Build Your Own Compost Tumbler


According to 2008 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average person in the United States throws more than 4 pounds of trash into the garbage every single day. Building your own compost tumbler is an easy, affordable way to reduce the amount of waste that you dispose of in your garbage. Compost tumblers make compost quickly, too; according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, you can produce finished compost in as little as two months. Although you can use a variety of containers for a compost tumbler, plastic or metal trash cans make very effective tumblers with just a bit of modification.

Step 1

Select an appropriate trash can for your compost container. Look for a cylindrical plastic or metal trash container that has a tight-fitting lid and has never been used for storing chemicals or other hazardous materials. Choose one that is sized correctly for the amount of waste that your household produces. Popular sizes include 30- and 45-gallon trash cans.

Step 2

Clean out the trash can by hosing it with your garden hose. Let it air dry completely. Lay out a plastic tarpaulin across the ground in the area in which you'll be working.

Step 3

Place the trash can upside-down on the plastic tarpaulin. Drill drainage holes in the bottom of your trash container. Use a 5/8-inch drill bit to create about 10 to 15 holes evenly spaced across the entire circular base of your trash can.

Step 4

Drill about 15 to 20 ventilation holes in the sides of your trash can using the same drill bit. Try to space the holes evenly across the circumference of the trash container so all parts of your compost will have equal access to the oxygen coming into the container through the holes. Move the container off the tarpaulin, gather the edges of the tarpaulin together and dump the drill shavings into your trash.

Step 5

Fill the container with a mix of nitrogen-rich materials (green organic waste such as fresh lawn clippings, cow manure, vegetable peels and fruit scraps) and carbon-rich materials (brown organic waste such as dead leaves, shredded cardboard or newspaper and straw). Aim for about one-third of your materials to be high-nitrogen ingredients. Spray the materials gently with your garden hose to make the compost about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 6

Push the lid onto your compost tumbler tightly. Secure the lid by hooking an elastic bungee cord to the two handles of the tumbler. Turn the tumbler on its side and roll it three to five full rotations at least once every five to 10 days to produce compost in about eight to 10 weeks. Check the moisture level weekly by squeezing a handful of the compost; you should be able to squeeze out no more than one or two drops of liquid.

Things You'll Need

  • Circular trash can
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic tarpaulin
  • Drill with 5/8-inch bit
  • Nitrogen-rich organic materials
  • Carbon-rich organic materials
  • Elastic bungee cord


  • U.S. EPA: 2008 Municipal Solid Waste Facts and Figures
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Composting Methods
Keywords: compost tumblers, composting, building a composter

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.