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Making a Trash Can Composter

Category Composting
You don't have to spend a lot of money to purchase a composter. Make an inexpensive one from a trash can. This is a guide about making a trash can composter.


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April 3, 20081 found this helpful

Composting 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.

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By 0 found this helpful
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

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

April 24, 20100 found this helpful

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

By texasangel from TX


Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

I made one from a garbage can and found it to be unwieldy and hard to use. I then used the 18-20 gallon storage bin containers and it was much easier to handle. I just poked several holes all around the side and bottom of the container. Then compost away. It was easy for me to turn the bin over (hard to roll a garbage can, lid kept coming off) and shift it every other day or so. It made beautiful compost, too. (10/29/2009)


By Linda

Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

We love both of our compost bins made from garbage cans. They work, they're cheap, and were very easy to make and use.

All we did was start with a really big garbage can; it does need to be big enough to hold enough compost to "cook". I think the critical mass is about a cubic yard, but it's worth double checking me on that. We drilled holes all around the can, including the lid, stopping a couple inches from the bottom. We didn't drill holes in the bottom, because we didn't want drainage to dry our compost out too quickly.

Then we just started adding kitchen scraps (no meat or bones), shredded junk mail, and some yard waste, keeping it balanced. There's lots of good information about what to put in your compost in what proportions, so I won't repeat that here. Do remember the odd bits of garbage from your house that are compostable, too, like the hair from cleaning your brush and your laundry lint. Keep the compost in the bin about as wet as a wrung-out sponge.

When the first can was full, we tied the lid on securely and tipped it over on its side. Then, every day when we took out the kitchen compost to the second can, we also kicked the first can gently to turn it over a time or two. This was enough to keep the cooking compost turned, and almost no work. (My teenagers even thought it was kind of fun.)

We checked the compost in the first can every month or so, and it turned into garden soil sooner or later; I don't remember exactly how long it took, but it apparently depends on the temperature outdoors anyway, so yours might take more or less time.

Our first can was a metal can, because when we bought it I still hadn't found out if plastic would work. The second is a larger black plastic can. It's huge, and I think it will work even better. The black color may help it get some extra heat from the sun when the weather's not otherwise warm enough for the compost to cook. It cost us $20 at Wal-Mart. The metal one was about the same price, but we had to go to Lowe's to get it, and it's not as big.

Another advantage we found to using the cans is that we don't have to worry about animals getting in; they close securely and are quite stable once they start filling up. This means, for example, that we've had no problem dumping cooked food scraps in the compost. We've still kept meat and bones out, but almost anything else is fair game. (There's no dairy, but that's due to a household allergy, not a compost need.) We do tear or shred paper and yard waste before adding it, though.

I hope this helps. (10/30/2009)

By Weavre Cooper

Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

I just noticed something about HalfWhit's post that had a good point, and wanted to address it more clearly.

Our garbage can compost bin is easy to turn because we tied the lid on securely. To do this, we ran twine through the holes on the can and lid, and through the handles, and tied it tightly. If needed, you could even "sew" it on using the holes, although we weren't actually that tidy about it. Tying the lid on tightly makes all the difference. (10/30/2009)

By Weavre Cooper

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October 23, 20090 found this helpful

I want to make a small manageable compost bin. I was wondering if I could just use a large plastic garbage can? If so do I need to put some holes in it so that air can get to the compost materials? Also, what are the alternating materials I need to put in the compost pile?
Thanks in advance.

Jonnie from Ky


Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

I compost my household kitchen garbage in an old bathtub in my backyard. I don't layer per se. I start with a bag of topsoil from the store. I keep a small plastic bucket outside my kitchen door. I throw all my kitchen scraps in it, coffee grounds, potato and onion peelings, crushed eggshells, etc. If it is something large, such as watermelon rind, I dice it into smaller pieces.

Every few days, I dump this container into one end of the tub. I pull just enough soil from the other end over my little mound of waste to bury it. Cover the tub so it doesn't get too wet from rain. If it gets too dry, add a little water. Repeat this step each time you empty your container. When there is no more soil on the other end to pull, just reverse ends and put your waste in the bottom and repeat the procedure. Usually by the time that I reverse, everything in the first end is about converted. Seeds will sprout in this because it doesn't heat up as regular compost piles, but it turns to rich, loamy soil very quickly. You could probably do the same thing in a garbage can, just layer it alternating kitchen scraps with topsoil, and then stir it occasionally.
Harlean from AK (09/27/2004)

By Harlean

Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

Plastic or metal garbage cans or 55 gallon drum barrels work fine, especially if you can half bury an old office chair upside down and lay the garbage can onto its caster wheels, slightly inclined, similar to the drum on a concrete mixer. Drive a fat post into the ground behind it and cover it with a sawed off bleach jug as a bottom bearing to keep it from sliding back.

Every time you add stuff, spin the drum half a turn or more. If the compost is too wet, add a cup or two of peat moss or dry dirt. Remember to feed it one or more slices of bread per week and you will have "good" compost (all seeds killed off and no offensive smells).

In northern climates build a hoop tent over it with concrete re-bar and bubble wrap to extend the season.

An egg sized hole in the lid, covered with cheese cloth or mosquito netting, allows enough air exchange and keeps it from firing the lid into the neighbor's bedroom window.

For balcony or porch use, or for a ready-made solution, check out the SUN-MAR composting toilets:

They can of course also be used as intended or put into a garden tool shed to eliminate having to run into the house each time somebody needs to "go". (09/28/2004)

By Helmut

Making a Compost Bin With a Plastic Garbage Can

Yes, you can compost in a plastic garbage can. I've done it before and I got black gold. Just add hole sin the bottom and and with a cover on it and put in the sun. Maybe some hole son the sides to for drainage. The dirt smells so good when it was done cooking. (06/12/2009)

By joanne

Comment Was this helpful? Yes
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