How to Build a Compost Bin from Garbage Cans

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How to Build a Compost Bin from Garbage Cans

Composting can be done in a pile or in a bin, but a compost pile is not feasible in some situations due to small yards or other constraining circumstances, and some ready-made compost bins are quite expensive. Composting in a plastic garbage can is an easy and economical solution. Here are guidelines for choosing an appropriate garbage can:

  • A large, 32 gallon garbage can made of sturdy plastic is preferable.
  • Use a round, not rectangular shaped can, because it will need to be tipped on its side and rolled around on the ground to mix and aerate the compost.
  • Choose a can made of dark colored plastic, which absorbs more heat.
  • The garbage can needs a tight fitting lid, or a lid with locking handles so that it doesn’t come off when mixing the compost. If necessary, the lid can be held in place with bungee cords.

The next step in making the compost bin is to drill holes all over the garbage can using an electric or hand drill with a 1/2 inch bit. The holes should be drilled every 4 to 6 inches on the sides as well as the bottom of the garbage can. Access to sufficient oxygen is essential for successful composting, and the holes provide drainage and air. The garbage can compost bin is now ready to use.

How to Use the Garbage Can Compost Bin

The first step in making compost is to place some dry straw, sawdust or wood chips at the bottom of the garbage can to a depth of about 2 or 3 inches to improve drainage and help absorb moisture.

Compost can be made from most types of kitchen waste including vegetable rinds, peels and cores, stale bread or crackers, cereal, eggshells, nut shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and moldy fruit or vegetables. Large pieces such as banana peels or melon rinds should be chopped up before adding to the compost bin. In addition to kitchen vegetable waste, yard waste such as grass clippings, dead flowers, weeds and fallen leaves, as well as paper products such as shredded newspaper and paper napkins can be added to the bin.

Do not put meat, grease, fat, bones or dairy products in the compost bin because they will smell bad when they decay, and they may attract unwanted insects or animals.

To make compost efficiently, include a mixture of “greens” (fresh plant material) and “browns” (paper, twigs and dead leaves) in the compost. Adding a shovelful of healthy garden soil to the mix is a good way to get the composting process started, since soil contains high numbers of microorganisms needed for the decomposition process. It is not necessary to add worms.

Continue to add green and brown organic waste until the compost bin is full. It is important to keep the compost moist but not too wet. Check it frequently and if it starts to dry out, sprinkle it with water and then roll the garbage can over several times to mix the contents. The compost should be mixed several times a week. If these steps are followed, rich brown compost should be ready to add to the garden within about 4-12 weeks.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency