Making a Trash Can Composter

April 3, 2008

Trash Can ComposterComposting is an easy, economical way to keep nutrient-rich plant food at the ready. Not only is it good for your plants, if you pay by the can for waste removal, it can also be good for your garbage bill! Here is an inexpensive way to get started.


Materials needed:

Directions for Assembly

Organic materials need oxygen to decompose, so using a hammer and nail (or drill), punch air holes into the garbage can at 4-6 inch intervals until you have covered the surface of the can (don't forget your gloves and eyewear). Flip the can over and punch 4 equidistant holes near the center of the bottom for drainage. Elevate the can using blocks and place the pie tin underneath it to catch any liquid compost tea that drains out (this is great for feeding houseplants).

Layering the Compost

Layer 1: Start by spreading a layer of garden soil (or saw dust) 3 inches deep on the bottom of the can. For faster composting, you can add Red Wiggler worms on top of this layer. Unlike earthworms (don't use them, they won't work), Red Wigglers are champion composters. They are inexpensive and easily available online. They multiply rapidly, so 100 will be plenty to start with. If you don't want to use worms, don't worry. You don't need them.

Layer 2: Next add some chopped leaves, junk mail, shredded cardboard, or a few sheets of newspaper. These materials are rich in carbon and referred to as browns. Other examples of browns include straw, woodchips or saw dust.

Layer 3: Your next layer should contain nitrogen-rich materials, also called greens. Greens include grass clippings, pet hair, dust bunnies, vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, and other non-fatty kitchen scraps including eggshells. If you are composting with worms, avoid onions and keep citrus peelings to a minimum (worms don't care for them). Avoid meat scraps and fatty foods like salad dressings and dairy products. They emit a strong odor when decomposing which attracts animals. Finish with another couple of handfuls of garden dirt and a few sprinkles from a watering can. Close the lid and you are all set!If you don't have enough materials to create all three layers right away, don't worry. Just keep adding waste as you generate it. Each time you add a layer of green, cover it with some browns and a few more handfuls of garden dirt.



Along with oxygen, moisture must be present for the organic materials to break down. Ideally, try to maintain moisture levels in the can similar to that of a wrung out sponge.


At least once a week, roll the can on the ground to mix its contents. If the can becomes to heavy to handle, mix it using a pitchfork or shovel.

Adding Compost to the Garden

Depending on conditions, you can expect finished compost in as soon as 4 to 6 weeks. If composting with worms, leave the cover off for a few days before emptying the compost into the garden. The worms don't like light and will move to the bottom of the can where they'll be easy to separate out and use again once the can is empty.

Read More Comments


Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

April 24, 2010

I would like to start a compost tumbler. I think the trash can seems to be the one that is not to hard to do. But how long does it take for it to be usable? Can I keep adding to it?

By vonda from SC

Answer this Question


ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

April 24, 2010

I was wondering how to make a compost bin out of a trash can.


October 23, 2009

I want to make a small manageable compost bin. I was wondering if I could just use a large plastic garbage can?

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