Are you looking for an easy way to get started with composting? Why not make your own cheap compost bin for around $5? We’ll show you how to make a plastic bin like this one and give you some composting tips along the way.
Yard waste and food scraps make up more than 30% of the things we throw away in the trash. Most of this waste is compostable.
If we composted all of our “compostable” food scraps and yard waste, it would help to reduce methane gas (a greenhouse gas) emissions caused by landfills. Plus, it would lower your carbon footprint and help you save money on trash bags!
In addition to that, finished compost is really beneficial for plants. If you do any gardening, compost is your best friend!
Why Make Your Own?
After searching for a bin that fit our lifestyle and needs I realized that we couldn’t afford one. In actuality, compost bins are pretty pricey. Sadly, that may be a deterrent for people that may be considering purchasing one.
If you want to get started with composting and don’t have the budget for a bin or a lot of space in your yard, making one from a tote is a good option.
What You’ll Need:
Here’s what you’ll need to make this DIY compost bin:
- 18 Gallon (or similar size) Plastic Storage Tote with Lid – The same kind you use to store holiday decorations in the attic or basement. The key is to buy one that’s on sale. We bought ours for $3.50!
- Hand Drill – for drilling holes in the tote
- 5/16″ drill bit – A 3/8″ drill bit will also work.
- Secure the lid on the tote and flip it over so the bottom is facing up.
- Load the drill bit into your hand drill.
- Start by drilling holes roughly 2″ apart in both directions.
- Drill these holes on the bottom and sides of the bin.
- Flip the tote over so the lid is facing up.
- Drill more holes in the lid, but keep them 3 – 4 inches apart.
The holes allow airflow in and out of the bin, which is required for the beneficial bacteria that’ll be breaking down the materials. The type of bacteria that makes traditional compost is Aerobic, meaning that it survives in the presence of oxygen.
What Can You Compost?
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds
- Paper and paper coffee filters
- Grass clippings
- Yards waste like small sticks and twigs
- Leaves – green and brown
- Wood chips and bark
The ideal mix/ratio for compost is 25-30 parts carbon (browns) to 1 part nitrogen (greens).
This ratio is ideal, but not required. Just keep in mind that every time you add greens to your bin, you should also add a bunch of browns.
Nitrogen-rich materials (greens) are most of your kitchen scraps or literally green materials such as:
- Fruit peels,
- Leafy greens,
- Potato peels,
- Grass clippings, etc…
Greens also contain more moisture than the browns.
Carbon-rich materials (browns) are:
- Dried leaves,
- Shredded paper,
- Wood chips,
- Bark, etc….
How to Make Compost
To get your bin started:
- Add your greens and some shredded paper and dry leaves.
- Add a scoop or shovel of soil from your yard or garden. The soil acts as an activator since it contains the natural bacteria necessary for composting.
- Add water to moisten the pile of material, but not so much that it’s soggy.
- Mix up the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. Chop it up and make sure it’s consistently mixed.
- Place the lid onto the compost bin and leave it alone for 1 – 2 days.
- Mix the materials at least once a week, but twice or three times a week is better.
- Mix it every time you add scraps to it.
- If the pile becomes dry, add more water to moisten it.
That’s the process for creating all-natural “black gold” compost. With regular mixing, you should have fresh compost in 6-12 weeks (providing that temperatures aren’t freezing outside).
How to Tell When Compost is Finished
This is how to tell when your compost is ready to use:
- Color: It will be dark brown to black.
- Smell: It will have an “earthy” smell.
- Feel: It will feel slightly moist and fluffy.
- Look: It will have unidentifiable small bits of organic material that break apart easily.
Once the materials start to compost they will break down and make more room inside the bin. You can continue to add new material until the bin gets about 3/4 full. At that point, you’ll need to stop adding material and just keep it mixed every few days until it’s finished.
If you never stop adding new scraps, you’ll never make finished compost! Therefore, it’s a good idea to have two compost bins. That way, you can let one bin compost, while you add new scraps to the other bin.
**In climates with cold winters, like here in New England, the bacteria typically goes dormant (unless you have a huge compost pile). You can continue to add scraps throughout winter, and once the weather warms, the bacteria will become active and your compost process will resume.
Compost is wonderful and essential for plants to thrive. Best of all, you don’t need to spend money on synthetic fertilizers! I cannot wait for spring to roll around because we have hopes of growing a ton of healthy goodies.
But until then, I’ve been adding our kitchen scraps to our worm bin, which is a different way to compost.
Jaime R says
I NEED / want one so bad! I hate wasting / throwing away the scraps & we are allowed to burn our boxes & papers here, vs throwing them away too!
