If you’re a city-dweller living in a small apartment, you probably don’t compost food scraps. Even with a countertop composter, most of us don’t have easy access to a place to put the compost–so it might still end up in the trash (unless you live in a city with mandatory composting).
But if you happen to have a balcony, there’s another option. A simple system from a Dutch designer combines a small vertical garden with a tube for composting, so you can feed kitchen scraps directly to your garden. The garden can grow 20 plants in just inches of floor space.
“I live in Amsterdam, and we don’t have gardens, we just have balconies,” says designer Ireen Laarakker. “So I decided to come up with something that would enable people in cities to have a small-scale vertical garden and composter.”
Her food scraps would otherwise be thrown out. “We don’t have a separate organic waste pickup here,” she says. “All garbage is thrown into one bin. And I know that a lot of people would like to have their organic waste collected separately, but City Hall just doesn’t support that. So this is also a way for people to dispose of their organic waste in an environmentally friendly way.”
Inside the center of the garden, a tube full of worms turns the scraps into compost and keep the garden healthier. “With a normal vertical garden system, the soil gets really exhausted,” Laarakker explains. “So you either have to use fertilizer or you have to replace the soil. By combining composting with the garden, the worms keep the soil in good condition.”
While some of her neighbors have hacked together their own composters on balconies, the designer wanted to find a more elegant solution. “Some people in Amsterdam have worm composting systems on their balconies, but it’s an ugly system, a tray of buckets,” she says. “And you end up with all this compost, and nowhere to go with it.”
She was inspired by similar DIY systems that combine composting with gardens, but wanted to make something simple to use for people who might not take the time to build their own. “There’s lots of people making similar products. You can find it on YouTube,” she says. “But we’re doing it as a business so people who are not really into permaculture–someone who’s not a hippie who will build it from scrap–can find it accessible.”
The product is available both pre-built and as a simple kit, and Laarakker is currently raising funds to run a workshop for those who want to learn how to put it together. For now, it’s only available in the Netherlands, since the product is too large to ship efficiently. But maybe it will inspire some more apartment-sized compost/garden kits for places like the U.S.