How to Use a Trash Can for Compost


From snow fence slats to old wooden pallets, compost enthusiasts use a wide variety of materials to create enclosures for their organic waste. Unfortunately for their next-door neighbors, the resulting structures can often be quite ugly. Trash cans provide an attractive, unobtrusive way to begin converting your kitchen and yard waste into a nutrient-packed super food for your plants.

Step 1

Select a trash can large enough to hold the amount of organic waste you need to compost. Typical sizes many composters use include 30- and 45-gallon trash containers. If you opt to recycle a trash can, ensure it has never contained toxic chemicals in the past as they may contaminate your compost.

Step 2

Spread a plastic tarpaulin across the ground. Remove the lid from the top of the trash container and place the container upside down on the tarpaulin. Cut out the entire base of the trash can with a jigsaw, using a general-purpose blade for a plastic can or a metal-cutting blade for a metal can. Move the jigsaw slowly but firmly as you encircle the base of the trash container.

Step 3

Draw a line around the circumference of the trash can with a permanent marker, locating it approximately halfway down the sides. Drill 15 to 20 evenly spaced holes in the top half of the trash can sides, making sure all the holes are above the line you drew. Use a 5/8-inch drill bit to ensure the holes are large enough to provide adequate ventilation for your compost.

Step 4

Collect the trash can base and the loose plastic or metal shavings on the plastic tarpaulin and dispose of them. Carry the trash container and its lid to a well-draining compost location with at least four hours of daily sun.

Step 5

Measure the diameter of your trash can and dig a hole in the ground approximately 2 to 4 inches larger in diameter than the trash can. Continue digging the hole until it is deep enough to contain the bottom half of the trash can. Insert the trash can into the hole and scoop loose soil around it to secure it in the ground.

Step 6

Fill the trash can with equal amounts of high-nitrogen materials (such as fresh grass clippings and vegetable scraps) and high-carbon materials (such as dead leaves and shredded cardboard). Use a mix of materials to ensure a rich compost. Moisten the organic waste with your garden hose until it's about as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Toss in five to six handfuls of plain topsoil to introduce native decomposing bacteria to your organic waste.

Step 7

Secure the lid on the trash can. If it's loose, attach an elastic bungee cord or a piece of sturdy twine to both handles to keep animal pests, such as raccoons, from removing the lid. Mix the organic waste with a manure fork once every two to three weeks to produce finished compost in approximately four to six months.

Things You'll Need

  • Trash can with lid
  • Plastic tarpaulin
  • Jigsaw with general-purpose or metal-cutting blade
  • Permanent marker
  • Drill with 5/8-inch bit
  • Shovel
  • High-nitrogen organic waste
  • High-carbon organic waste
  • Garden hose
  • Plain topsoil
  • Elastic bungee cord/twine
  • Manure fork


  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
  • "Back to Basics;" Abigail Gehring; 2008
  • The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
Keywords: trash can composting, garbage can composting, easy composting

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.