Janice Harrison says
I love composting for my raised beds. I just bought a Behrens 20 gallon steel bin from Walmart online for about $55. It has holes all around and on raised feet.
That is such a great idea!
Jessi Timmermans says
Great tip! Ive seen other homemade compost bins but this is so simple
Is it stinky???
Nope! It is just veggies, and such. If it had meats, and things that stink when they rot it would be super stinky!
Is this something that can be started now, in cold weather? We are in Michigan with super cold temps! Love the idea!
Jared Desrosiers says
Hi Kristen, sorry for the late response. You could start the bin now, but the bacteria that works to generate the compost will likely be dormant. You can still add materials to the bin reguarly, and once the weather warms, the bacteria will become active and you’ll be on your way to making compost.
Tara "Marinara" says
Red wiggler worms are needed for worm composting. Earth worms are not an appropriate choice for this job.
Yes, you are correct..those would be the appropriate choice for vermicompost bin. I added a few worms, but should have specified this is just a cheap, small bin for veggie/fruit composting.
How long do you let it process before using in the garden? I’m new to composting and gardening but excited to start this year! Do you just throw it on after planting or mix in before?
Jared Desrosiers says
If you regularly rotate or mix your compost, it should be ready for the garden in 4-5 weeks. The key is to mix it everytime you add more compostables. The bacteria needs oxygen to survive and do its magic. At some point (when the bin becomes full), you should stop adding to it, and let it cook. Once it’s ready to use, it will have an “earthy” smell, and be nice and black in color. Compost should be mixed into your soil when planting, and also be used throughout the season as a dressing around the plant’s stem.
Grace Tamayo says
what about mold? i’m new to gardening and want to start a compost bin but am afraid of mold and harmful bacteria. Would mold grow on the fruits, veggies scraps and would it be harmful to tomatoes/peppers?
Also, where could I find red wigglers?
Jared Desrosiers says
Compost is a natural process. Mold and bacteria are also a natural part of the composting process. In fact, the presence of aerobic bacteria is necessary to convert your scraps into valuable compost. Also, don’t worry about mold in the compost. A good compost pile will kill anything harmful. Mold (fungi) is necessary for healthy plants and soil. You can buy red wigglers on Amazon or at a local worm farm or garden center. Good luck!
I have never composted before so forgive me if these are dumb questions…
1. Sometimes I overbuy veggies (its a habit i am working on) or our dinner plans simply change and I am not able to use all my veggies before they go bad. When I clean out my fridge and find slimy veggies, can I throw that in the compost pile?
2. How bad will your version smell? We just bought a house on half an acre so I am guessing I can put it far enough away from the house, but we do have an HOA and I don’t want to get any obnoxious odor complaints from the new neighbors!
3. I am very excited about being able to use the TONS of paper they send home from my son’s school (seriously with all the school budget issues do we think we could cut back on paper? But i digress…). That said, can i use paper that has ink, pencil, marker, etc on it?
Jared Desrosiers says
Hi Becky, Those are good questions. You can throw old veggies into the compost pile. They basically just have a head start and will not harm anything. The bin will not smell bad at all, as long as you put in the right amount of carbon to nitrogen. The pile should not be wet, but should have the moisture of a damp sponge.If it has too much nitrogen based materials inside, it will become too moist and might smell. If that happens, just add some dry leaves or shredded newspaper. Some people dont compost paper with ink on it, because most ink isnt organic. I personally dont throw anything like that in my pile either. Most newspaper is printed with soy based ink, so that’s okay for your pile. Blank paper is fine as long as it isnt dyed with anything harmful.
This is a great idea, thank you for sharing your brainstorming with the rest of us!
Great idea!! I’ve been thinking of starting a compost pile.
Hello! So, we are about to buy a house. I’m super excited because this will be the first time I’ve had a yard to even try to garden in. I have never gardened before, so I’m trying to learn all I can. While doing research I found your link. This looks like a great idea to get started with. Quick question though (which maybe really stupid): in the above comment it was stated you don’t want the compost to get too wet. The top has holes in it. What do you do when it rains to keep it from becoming too moist? We will have a shed and a back patio, but these do not seem like ideal places to keep the compost bin.
Hi Heather, you will be drilling holes in the top, sides, and bottom for drainage. The water will drain right out :)
Vicki B. says
Hi! This is a great idea! I’ve needed a composting bin for so long and am just too cheap to buy one. And my husband is too much of a ‘Hank Hill’ to just let me start a pile in the yard! :) I do have a question though…does this cause a problem with bugs or animals? I’ve noticed a few rats running along our fence line which already means I have to keep my garden away from the fence (and close to my house). But have you noticed chew marks or any sign that critters or bugs are trying to get into your bins?
