How to Make a Composter From a Plastic Barrel


With the increased interest in organic gardening, composting is a popular method for enriching soil in flower, herb and vegetable gardens. Composting reduces the amount of kitchen and yard waste thrown into landfills. Composting makes a rich soil additive, which in turn helps flowers and vegetables to grow better. Healthier vegetables means increased harvest, which reduces grocery spending. Although there are elaborate and--in some cases--expensive compost containers, you can make a composter from a plastic barrel.

Step 1

Select a plastic barrel that has a lid that locks or secures into place. Choose a barrel size based on where you will keep it; a large plastic barrel would be cumbersome on an apartment patio. Even if you have room for a larger plastic barrel, it can be difficult to handle when filled with compost.

Step 2

Drill at least 3 to 4 rows of holes around the sides of the plastic barrel, spacing them several inches apart. Turn the plastic barrel over and drill several holes in the bottom.

Step 3

Place a 2 to 3 inch layer of dry sawdust, straw or wood chips in the bottom of the plastic barrel to allow for air flow, advises the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. Some of this layer will be mixed in with the other items as the compost is turned, but this is normal; you don't need to replace it unless you empty the barrel.

Step 4

Place the plastic compost barrel in a warm spot that is protected from excessive sunlight and wind. A good location is near where you will use it most frequently. Place it near a garden bed, if you compost mostly yard waste. If you plan to compost mostly kitchen waste, put it near your kitchen door.

Step 5

Add wet ingredients to the compost. These include fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, coffee and tea grounds, egg shells and nut shells. Break or cut up larger pieces--such as the base of celery--and crush egg shells to hasten decomposition.

Step 6

Add dry ingredients to the compost. These include leaves, weeds, plant stalks, grass clippings and vines. You can occasionally add paper items, such as newspaper, paper towels, coffee filters and tea bags. You can also add cardboard from toilet paper and paper towels--in moderation--if you tear them up into smaller pieces.

Step 7

Keep the compost wet. One way is to fill the tea pot with water and pour all the contents--water and tea grounds--over the compost. Otherwise, sprinkle it with water when you add items. Keep the compost as moist as a wet sponge when squeezed out.

Step 8

Turn the compost barrel once or twice a week. Lock the lid in place and turn it on its side. Roll the barrel around to mix the ingredients and allow air flow to the compost.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not compost meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, foods containing animal fats, human/pet feces, garden clippings that have been treated with chemicals, weeds with developed seed heads or plants that are diseased or highly susceptible to disease, such as roses and peonies, notes the Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic barrel with lockable lid
  • Drill with ½- or 1-inch drill bit
  • 2 to 3 inches of dry sawdust, straw or wood chips
  • Wet compostable ingredients
  • Dry compostable ingredients
  • Chicken wire or other wire mesh


  • University of Kentucky: Constructing a Garbage Can Compost Bin
  • Penn State Cooperative Extension: How to Make Compost

Who Can Help

  • Ohio State University: Composting at Home
Keywords: organic gardening, composting, plastic compost barrel, DIY composter

About this Author

After attending Hardin Simmons University, Kay Dean finished her formal education with the Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1995, Dean has written more than 2,000 articles for publications including “PB&J,” Disney’s “Family Fun,” “ParentLife,” "Living With Teenagers,” and Thomas Nelson’s New York Times best-selling “Resolve.” After 17 years of homeschooling her five children, Dean discovered that motherhood doesn’t stop with an empty nest.