How to Build a Compost Bin Cheaply


Making a green lifestyle decision to compost doesn't have to be an expensive prospect. One quick search on the Internet and you may be bombarded with places to purchase expensive plastic containers, each promising to work the best, and extensive plans for wooden compost holders with screen sides and elaborate sliding doors. The truth is, good compost is about the ingredients, not the container. You can build your own compost bin out of an inexpensive plastic trash can. For an even more eco-friendly choice, recycle an old one to do the trick.

Step 1

Drill holes in an even pattern around the perimeter and the bottom of the can. The holes have two very important roles--allowing air to flow through the bin, which aids in the decomposition of your compost, and allowing water to drain.

Step 2

Place compost ingredients in the bin. Use leaves, grass clippings, fruit and veggie scraps, disease-free plants, coffee grounds, shredded newsprint and twigs. Add red wiggler worms--available online and at many full-service garden centers by the pound--if desired. Worms devour green matter like the scraps and plant material, but will munch on everything, creating castings called vermicompost, which is ultra-rich in nutrients. The worms are not necessary to the composting process, but they do speed it up. Bottomless bins and piles attract worms naturally.

Step 3

Place the lid on and use the elastic straps to secure into place. This will keep pests like raccoons out and makes rolling less likely to be a mess.

Step 4

Use cinder blocks to raise the bin off the ground. Put a container underneath to collect the run-off. Known as "compost tea," this run-off is a strong fertilizer for container and garden plants.

Step 5

Roll the bin around on its side every week or so to tumble ingredients, allowing for even decomposition. This is a great chore for kids. Compost should be ready to use in a month or two.

Tips and Warnings

  • Many municipalities advise their constituents to leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose, versus putting them in the compost bin. If you do choose to compost clippings, be sure they are chemical-free--and do not overload. The best compost is one of even ingredients. Never put pet waste, meat scraps or table scraps other than fruits and vegetables in the composter. These leave odors, attract pests, and can leave E. coli or other diseases in your compost.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic trash can with lid
  • Elastic cords
  • Drill
  • 2 cinder blocks
  • Container that will fit between blocks
  • Red wiggler worms, if desired


  • USDA: Composting Guide
  • California Waste Management: Vermicomposting
  • University of Kentucky: Building a Trash Can Compost Bin

Who Can Help

  • EPA: Composting
Keywords: green living, fertilizer, composting

About this Author

Bobbi Keffer attended Kent State University, studying education but soon found her true love to be in the garden. She prides herself on her frugal skills, re-using, recycling, and re-inventing her whimsical style in her home and garden.