Can We Practise Composting in Space-Strapped HDBs in Singapore?

In Singapore's warm and humid climate, and space-strapped high rise buildings, we often think that having a compost bin at home is not a good idea. The smell of rotting food comes to mind, and even worse if you imagine the mess that your cat will make if it decides to topple over the compost bin. These two reasons are enough to make us doubt the utility of having a compost bin at home. But what we don't know is that there are ways to prevent some of these concerns, and some concerns are not even necessary because compost bins are not supposed to smell! In this article, find out the benefits of composting, and learn how to do it in your own home.

What is composting?
Composting is an aerobic process of organic matter such as food or plants decomposing to become an accumulation of a partially decayed organic matter called humus, which is great for use as plant fertilizers. Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming, and is an environmentally-friendly and pocket-friendly way of urban farming.

Why is having a compost bin a good idea?
For those of us who care about the environment, it is good to know that composting reduces household waste, closes the nutrient cycle, and prevents air pollution. The decomposing of food in landfills is an anaerobic process that gives rise to the greenhouse gas, methane, which is far more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in our atmosphere. Composting is an aerobic process, and the air circulation in the compost bin will prevent bad smells. If you are a gardener, your compost will do great things to your plants because of its rich nutrient contents. So apart from being environmentally-friendly, composting also helps your pocket by saving on fertilizers.

What can we throw into the compost bin?
Most people practicing composting will tell you that it's a balancing act, and a simple search on the world wide web will also tell you that you need to equalize the greens and the browns, as well as the moisture of the compost. Sounds too complicated already? Trust us, it's simple. Just remember these key points - green is wet, and brown is dry, and it literally means that colour or freshness of the product that you are dumping into the compost bin.

 Important tips for what to throw into the compost bin
  • Always throw raw and uncooked food into the compost bin, avoid throwing in cooked food
  • Small is good – when throwing anything in the compost bin, ensure that they are small and chopped up to speed up the decomposing process
  • Do not throw too much of anything into the bin - always equalize the greens and the browns. Throwing too much of one thing may attract insects and induce bad odor

Nitrogen-rich Greens:

  • Fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, eggshells, teabags and coffee grounds

Carbon-rich Browns:

  • Dead leaves, wooden twigs, egg boxes, cardboard, newspaper and waste paper (with not too much printing)

If you're convinced and you're ready to create your own compost bin and reap the benefits of composting, we have broken it down into simple steps that you can follow.

What you need to make a compost bin:

  • A small plastic bin with a lid (preferably opaque because all the food mixed together probably isn't a pretty sight)
  • A small pole to stir your compost with (with should be done every 2-5 weeks)
  • Your organic material of greens and browns


  • Drill some holes on the lid to ensure air flow and prevent bad odors
  • Mix in the organic material by alternating green and brown materials (this is just for the starter compost), try to chop the materials into smaller pieces to ensure faster composting
  • Top the mix with brown materials to keep in the moisture
  • Put the lid back on and check back in a week

Important tips:

  • Mould growing means that it is too wet, throw in some browns and stir the mix
  • Compost looks too dry, throw in some greens and stir
  • Bad odor means that there is too little oxygen, drill more holes to allow for more air circulation

When it is ready:

  • It should smell and look like earth, the composting process will typically take three to six months
  • Sift out the bigger pieces of compost and use them as the starter compost for the next round
  • Smaller sized compost can now be used for your gardening by mixing into soil

Sounds idiot-proof? Composting is like cooking, and like cooking there is also some trial and error involved. Don't be daunted, experiment with a small personal compost bin, and once you have gotten the hang of composting, carrying on the momentum will be easy. Living in high rise buildings should not stop us from smelling the earth, making our own compost, and growing our own food. With some patience, maybe creating your own compost will be the very first step to your becoming an urban farmer.



Written by Ange Chua
Edited by Cynthea Lam

Ange Chua is an aspiring bird-watcher trying to fix her black thumbs. When she's not writing, you'd find her drinking tea out of teacups or reading in bed with her dog. She thinks her spirit animal is an alpaca.