Do-It-Yourself Trash Can Composting

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:

  • a 55-gallon garbage can with a tight fitting lid ( use plastic or galvanized metal).
  • hammer & large nail (or drill)
  • 2 cinder blocks (or bricks, or lumber scraps) to elevate the finished bin off the ground.
  • pie tin to catch compost tea
  • work gloves & protective eyewear
  • watering can or garden hose
  • bungee strap to secure lid (optional)
  • 100 Red Wiggler worms (optional)

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.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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By Cheryl (Guest Post)
April 3, 20080 found this helpful

This was a great article. I love gardening and already have a mulch pile, but wanted a compost pile as well. I always hated the mixing part, but I like your setup and think I can maintain this with a minimum of effort.


Thanks so much!

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
April 3, 20080 found this helpful

Great idea! I was just looking to start a small compost as my previous one has been taken over by kudzu. Thank you.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes
April 7, 20080 found this helpful

This is a wonderful way to have a small compost without having a section of the yard devoted to it. I'll be getting this started this weekend!

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June 12, 20100 found this helpful

This was awesome! We just finished setting ours up today. We are new to farming/gardening and this sounded so "do-able"!

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

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