How to compost for beginners: the easy 2-trash can method

Trash can composter I admit it: I am a lazy composter. So, when we decided to start composting, I wanted to find the easiest way to handle our kitchen scraps.

Solution? Garbage bin composters = NO MAINTENANCE.

WHY TRASH CAN COMPOSTING?

Well, green readers, I'm trying to put a little less waste into landfills and a little more free, organic fertilizer into my square foot garden box.

However, as much as I love the environment, I am also poor AND lazy. So I decided to make my own composter, tailored to my fix-it-and-forget-it mentality.

The trash bin composter is perfect, you simply:

  1. Use a small kitchen compost bin for daily waste.
  2. Empty kitchen bin into one of the outdoor trash cans until it is full.
  3. Then, start filling up the other garbage bin.

By the time the 2nd can is full, the first has turned to yummy garden compost, with NO TURNING OR MAINTENANCE on your part.

KINDS of compost I've thrown in my cans with no ill effects:

  • brown (leaves & yard waste)
  • green (vegetable waste)
  • OTHER (meat/animal by-products)

ADDED BONUS: the cans only smell when I open them to put in more waste.

TOOLS & SUPPLIES: Preparation

  1. Buy or find 2 galvanized steel trash cans.
    • Quality construction: each bin must have a tight-fitting lid and sound seams.
    • Size of can: This depends on your household. 30-gallon bins turned out to be WAY too big for my 2-person household.
  2. Borrow a corded drill.
    Don't use a cordless drill. Drilling through metal = a need for power.
  3. Borrow a big drill bit.
    • One needs at least a 3/8" bit.
    • I splurged and bought a 1" two-piece, bi-metal hole saw bit and pilot bit, because it goes through metal well and because I thought I might use it later to make more rain barrels.
  4. Borrow a shovel/mattock for digging.
    We had to use a mattock (the mongrel version of a pick axe), to get through the hard-packed clay in our backyard.
  5. Borrow a tape measure.
  6. Find a place to bury trash can composters.
    Somewhere where:
    • the possible smell won't bother you/your neighbors
    • the sight of half-buried trashcans won't bother you/your neighbors
    • you have (relatively) easy access from your kitchen
  7. Find a place to drill safely.
    I used the concrete patio in our back yard, you might use a similar concrete surface in your patio, garage, driveway, etc.
  8. Safety gear: goggles, gloves, shoes, long sleeves and trousers.
    Oops - my nephew forgot the long pants!

INSTRUCTIONS: Create Your Own

  
Drilling holes in trash cans for composting

 

Drilling holes in trash cans for composting

 

Digging holes for trash can composting

 

Burying holey trash cans for composting
  1. Don your safety gear.
    Or have your helpful nephew do so.
  2. Gather your tools in your drilling location.
  3. Drill 10-20 drainage holes in bottom 1/3 of each garbage can.
    • Smaller drill bits = more holes.
    • Be careful not to let your drill overheat from effort: I have a really old, wimpy drill, and I had to take some breaks to give both the drill and my nephew's arm muscles a rest.
  4. Clean drilling area - as the metal shavings, etc. can be dangerous for the unshod and for vehicle tires.
  5. Measure diameter of trash can bottoms.
  6. Dig 2 holes - near each other, for ease of access.
    • Hole diameter: a bit larger than trashcan bottoms
    • Hole depth: enough for can to be buried 1/2 or 2/3 under ground.
  7. Bury cans: make sure that that the holes you drilled in the garbage bins are at least a handspan underneath the soil when you bury the garbage bins.
    This allows water and air and small bugs in and out for natural composting, but keeps bigger animals and bugs from accessing your prime leftovers.
  8. Attach lids.
    I saw suggestions for using bungee cords to keep larger animals from getting into the bins. However, the squirrels, birds, feral cats, and opposums in my suburban-ish neighborhood have yet to get into my bungee-less cans.
  9. Clean and store tools.

For More Information:

Comments

Denise

composting cans

I just asked about the holes being to sharp and didn't fill in the stuff at the top. but one more question  Why not plastic trash cans? 

Adelle Frank

Plastic & Sharp holes

I don't know about the sharp holes.  But plastic is often too easy for larger animals (rats, etc.) to gnaw through.

Visitor

HI Thank you for this easy

HI Thank you for this easy idea. One thing I was wondering about was the rough edges of the holes. Do I need to smooth them out? will it cut the worms? If so, any EASY ideas to do this?

Anita

Keep rats out?

I live in an urban area and unfortunately rats are a possibility. Does this buried method prevent rats from getting into the bins?

Adelle Frank

It might block rats

I'm only in a suburban area, but, assuming the lids are tight, I'd imagine it would probably keep rats out.  Let me know if you try this out and it works for you!

Visitor

Composting

With your trash bins half buried in the ground, how do you get the compost out once it is ready?

Adelle Frank

Shovel

I just use a shovel.  Seems to work for me. :)
~Adelle 

Andrew A. Sailer

Hi! Thanks for posting about

Hi! Thanks for posting about this. I also own a blog about composting and hope to have fun with it. If I may invite you to come over and comment, thanks! Chears!

Adelle Frank

Nice composting blog!

You're very welcome, I'm glad it was a fun read for you.

And you've got some great content on your composting blog, Andrew.  I can't wait to read more!

Carmen

Ashes

Adelle,
 
What do you mean by your "big" compost pit. Do you have another in additon to the two trash bins? Also, I just moved onto 20 acres with no city recycle service. What types of material can I burn that will allow me to mix the ash with my compost?

Leila

Ashes in the garden

Garlic loves ash

Adelle Frank

Re: Ashes

Hey, Carmen:
It sounds lovely where you live, even without the recycling service!
We have a large depression in the back corner of our yard that we use when we have lots of yard (and a little bit of fireplace) waste and don't feel like dragging it to the curb.
I don't know what kind of materials you can legally burn where you live, but the problem is the alkalinity of the compost. According to garden's alive, too much ash can stop the composting process.
I hope this helps and enjoy your composting!

Todd

Sweet Compost!

Additional items to compost include tea bags (strings removed unless you don't mind that the string degrades much slower than the tea bag itself) and coffee grounds (including paper filter). Earthworms seem to love coffee grounds!

Adelle Frank

coffee, tea, and ashes

I've included tea and coffee and you're right...the little beasties love them!  After a bit of research, though, I decided to put the ashes from my fireplace into my BIG compost pit, rather than these smaller cans - I was worried about too much lime-like ness in the pH of the compost.