Your Guide to Apartment Composting

Balcony/Outdoor Composting

(Tumbling & Rolling Composters)

If you live in a space with a private balcony or patio, and are generally feeling apprehensive about having compost in your main living space, the good news is there are compost bins you can purchase that might be a great fit for you!

Types of Bins for Balconies

Classic outdoor compost bins have an open bottom, so that decomposers (bugs and earthworms) can climb up through the soil and help break down the material in the bin – these are NOT what you want on a balcony. Staining your balcony is a major risk, as well as water damage, leakage, and a mess to clean up if you move.

There are lots of contained and fairly small options available on the market these days which are called tumbling (or rolling) compost bins. You can compost year round with these, even if you live in a climate with harsh winter (save your hot water from the kitchen, like from boiling pasta, and toss it in the bin if it freezes).

These come in two options: a crank tumbler, which has a handle you move in a circular motion to spin the compost bin, and a manual tumbler or roller, which you push with both hands for it to roll on a curved base. An accessibility note is important here – both of these are quite physically demanding and require arm and wrist movement. The more full your compost bin is, the heavier it will be, and the harder it will be to crank or push. If this movement is accessible to you, it’s actually a really great workout!

The rolling/tumbling movement helps the material inside compost faster, as you are moving the air around, mixing the browns and greens together, and ensuring any water isn’t sitting in one location. If you regularly roll the bin once or twice a week, you can expect finished compost in less than a year, perhaps even closer to six months!

The downside to these kinds of compost bins is the price. The cheapest one I’ve found in Canada is $88 CAD, but on average they run about $100-$150, with some versions costing upwards of $300. I would also budget a simple tarp to put under your compost bin, as you may have minor spills when turning your bin, and it will make cleanup easier if you have to move.

One last consideration for balcony composting with a tumbling or rolling bin. You will have to remove the finished compost from the bin when it’s done, so be sure to check out how that will work before you purchase your bin. It could look like opening a hatch and dumping it into a bucket, or shoveling out the finished compost with a spade.

Considerations before purchasing a tumbling or rolling bin:

  • Can you physically roll it or tumble it?
  • Will it be easy to put organics in and take out the finished compost?
  • Does it have two compartments to have one fresh batch going and one batch finishing up?
  • Will you actually be motivated and able to roll it every week?
  • Do you have space for it on your balcony or patio?
  • Will your landlord/building manager allow it?

Are they too heavy for a balcony?

If weight is a concern (i.e. if your balcony is on the second floor or higher), check with your municipal building codes and landlord/building manager. Most building codes should rate balconies at 50-120 lbs per square foot – the larger your balcony, the more weight it can hold. Unless you have very heavy furniture on the balcony in addition to a composter, you generally will be fine with the weight of a compost bin.

If the cost and movement is accessible to you, and you have the space for it on your balcony or patio, this is a fantastic option to compost in fairly high volumes!

Christina Harbak
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Christina is a settler living on Treaty No. 6 Territory in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is a Master Composter Recycler volunteer for the City of Edmonton and loves sharing knowledge and tips about composting, recycling and reducing waste. When she’s not saving bags of leaves from her neighbours garbage cans, she enjoys making jokes with Rapid Fire Theatre. Catch more of her thoughts on waste on her blog yegtrashtalk.wordpress.com
Christina Harbak
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