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How to Make a Compost Bin From a Plastic Storage Container

An 18-gallon container will do the trick for a simple compost bin.

An 18-gallon container will do the trick for a simple compost bin.

Do You Have a Small Garden?

What do you do? You have a small garden, or perhaps a variety of pots, and you want to make your own compost, but you simply don’t have the room in your yard for a compost bin. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a yard.

What do you do?

The Simple Solution

Make a compost bin using a plastic storage container. It really is the perfect solution when space is at a premium, especially for those weekend gardeners who only need a little bit of compost to help their vegetables or flowers.

This is such an easy project, and it can literally be done within an hour using only a drill or knife and, of course, the plastic container.

In this article, learn:

  • what you need to make your own compost bin,
  • how to make your own compost bin,
  • where to place your compost,
  • what compost is generally made of, and
  • the benefits behind composting.

What Do You Need for a DIY Compost Bin?

Take a look at this list; I think you will agree this is very doable:

  • Plastic container (minimum 18 gallons)
  • Drill or knife (bit size is unimportant)
  • Preferably two lids for the container

You can, of course, purchase a plastic storage container from a store; Home Depot, Office Depot, heck, practically any multi-purpose store will carry them. However, we believe in living simply and not spending money if we don’t have to, so we pick up our storage containers at garage sales for pennies on the dollar.

If you look in your garage, chances are you already have a container that you can use.

The drill or knife is for drilling holes in the plastic. If you have neither, get creative and punch holes using a screwdriver and a hammer.

Using a smaller container in the kitchen will save trips outside.

Using a smaller container in the kitchen will save trips outside.

How to Get the Bin Ready

  • Punch holes in it: Compost needs air circulation, so lots of holes are needed in the container. I have found smaller holes work better because they prevent compost from oozing out. Simply drill or punch holes along the sides, on the bottom, and on the lid. Holes can be 1½ to 2 inches apart.
  • Line it (optional): If you want to protect against that ooze, then you can line the inside of the container with wire mesh or hardware cloth.
  • Create a drip tray (optional): If you have a second lid, place that on the bottom, facing upwards, and then set the container on top of it so that what ooze you do have will drip into the upturned lid underneath.

Where to Place Your Compost Bin

The beauty of using a plastic container for composting is that it takes up very little room, so it can be placed just about anywhere. However, if you want to make it easy for you, place it near your kitchen door so you can toss food scraps into it after meals.

You might also choose to place it near your garden to take advantage of those times when you are weeding.

Some people have placed them in garages, but this writer would suggest against that, simply because there may be some unpleasant smells in the garage after a couple weeks of composting.

Some items for composting.

Some items for composting.

What Is Compost Made From?

Compost is made of biodegradable material—and preferably small pieces of such matter—so you can fill your bin with the following:

  • leaves
  • weeds
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • coffee grounds
  • tea bags
  • grass clippings
  • egg shells

Some people also add dirt from time to time; it is not necessary, but it does help to a certain extent.

Keep the Scraps Small

When adding material to the bin, remember that smaller is better, since small items break down much faster. Crush the eggs shells, slice and dice the vegetables and fruits, and if possible, shred the leaves using your lawn mower.

Let Nature Do Its Thing

As you continue to add items into the bin, make sure that the compost isn’t getting too wet, because then you will start experiencing that unpleasant smell I mentioned.

If it does become too wet, then just add more leaves or even shredded newspaper to the mix. Conversely, if it remains too dry, then add some water to the mix.

The only other thing you need to do for maintenance is give the bin a shake every day or so to keep the aeration proceeding smoothly.

Add Worms for Better Efficiency

How do you feel about worms? A little grossed out by nature’s natural composters? Well, if you can handle it, why not collect worms and add them to your compost. Those little buggers will do the job for you in half the time, and you don’t have to buy worm food to keep them happy!

Take some newspaper, put it on the ground in your yard, preferably on dirt, and wet the newspaper. Come back in the morning and collect your worms and add them to your compost bin. It’s that simple!

