume compost systems.
  • Support apartment dwellers and those without space for backyard composting.
  • Offer environmental education for youth programs.
  • Make finished compost available to local gardens or sell to raise funds.
  • Partner with nonprofits and municipalities to expand city-wide organics recycling.

Common Urban Composting Challenges

Unique obstacles arise composting in close urban quarters:

  • Odors and pests from poorly managed piles.
  • Lack of sufficient carbon-rich inputs to balance food waste.
  • Space constraints in dense neighborhoods.
  • Contamination from non-compostable materials.
  • Limits on backyard composting per city ordinances.
  • Insufficient demand for finished compost product.
  • High startup costs for large-scale systems.

However, creative solutions and community engagement can overcome these hurdles.

Advocating for City Composting Programs

Grassroots efforts help drive municipal composting initiatives:

  • Petition city leaders and waste management departments to establish curbside organics collection alongside trash and recycling.
  • Propose pilot programs to demonstrate benefits and build acceptance.
  • Advocate for loosening restrictions on backyard composting.
  • Request that public spaces like parks make on-site composting available.
  • Support zoning permissions for small-scale commercial composting within city limits.
  • Lobby for financial incentives like rebates on backyard compost bins to encourage participation.
  • Partner with officials to site community composting locations and future centralized facilities.


Composting recycles the immense stream of organic waste generated in cities into a valuable soil enrichment resource. From indoor vermicomposting to outdoor neighborhood collection sites to municipal scale facilities, urban composting opportunities abound. Get involved and advocate today to help your city sustainably tap this circular economy potential and divert waste from landfills!

For more information on composting, visit:

[Composting 101 Guide]

[Starting a Community Compost Program]

Let’s work together to close urban food loops and build healthy sustainable cities!

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