How to Make a Compost Bin From a $9 Garbage Can

5 Materials
15 Minutes

Up next in my late summer garden series is how to make your own compost bin from a $9 garbage can! Super exciting, right!? I may be a novice gardener as this is the first year I've had my own garden outside of tomato plants in pots on my deck but I do know that if you want your plants to really thrive you need fertilizer or compost. Plus now that my family is eating healthier we can throw some of our garbage in the compost instead of in a landfill and then use that garbage to help grow more healthy fruits and vegetables. Win, win in teaching the kiddos about reducing our carbon footprint and living off the land. I could have just purchased one of these fancy tumbling composters and called it a day (I still might, they are pretty awesome) but I'm cheap and I prefer to DIY anything and everything I can, plus this DIY compost bin is super easy to make and requires minimal supplies.

Compost Bin Supplies:

- Garbage Can (I bought mine at Menards for a little less than $9)

- Drill

I gathered my supplies and set to work drilling holes so that air could circulate inside the bin to speed along decomposition. Make sure your garbage can has a lid so that any critters that might want to get into your compost are not able to and so that it doesn't get too soaked with rain or too dried out from the sun.

I drilled holes all along the top, bottom and sides of the bin for plenty of aeration. It was very easy and it was actually pretty fun to be honest.

After my compost bin was complete I needed a place to put it that would be easily accessible for dumping scraps and for gardening. I found a spot right by the deck and the garden and placed the bin on top of some of the same concrete pavers that I used for my garden so that it would be off the ground.

Now that I had my bin all set up I needed compost. Making compost is pretty simple, you just need a 3 to 1 ratio of brown (carbon) to green (nitrogen) material. Here's some good examples of brown and green materials that you can use. Also keep in mind that the smaller the pieces you use of these materials, the faster they will break down, so shred, tear or cut down your materials as small as you can get them!

Brown Material

-Dry Leaves

-Wood Chips

-Shredded Tree Branches

-Straw or Hay


-Pine Needles



Green Material

-Food Scraps (fruits and vegetables but NO dairy, meat or cooked foods)

-Grass or Plant Clippings (that are free from chemical herbicides)

-Egg Shells

-Coffee Grounds (you can throw in the coffee filter too)

-Manure (NOT from dogs or cats though)

-Recently Pulled Weeds

 If you don't have a good mix of brown and green material your compost may not heat up, which is necessary to break down organic matter, and it may take longer to break down into usable compost. Your compost may even start to smell bad if you don't have a good ratio of brown to green. 

But not to worry, composting is very user friendly (seriously, if I can do it, ANYONE can). If your compost looks too wet and smells bad, simply add more brown material and/or aerate (stir) more often. If your compost looks brown and dry, add green material and water to make it slightly moist. Your pile should always be slightly damp (about as wet as a wrung out sponge), but not too wet or it will rot.

When I first started my bin I didn't have much for either brown or green material. I took a bag of dried leaves from my Mother in laws house to help with the brown part. I also stole a little metal garbage can from my son's room to put food scraps (green material) in and store under the kitchen sink until it was full enough to dump into the compost bin. You can buy some pretty cute compost containers from  Amazon if you don't happen to have children that are obsessed with garbage cans.

Even though I didn't have much to start my compost pile I still wanted to get it started right away. I gathered together what I had and dumped it into my compost bin. I put 3 parts brown material (dry leaves) to 1 part green material (food scraps and grass)

I then watered my compost so that it would be moist but not waterlogged.

Last, but not least, I needed to aerate my compost. You can use a pitchfork, shovel or even a branch to stir up the material. Since my compost bin has a lid that seals pretty tight I rolled my bin along the ground to get everything really stirred up. Make sure to aerate at least once a week and add water as needed to keep it all moist.

When your compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dark brown and crumbly, like rich earth it's ready to feed to your garden! My compost has been going for a few months and is almost ready. I'm going to continue to compost during the winter and hopefully have a large amount for my garden next spring. Here's a picture of how my compost is looking three months in. So far composting has been very easy with minimal effort (saving food scraps and dumping brown and green material and keeping the compost moist and aerated) and affordable since the only money we've put into it was $9 for a garbage can. What I love the most is that our whole family is involved and we're reducing our carbon footprint while also helping to grow healthy foods. Hopefully this DIY compost bin has inspired you to start your own compost pile! To see more on my compost bin check out my blog post

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 5 questions
  • Jude
    on Sep 14, 2020

    how long does this all take?

    • Dawn Renee' Lemons Freeman
      on Sep 20, 2020

      In a bin like the OP described, that's not over full and rolling it every day, you can have finished compost in 14 days -- though it may take some practice with carbon to nitrogen ratios and water to get to that. ALSO, when yippy start a bin like this, add a handful of soil (from the garden or where plants are growing) to "inoculate" your bin with the microbial decomposers that do the work.

      For those of you wanting to compost household waste through the winter, you might consider a "worm farm"--an indoor bin that uses earthworms -- to compost kitchen scraps. Worm castings (poop) are the "gold" of compost, and are used on houseplants as well as in the garden. (I'm a master composter.)

  • Sally Tucker
    on Sep 14, 2020

    I like the idea but.... I added worms to the compost bin and all of them escaped through the holes. How do you keep worms from escaping?

    • Dawn Renee' Lemons Freeman
      on Sep 20, 2020

      DO NOT add worms to a standard compost bin where the decomposing matter "cooks"!! A "hot" compost pile or bin can get up to 140-160° F, and you'll kill the worms!!

      A regular outdoor bin that's in contact with the ground will attract worms when it cools down, but when you add more matter and it starts heating up they leave so they don't die. I suspect that's why your worms "escaped".

      If you want to use worms, build a worm farm/bin from an opaque rubber bin with a lid. The ones I used were about 16" H × 23"W × 18"D. I used a 1" drill bit and drilled holes about every 5-6" all the way around the rim, about 2 inches from the top. I used screen material on one and panty hose on the other. I made 2.5 inch squares and got glued them to the inside over the holes. The hose did a MUCH better job of retaining moisture (VERY important for a worm bin), and I fixed the issue in the screen material bin by putting a damp piece of burlap over the bedding material.

      In an indoor worm bin, over heating of the compost shouldn't be a problem because you're not using microbial decomposition to make compost -- the worms are eating your kitchen waste and pooping out the richest plant food available! That said, thunderstorms, heavy rains or earthquakes create vibrations that drive earthworms out of the ground for self preservation. To prevent your worms from escaping during weather events (and drying out and dying), put a bright light above the closed bin to prevent the worms from escaping.

      For anyone wanting more information on worm composting, I highly recommend the book "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof.

  • Victoria Hiers
    on Sep 14, 2020

    You mentioned wood chips and sawdust can be used. Would TREATED wood chips and sawdust be okay to use?

    • Winorthwoodsgal
      on Sep 16, 2020

      No, treated would is not ok. The chemicals to treat the wood are not safe for human consumption.

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