A garden with healthy soil, thanks to composting.

A garden with healthy soil, thanks to composting.

The Benefits of Composting

Now that you know how easy it is, the question to ask is why more people don’t do it? Composting amends your soil, giving it much-needed nutrients so that your growing season is successful. A garden, after all, is only as healthy as the soil, and the soil is only healthy when it has humus in it.

With the proper amount of humus, your soil will become a growing factory, as nature intended it to be. There is no need to go shopping for soil additives when nature has provided a workable process that is so very simple.

Get started on that compost bin today, and in six to eight weeks you will be reaping the rewards and your garden will thank you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: If you use worms in your compost, won't it get too hot for them in the plastic bin, when the temperature reaches 100 degrees or more? Even if the bin is in the shade, will it get too hot for them?

Answer: It can, yes... temperature control is pretty important.

Question: I live in Wisconsin where winters get pretty cold. What do I do with my compost bin in winter?

Answer: Keep it in the garage if you have one, or in the basement, anywhere where the temperature is not so extreme.

Question: My plastic bin, which I won in a raffle, is about 4 1/2 feet tall and 2x2 wide/deep. It’s not possible to shake it or move it. I try to layer greens and kitchen scraps with dry organic materials. We found after a year or 2 that things are not decomposing. Eggs shells were about the same. I think there may not be enough moisture or air. What should I do?

Answer: Honestly, it is too big to get the results you want and need. There has to be a way to mix the stuff up, and for air to circulate through it. Either somehow attach handles to it so you can somehow tilt it periodically, or transfer everything in it into two or three smaller containers.

Question: If you keep adding new material, when do you decide to stop to let your compost bin get to useable compost? Do I need two compost bins to rotate between?

Answer: You remove it when it becomes dark brown "soil." Two works better for sure, but the answer is the same....dark brown means remove.

Question: I was wondering if BBQ char from a grill is good to compost?

Answer: There are chemicals in that substance and that, to me, defeats the purpose of a compost bin. If it were just burnt wood, I would say yes, immediately, but I don't trust manufactured items like that.

Question: I'm someone who likes to follow instructions precisely. After I make the compost bin, do I just start adding the eggshells and such without any dirt? Or would I need to start with some dirt, and then add the compost?

Answer: You can quicken the process by adding dirt first, then composting stuff, then another layer of dirt.

Question: How long does it take to make compost in a plastic storage bin?

Answer: It takes several months to see results.

Question: What are the benefits of using a transparent container for compost?

Answer: The composting process might be accelerated a bit with a transparent container, but I don't believe it is enough to warrant a transparent one. Composting will happen in a "dark" container.

Question: I have a small plastic bin, but making holes is not possible. Is it possible to make compost this way?

Answer: No, it's not possible without some kind of air flow.

Question: I have a 25-liter ex-brewing bucket that I'd like to use - can I ask why you said it should be a minimum 18 gallons, that sounds very large?

Answer: The increased size means increased airflow and thus healthier compost in the end. The smaller the container, the bigger the chance of mold.

Question: I recently decided to start composting. I added leaves from a house plant that was unsalvageable into a plastic container with potting soil. I didn’t think to drill holes and the leaves are molding. Is that ok? Should I start over? It has been in there for about two weeks. Also, can I use compost on house plants?

Answer: You will need to start over and drill holes in the container. Without air flow that will continue to happen...and yes, house plants will love compost.

Question: What should I add to the compost bin along with vegetable and fruit peels?

Answer: All you have to add is dirt and water. Keep it moist and turn it every couple of weeks, and before long you will have black gold.

Question: Can I use a clear bin for compost?

Answer: You sure can!

Question: I am switching to container gardening (health reasons), will composting regenerate poor soil?

Answer: Most definitely it will. It may take two years to accomplish, but many times it can be done in one year.

Question: I want to make a smaller compost bin for a class demonstration, would a 14x17x7 still work?

Answer: Yes, the process is still the same.

