How to Compost in a Garbage Container


Garbage containers provide frugal composters with low-maintenance composting bins. In fact, if you're lucky enough to find a used cylindrical garbage container at a garage sale or junk store, you can use it as a compost tumbler, producing rich, finished compost in as little as eight weeks, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. If tumbler compost units don't exactly float your boat, Deborah Martin, co-author of "The Rodale Book of Composting," says that you can use most garbage can styles to create a buried compost bin, which typically creates finished compost within six months. With a few basic carpentry tools, you can create your buried garbage can compost bin in a single afternoon.

Step 1

Hold your trash can steady with your hand and drill out 10 to 12 ventilation holes in the sides. Locate all the holes in the top half of the trash container and use a 3/8-inch drill bit to ensure that the holes are large enough in diameter to allow adequate air flow but small enough to prevent animal pests from entering your compost bin. Space the ventilation holes at even distances from one another to ensure that all parts of your compost receive equal oxygen.

Step 2

Remove the lid from your garbage container and set it to the side of your work area. Place your garbage can upside-down on the bare soil. Remove the entire bottom of the bin with a jigsaw. Move the jigsaw slowly but firmly around the circumference of the trash can bottom, applying light, even pressure to minimize your chances of getting the blade stuck in the thick trash can material. Use a metal-cutting blade for a metal trash can or a general-purpose blade for plastic trash containers.

Step 3

Flip your trash can right-side-up and carry it to your composting location, which should have well-draining soil and a minimum of three to five hours of sun each day. Mark the circumference of the trash container on the bare ground with a pointed stick.

Step 4

Dig a hole in the ground that measures approximately 2 inches larger in diameter than the trash can compost bin. Use a shovel to excavate the hole to a depth that matches half the height of the garbage can. For example, if your garbage can measures 30 inches tall, dig a hole approximately 15 inches deep.

Step 5

Shove the base of the trash can compost bin into the hole, rocking it slightly to ensure that it's solidly in place in the ground. Pack loose soil around the outside circumference of the buried container.

Step 6

Fill the trash can with equal amounts of fresh, green high-nitrogen organic waste and dried, brown high-carbon organic waste. Shred the materials into small pieces to promote more rapid composting and dampen the waste with water from your garden hose until it's about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Put the lid on your buried garbage can compost bin and leave it to sit undisturbed for three to six months.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never use an old trash can that has held toxic chemicals in the past, since these chemicals may leach into your compost.

Things You'll Need

  • Old trash can with lid
  • Drill with 3/8-inch bit
  • Jigsaw (metal-cutting blade/general-purpose blade)
  • Pointed stick
  • Shovel
  • High-nitrogen organic waste
  • High-carbon organic waste
  • Garden hose


  • "The Rodale Book of Composting"; Deborah Martin & Grace Gershuny; 1992
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Composting Methods
Keywords: trash can compost, composting bin, cheap compost bin

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.