How to Build an Inexpensive Compost Tumbler From a Trash Can


Trash cans make handy backyard composters. They are the proper size to hold the needed amount of yard waste, but small enough to be easily relocated when needed. The main issue with a trash can composter is turning the compost inside, since they are too narrow to turn with a garden fork or shovel. A slight alteration to the trash can turns it into a tumbler bin and solves the problem. The more often compost is turned, the sooner it is ready for use in your yard.

Step 1

Drill holes 3 inches apart in rows that are also 3 inches apart in the bottom of the trash can. Use a ½ inch drill bit for the holes. Repeat this hole pattern on the lid of the trash can.

Step 2

Drill ½ inch holes in rows up the side of the composting bin. Space the holes 3 inches apart and the rows 5 to 6 inches apart.

Step 3

Place the lid on top the trash can. Drill four holes through both the lid and rim of the can, spacing them equally apart. Remove the lid when done.

Step 4

Fill the can with two parts dead leaves and dried grass and one part fresh grass clippings and green plant matter. Add a shovel full of finished compost or commercial compost starter to the tumbler. Water just enough to moisten the pile without making it soggy.

Step 5

Put the lid back on the tumbler, arranging it so the drilled holes line up. Place a bolt through each hole and hold it in place with a wing nut screwed on tightly.

Step 6

Lay the tumbler on its side and roll it around the yard for five minutes. Leave laying on its side until the next time you roll it or set it upright if desired. Roll the tumbler at least once a week.

Tips and Warnings

  • The tumbler is heavy once filled. Have someone help you set it upright or leave it on its side. Place a brick or paving stone against the side as a stop so it doesn't roll on its own.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic trash can
  • Drill
  • Bolts
  • Wing nuts
  • Yard waste
  • Compost starter


  • University of Nebraska Extension: Garden Compost
Keywords: trash can composter, cheap compost tumbler, soil amendment

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.