Question: When you said drill small holes for the compost bin what size drill bit do you recommend?

Answer: 1/8th or even 1/4th will be fine. As long as it can drain and air can circulate. You could even do half-inch. You really can't err on that step.

Question: Can I use a styrofoam container for composting?

Answer: You know, it's an interesting question, and I'm afraid I don't have an interesting or informative answer. I've never tried styrofoam; never even thought of doing so. Consequently, I never researched that possibility. I can't think of any reason why you couldn't do it.

© 2012 Bill Holland


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 03, 2020:

I agree with you, Mr. Happy. I wouldn't use styrofoam either, although in answer to the question, it would work. Still, I think the risks are too high.

My best to you, my friend.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on June 03, 2020:

"73% No, I have never tried it" - Well, that was sad to see when I did your poll. I wanna go back to bed and wake-up again, to a better day and a better answer on your poll. Haha!!

So, I got here because as I was scrooling down the Hubpages feed, I saw the question about the styrofoam container and saw your answer to it. After that, I thought I'd mention that even though sometimes people use a little bit of styrofoam in their compost, to keep air circulating easier, styrofoam itself is a petroleum product. It will not compost and at high temperatures it will release toxins. Thus, I wouldn't personally use it but that's just my two cents. I'm not a chemist, or a professional farmer.

Thank You for writing about composting. It's such an important topic but I'd never write about it 'cause it's simply too boring and I would start yawning half-way through writing it then, give up lol So, for sure: thank You for writing this!!

All the very best!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 15, 2019:

Hi Cook! Not sure what the advantages are, other than making good compost. I'll have to do some research on that but for sure it is fine to do.

Cook on May 15, 2019:

my neighbor said I should put old fish into the compost what do you think the advantages would be?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 24, 2018:

Thanks, Dred, and good luck!

Travel Chef from Manila on July 23, 2018:

I usually throw all my scraps directly onto the soil. I haven't tried making a bin because of its unpleasant smell, but will try this one.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 31, 2014:

Silva, I'm glad to hear you like this idea. It has worked well in the past, and it you get snap lids the raccoons can't get them open no matter how hard they try. :) Good luck!

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on December 31, 2014:

I love this! I am going to make myself one or two. I have been composting for years but it consisted of throwing vegetable scraps and coffee grounds out directly onto the soil. That didn't work out so well because it drew raccoons. I am going to set these up and place heavy stepping stones on top so the raccoons can't open them!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2014:

Milisa, it needs a lid. Sorry about that. :) Plain plastic will do.

Peeples from Florida Keys on December 28, 2014:

After reading this article this morning, I went in the attic and found an extra container. This gave my husband an excuse to use the drill he got for Christmas. The only problem is I don't have a lid for it. Will it work without the lid or do I need to make a lid?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 27, 2014:

Easy, peasy, Kierstin. Good luck with this. I think you'll find it very simple to do.

Kierstin Gunsberg from Traverse City, Michigan on June 27, 2014:

Nice! I've been really curious about composting and how I can do it in my little apartment. Sharing :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 12, 2013:

I'm glad, Cat! Take care and have a great weekend ahead.

Cat from New York on May 12, 2013:

That's what I was thinking! Thanks a bunch, Billy... 'twas most useful! :-)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 12, 2013:

LOL...Cat, you are too funny! Have fun with that rotten food my friend. The perfect Mother's Day activity. :)

Cat from New York on May 12, 2013:


Ooh, I finally made it over here! This is perfect Billy; it's like a "Everything you need to know about composting...101... for idiots" :-)

Easy to digest and understand. Honestly, one thing I took from this was the implementing of holes... perhaps that would've been obvious but I hadn't thought of it! Excellent hub, gosh, I can't believe how excited I am to get out and play with dirt and rotton food... and I have you to thank!



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2013:

Rolly, right on! You obviously don't need my help. LOL I love that the fishermen know where to go for the goods.