Hi Vicki, we have had zero issues with any animals trying to get in :)
Lindsey @ DishingUpHope says
Yes! I have been wanting to start composting, but have been deterred by the price of such bins. Looking forward to our spring garden. Thanks!
I’m so excited about creating a compost bin! I’m new to gardening, but have so many ideas. In my research, I’ve noticed that a lot of compost bins have doors near the bottom to get to the “ready” compost. Is that not necessary? Do you just take the compost right off the top?
Jared Desrosiers says
Hi Sara, Once the compost in the bin is ready, you can take it from the top, bottom, sides, middle, …you get the idea! Since, you’ll be mixing the compost often (whenever you add to it, and every 2 or three days once it’s filled). You will have the same consistency and “doneness” throughout the bin, so you can take the finished compost from wherever. Most of the bin companies locate doors towards the bottom, to make it easier for the user to empty the compost into a bucket or wheel barrow. I’ll be posting a lot more gardening content in the upcoming weeks and months, so be sure to check back for tips on growing your plants. Good luck with your compost and garden this year!
I bought a bin this weekend and was so excited to start composting again, but I can’t get my drill to go through the plastic! What kind of bit did you use?
Hi we used a sharp 3/8 drill bit to drill the holes in.
Thanks! The drill bit I was using said it was for wood, so maybe it just wasn’t cut out for the job. I bought a black oxide bit that worked great. Thanks so much for the tutorial!
Hi, can you use brown paper bags as the paper source?
Yes, you can use clean ones..make sure they have no grease on them.
I’m wary of using a cheap bin because of the exposure of the plastic with potentially harmful Chemicals to sun and the elements, which may get into the compost which I would then put on food I will eat. Did you research any more environmentally friendly bins?
I have not, but this is a possibility with any plastic. Even rain barrels could do that if you really think about it.
Because it’s plastic, is there a concern that chemicals may leech into the compost?
Most compost bins are plastic though so its not a huge concern for me.
I am going to start composting & i got your DIY abt.composting. I’ll post about my trial.
I am excited to start composting. We love to garden but haven’t used compost before. I want to start soon but we are under 2.5 feet of snow, if I understand correctly we can still add everything except the dirt and wait until we can see the dirt again to add that right? When you say newspapers does that include the adds from stores that are full color?
Hi Bonnie, I would use plain newspaper to get it started.
Do you think you could collect compost tea by putting another lid underneath the bin or would it interfere with oxygenation? I’ve heard the fluids from compost make excellent fertilizer for vegetable gardens! Thanks for the fabulous idea, I’m excited to try this myself. I’ve been discouraged by compost bin prices.
Hi, I am not sure, but we did use compost tea from red wiggler worms. I would try out your idea! We actually had a 3 tier drainage system to achieve this.
Should the compost bin be placed in a shady or sunny area?
The sun will help speed up the process, but either works!
How did this hold up in the weather? Wondering about how this will stand up against the elements. Did the plastic crack?
Hi! This lasted 4 years!!!! It held up really well.
Hi! Do you think you could keep this bin in a garage? I was thinking it might keep it a little warmer to keep the composting going through the winter. Plus it’s easier to throw the scraps away if its in the garage.
I was thinking I could just put something under it, like an extra lid I have lying around to catch any spills or leaks, and maybe just drill the aeration holes in the top and sides and not the bottom.
Thoughts, anyone? Has anyone kept one of these in their garage??
Hi! You can do this, just keep in mind it will smell a little! We have kept ours in our basement. You might want to lay a tarp down as well.
If you do bokashi composting you can add meats, cheese and breads
This is a great idea! Thank you so much for the information and instructions. I do have 1 question. Can I just turn the bin on its side or upside down to turn it or do I need to turn it using a shovel or pitchfork?
Jared Desrosiers says
Hi Kristin, You can rotate the bin itself by turning it over. However, the lid is more likely to pop off and the contents spill out. For this type of bin, I recommend turning the contents with a shovel or pitch-fork.
TEEJAY NIEVES says
I love gardening. I am going to follow all the steps you mentioned. I am ready to start my own composting. Thank you
I have an old plastic water tank that I would like to convert into a composter. However, it will not be possible to mix the contents inside, I can just keep adding to it. Planning to make a slot at the bottom to remove made compost. Will this work without mixing during the process?
Jared Desrosiers says
If you don’t mix the food waste, it will still break down into compost. However, it will take a lot longer. Mixing speeds up the process.
Janice Harrison says
I just bought a steel perforated Behren. 20 gallon online from Walmart. It has feet to keep it off the ground. Was about $55. Cannot wait to start filling it. I want to make the plastic one for the overflow and moving done compost out.
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