How to Make a Trash Can Composter

Make this self contained composter for $20 or less


If you don't have room for a big compost pile or live in a development with a Homeowner's Association that doesn't allow you to have a compost pile, consider making this easy composter out of an inexpensive plastic trash can.

How to make a trash can composter

Things You'll Need:

  • 32-gallon plastic trash can
  • drill
  • 2" hole saw
  • sharp knife or razor blade for cutting plastic
  • metal window screen cut into 3" squares
  • scissors for cutting screen
  • duct tape
  • bungee cord
  1. Purchase an inexpensive 32-gallon plastic trash can that has a lid that snaps in place. In my area, these can be found for between $10-$20. Cut out the bottom of the trash can with a razor blade or sharp knife, leaving 2" along the edge for added strength.
  2. Drill holes all along the sides of the trash can using a 2" hole saw and a drill. Leave about 12" between the holes. The holes will allow oxygen to get to the pile which is needed for decomposition. Cover the holes on the inside of the trash can with a 3" piece of metal screen using duct tape to secure the edges of the screen over the holes.
  3. Place the trash can on bare soil in a sunny location and fill with organic waste. Examples of organic waste that are suitable for composting are, grass clippings, shredded leaves, pine needles, coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded newspaper, crushed egg shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, and sawdust (in small amounts).
  4. Cut up any large materials so that it will decompose faster.
  5. Begin layering the organic materials inside your trash can, watering the pile lightly between layers of waste. Add a sprinkling of finished compost or garden soil among the layers to get the pile to start decomposing. You can also add a cup full of blood meal to help "heat" up the pile and get it going.
  6. Once the can is full, water the pile a final time and cover the can with the lid taking care to snap the lid on. Use the bungee cord to help hold the lid on, especially if you have raccoons in the area as they may be tempted to get inside the can if it is full of fresh scraps. You can also use a brick or large rock to help hold down the lid.
  7. At least twice a month, the pile should be turned to help speed up the decomposition process. To do that, simply, pick up the trash can so that all the material falls out the bottom. Set the can next to the pile, and put all the material back into the trash can using a shovel or pitch fork. If the pile seems dry, water it again. It should be the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Return the lid to the can and secure with a bungee cord and/or rock.
  8. Depending on how hot the can gets, how much organic matter you keep adding to the pile, and how wet the pile is, you should have finished compost in 2-6 months. You will know the compost is finished when it takes on a rich brown color, smells earthy, and you can no longer tell what kind of scraps you have added to the pile. It will basically look like rich garden soil. The organic waste you added to the can should be reduced to about half once the compost is finished.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not add meat scraps to your compost pile.
  • Do not add feces to your compost pile.

Complete instructions on how to make superior compost can be found here.

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