Blessings from Olympia,


Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on January 20, 2013:

Hi Billy... found this interesting as composting has been a part of life for the longest while for me. Over the years I have tried many things and what you have here is the best of the best and what I use. The winter months here are hard on the worms so I have a small container I keep in the heated garage. I use newsprint, some veggie tops and potato peelings and use them again the following year. Every fisherman in town is a good friend... no digging just help yourself... PS my tropical fish just love them.

Hugs from Canada

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 29, 2012:

Thank you Rahul! These really are quite easy to make and use.

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on December 29, 2012:

A scientifically and economically interesting article

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 11, 2012:

Well thank you Robin! It is pretty easy and I'm pretty confident just about anyone could do it. As always, I appreciate you!

Robin Grosswirth from New York on October 11, 2012:

This is an easy follow and understandable to a common intellect, so for me, it works. If I were staying in my house and planning a garden, I would follow this guide in a heartbeat. As always, you are creative in finding just the right topics with simple solutions to save money. EXCELLENT!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 11, 2012:

Mary, you changed your picture....gotta go look, be right back. Okay, LOL nope, no green jeans today, but I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. They really are very easy to make and quite practical. Glad you liked it and thank that new picture.

Mary Craig from New York on October 11, 2012:

Who would've thought....a plastic bin...perfect solution for small spaces AND the cover keeps the critters out! Another outstanding bit of advice from Farmer Bill! (Are you wearing green jeans?)

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 11, 2012:

Martin, there are a couple cities in Washington that do the same thing. Thank you!

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on October 10, 2012:

Thank you for sharing. In SF we are provided with this free. We are fined if we put compost with regular garbage.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Donnah, thank you! It really is space efficient and I hope it works for you in the future!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Doodle, glad to hear it! Good luck with them, and thanks!

Nolen Hart from Southwest on October 10, 2012:

I just happen to have a bunch of these that I was going to get rid of. I think I'll make a couple of compost bins now. Thanks.

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on October 10, 2012:

Great idea. I had a community garden plot once in a garden that didn't do so well with the community composting. This would have been a space efficient idea to keep my own compost bin going in my little plot. I have pinned it for future reference, as I love to garden when I can. Voted up and sharing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Well thank you, Barbara Kay! It certainly is much easier and in many ways cleaner. Hope it works for you!

Barbara Badder from USA on October 10, 2012:

We have a compost pile, but I have never tried the plastic container. I think I'll give it a try next summer. Thanks for the good information.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Much cheaper, too! Thanks for taking the time to find this one, Terrie! I really appreciate you doing that.

summerberrie on October 10, 2012:

We made something similar to this once. I need to do it again. We have some clay areas where things just will not grow without lots of potting soil. This sounds better and more fun than buying bags of soil.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Well, Sasha, you are very welcome! I'm glad this is what you needed, and thank you!

Aloe Kim on October 10, 2012:

This is perfect.. just what I was looking for ^_^ Thank you Bill!

Voting and sharing... as usual ;)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Gail, I hope it works out for you, and thank you!

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on October 10, 2012:

Thanks for the great idea, Bill! This is something I keep wanting to do, but I do not do it since I live in an apartment. Voted up!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Ruchira, it can be a problem if the lid is not secure and it is close to the house. We keep ours by the garden about thirty feet from the house, so we have never had that problem. I hope it works out for you in some manner....without the mice of course. :) Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Thanks Rich! I never thought of that but it makes good sense. I just might have to do that this weekend and see what I can find. I'm quite familiar with dumpster diving! :)

As always, thank you my friend. Have a great day in Kentucky!

Ruchira from United States on October 10, 2012:


I would so love to get a compost bin and start composting but my neighbor used to do it and started getting rats/mice in her backyard and one of them entered her house when her backyard door was open. Since then, I am always debating this idea.

