Written by Taylor Mogavero, Program Coordinator

When I ask people if they compost, I get this answer a lot: I would love to compost, but I live in an apartment and my building doesn’t have a compost bin. 

I completely understand their predicament.

I’ve lived in an apartment all of my adult life. I always wanted to compost, but I didn’t have a yard and worm composting or indoor bins seemed way too complicated. When I moved to the Bay Area, I saw compost bins in front of every house and one next to almost every trash can on the street. (I’m from Florida–which has no commercial composing programs–so this was very new to me). I was ecstatic. I could finally compost! But I hit another problem: my apartment building had trash and recycling bins, but not a compost bin.

This article is for all of you who are apartment dwellers, renters, and/or don’t have commercial compost pick up! Here is how you can finally compost. 

What To Compost

I’m not going to get into the details on why you should compost (it cuts methane emissions from landfills and reduces your personal food waste!), but I do quickly want to go over what you should compost. According to Recology of San Mateo County, food scraps, plants, and soiled paper are accepted comping materials. For more details on what to compost, check their website

Note: Only bio-plastic bags labeled BPI Certified Compostable may be placed in your green cart. All other bioplastics, even if they are labeled compostable, will NOT be accepted. 

Petition Your Apartment Manager

Ask your apartment manager to add a compost bin! It can’t hurt to try. If you rent from a small-scale landlord, they may be very open to this idea. If you live in a big-company owned apartment complex, this might be harder. I live in one of those. I have emailed and spoken to the manager several times, and while nothing has happened yet, they said they are considering the option. Baby steps! If you’re really invested, create a petition to add composting and ask your neighbors to sign or send a suggestion to your apartment management. 

Find a Compost Drop Off Near You 

I still don’t have a compost bin. What can I do? Thankfully, San Mateo County is full of public composting bins. Places like your job, your local park, your place of faith, or your child’s school might have composting bins! Once every week or two, bring your food scraps with you and use those compost bins. I know the park I run in every Wednesday morning has a compost bin, so I bring my scraps with me and drop them in there. My friend works at a place that has 100 composting bins around the building and uses those. Be on the lookout for compost bins you pass in your everyday life. They’re not just there to throw out the core of the apple you ate ten minutes ago, you can use them for your everyday food scraps too! 

Note: You can’t dump a whole trash bag’s worth of food scraps in these public bins. Only dump small amounts – around how much food could fit in one large (30 qt.) mixing bowl or less. For dropping off larger quantities of food scraps, community centers and places of faith often have large bins for recycling and composting available for community use. Ask your local facilities if they have one. 

How To Store Your Food Scraps

Food scraps don’t smell great. To avoid the smelly odors, keep your food scraps in a bowl in the freezer. This almost completely eliminates the smell (and I promise your freezer won’t smell weird). You can bring your bowl with you to drop it off to a compost bin, or you can line it with a paper bag or used paper/napkins for easier clean up. You can use a BPI Certified Compostable plastic bag, but I recommend against this since it still creates microplastic pollution and most do not break down properly. 

Need Compost For Your Plants? Get It For Free

If you’re sad that giving your food scraps away means you can’t feed your two dozen house plants free compost, no worries! RethinkWaste gives free compost year-round from the Shoreway Environmental Center located at 333 Shoreway Road in San Carlos. Residents can take up to two 50-lb bags of finished compost each week. You can also ask your local Recology center if they give residents free compost. 

If You Still Want To Try Composting Yourself…

If you are still determined to do your own composting (you do you), here are a couple of options: Vermicomposting (worm composting), container composting, or a small tumbler on a balcony. Vermicomposting is the decomposition and humification of organic waste via an ecosystem of microbes and earthworms (Urban Worm Company). Container composting is simply putting soil and your food scraps in a container and letting it break down. Lastly, you could buy a small compost tumbler, like someone might have in their backyard, but put it on your balcony instead. 

A Note on Lomi (the electronic countertop composter): You may have seen ads for this seemingly incredible product. It claims to break down your food scraps into compost with just a push of the button. No worrying about green and brown ratios, no long waiting periods for the product. Seems too good to be true, right? I personally have never had one, but I asked a friend what their experience was like. First, it costs $630 (as of April 2023). Not an amount many people want to pay. Second, it does break down your food…but not enough to put in your house plants as compost. Lastly, my friend saw a noticeable increase to their electric bill from regular use. I am so excited that this technology is being developed, but as of right, it doesn’t seem worth the price. 

Now you’re ready to compost your food scrapes while living the apartment life!


Columbia Climate School. The Truth About Bioplastics. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/ 

County of San Mateo Office of Sustainability. Composting. https://www.smcsustainability.org/waste-reduction/composting/ 

Earth Easy. Start Composting in a Tumbler: Your Quick & Easy Guide. https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/start-composting-in-a-tumbler-your-quick-easy-guide/ 

Frontier Group. Four Reasons Why Every Town and City Should Compost. https://frontiergroup.org/articles/four-reasons-why-every-town-and-city-should-compost/ 

Recology San Mateo County. What Goes Where? https://www.recology.com/recology-san-mateo-county/what-goes-where-commercial/ 

RethinkWaste. How to Compost. https://compost.rethinkwaste.org/howtocompost/ 

RethinkWaste. Compost Giveaway. https://rethinkwaste.org/shoreway-environmental-center/compost-giveaway/ 

Natural Resources Defense Council. Composting 101. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-101 

Tasting Table. 7 Ways To Use Up Your Vegetable Scraps. https://www.tastingtable.com/766815/ways-to-use-up-your-vegetable-scraps/  

Thriving Yard. How to Vermicompost in an Apartment: A Step-By-Step Guide. https://thrivingyard.com/vermicompost-in-apartment/ 

Urban Worm Company. Apartment Composting: What Are Your Options? https://urbanwormcompany.com/apartment-composting-what-are-your-options/ 


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