As usual, your idea was simple and in my budget. Have many plastic containers but got to gather some strength against the mice :)

Rich from Kentucky on October 10, 2012:

Bill - Another good idea. Another good place to get buckets and plastic containers is in the dumpsters of pet stores. A lot of different items they use come in 5 - 10 gallon buckets with locking lids. I used to use them as containers to hold snakes after catching them, and could find them just about any time I needed one. I do recommend washing them thoroughly as some contain chemicals. Great job, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Joseph, I can't imagine what I would do if I weren't writing. You can count on the hubs daily until I drop. :) Thanks buddy and this really is a very simple method of composting.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Kelly, I'm so sorry....damn! Rain barrels are pretty easy to make; if you can find a used food barrel I can teach you how to make it a rain barrel! Deal? Check craigslist or maybe some food processing plants in your need a 55-gallon drum.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Hey Sha, great ideas! We have our wooden compost bin outside by the garden, and we use this portable one until it is full and then we transfer it to the bigger one. Works like a charm!

Thanks buddy; good luck today with your articles.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Alex, we honestly haven't had trouble with animals, but then we have three dogs. An open compost container will for sure attract coons, and I don't have a clue how to prevent it other than to make it coon-proof!

Thank you and good morning! I'll do a little research on that because now you have me curious.

Joseph De Cross from New York on October 10, 2012:

Great tips to help nature. Recycling compost for those weekend gardeners is a must. Not ready myself for a garden of my own, but I'm already learning with your frugal tips my friend. Have a nice one, and keep on hubbing billy!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on October 10, 2012:

Darn it Bill! I just paid like $75.00 for a composting bin! It is absolutely no better than your idea! Carp...I could have spent that on a weeks worth of groceries!

Ok well how about a rain barrel? I want one of those next and they are about $90.00 around here...! Can you make me one of those?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 10, 2012:

Nice job, Bill. My Green Tip #3 illustrates how to make a composter from a plastic garbage can. Because it's bigger, it's hard to move. I have to use a shovel to dig out compost when I need it. That is until a friend of mine made one for me from a 50 gallon steel drum. It has a hinged door and is on rollers so I can turn the compost. I now use my garbage can composter for starting the next batch. Compost is a wonderful thing! It saves money and is a natural recycling mechanism benefiting the earth.

SilverGenes on October 10, 2012:

I like this idea a lot - and keeping it just outdoors near the kitchen in the winter. Do you find it attracts animals though? If so, do you have any suggestions that might help discourage them?

As always, your hubs make me smile while getting my brain cells motivated. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Emma, they are so easy you begin to wonder why everyone doesn't do it. I'm glad you liked the idea and best of luck with it. Thank you for the visit; it's good to see you again.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Thank you Mike! This was one of those exclusive titles that HP gives to some Hubbers....not my norm but I thought what the heck, I can do that! I appreciate the support buddy; have a great day!

Mike Pugh from New York City on October 10, 2012:

I like this hub Bill even though I don't have a garden, but I love the way you put it together, and its very useful for those looking for smart ways to put together a compost bin, cool beans bro.

I like the small joke in it as well, the informative details with wise wording definition and all. Overall it's a great hub!

Thumbs up and you know the rest budd.

Emma Kisby from Berkshire, UK on October 10, 2012:

I love this idea billybuc! I am lucky enough to have some space for a compost bin, but my husband was thinking of getting another one. Making one would save the space of having a second bin, and we could place it near to the kitchen. I just hate trailing down to the bottom of the garden with my compost scraps, especially in the winter.

Up and useful :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

Janine, you are just like clockwork, and I am grateful! Tell your dad hello for me and I hope he likes the suggestion. Thank you Janine!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2012:

I'm glad Tammy! It really is a very simple process; check it once a day for moisture and shake it. :) Thank you!

Tammy from North Carolina on October 10, 2012:

Great idea for composting. I used to do it, but now that I live in apartment I can't. That container is small enough to put on my balcony and use in containers. This is so very helpful.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on October 10, 2012:

I am passing this one on to dear old dad Bill, because as I have said before he does the gardening (flowers and vegetables too) around here. He will be able to make total use of this and thank you for sharing. Have of course voted and shared all over as always too!!