How To Make A Compost Bin (It’s Easy & Cheap!)

Here we go again, trying to embrace our greener side. Well, actually, our browner side. Yes, we’re taking a crack at composting.

While we’re looking forward to the nutrient-rich and budget-friendly soil amendment that composting provides, our main motivation was actually to reduce our taking-out-the-trash trips. And why send stuff to a landfill when we can use it in our backyard?

Some quick research online (thanks made it clear that there are lots of options when it comes to composting, some of which are very intense and definitely too hardcore for us at this point. So when we found this super simple guide to making our own backyard bin, we wasted no time getting to work. Here are the step-by-step instructions we followed:

Step 1: Recycle or buy a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid about 24 inches tall or taller (it needs a lid to keep the soil moist and to keep critters out). We picked up this Rubbermaid version at Lowe’s for $7 in hopes that the neutral color would help it blend in with our backyard.

Step 2: Use a drill to make 8 – 10 small holes in the bottom of the container for aeration purposes.

Step 3: Place some shredded newspaper or dry leaves on the bottom of your compost bin, filling it about 1/8 – 1/4 full. We went the leaves route, since we’ve got PLENTY of those lying around.

Step 4: Place dirt on top of the leaves or newspaper until the container is 1/2 full. Again, PLENTY of that.

Step 5: Now place any food scraps or paper products that you’d like to compost. Check out this list for a pretty complete run down of what you can and can’t compost. Surprisingly, things like lint and eggshells are compost friendly, while lime (too acidic) and dog “waste” (could carry disease) are off-limits. So far we only collected a couple of banana peels and a small ball of lint. Maybe this will encourage us to eat more fruits and veggies? Or do more laundry?

Step 6: Give your compost a little stir (very little, in our case) with a shovel or stick, making sure to cover your food scraps with dirt. Canine supervision is optional.

Step 7: Spray with lukewarm water until moist, but not soaking wet. (Note: too much water can be the culprit if your compost starts to smell).

Step 8: Use a drill to make 8 – 10 small holes in the lid and place it securely on top of the bin.

Step 9: Place the bin in a shady area away from the house (if you live in an apartment or have no backyard you can place your bin on the patio). Be sure that it’s not in full sun or your compost will dry out. We found the perfect spot near our garage where our bin can hide behind some shrubs – inconspicuous and convenient (since we take the garbage and recycling out this way already). Can you spot it? HINT: check the bottom right.

Step 10: Now that our compost bin is set up, we can just add food scraps when we’ve got ’em, making sure to give things a stir each time (mixing the compost helps break everything down faster). And to aid in our collection of stuff to compost, we’ve added a special “compost” receptacle under the sink (along with our existing recycling and garbage containers). Gotta love a no-fail way to get in the compost habit.

Now we just have to wait 2 – 3 months before the compost is ready for our yard or garden. It can be used as mulch or potting soil and can also be sprinkled over grass as a lawn conditioner. Hopefully we can reap some of the composting rewards in some of our fall planting or lawn overseeding. But we have to remember to save at least 1/3 of it so we can keep the composting process going.

Seems pretty easy, right? And so far the whole thing has cost us less than $10.

We’d love some tips from all the composting experts out there (so we can make sure our efforts are fruitful). And for those of you just as green at this composting thing as us, keep us posted on your own adventures in decomposing organic matter. Yummy.

Check out a few composting updates (we love it!) here and here.


  1. Christy says

    YAY!!! I have been wanting to do this for a while now. I looked at some store bought bins, but knew it could be a diy. Seems like such a watse to throw out good kitchen scraps. Thanks for the destructions.

    PS. WOW! I don’t think I have seen such an uncluttered under kitchen sink for, well ever! I have bins & baskets that are organized, along with old vases & other “junque”.

  2. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this quick how-to on an easy compost system!!! My mom has had a full-fledged compost pile for years, and I always loved the many benefits it gave us. Once my husband and I bought a house, I found myself with allot of random yard and veggie waste that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I had been thinking of composting it, but was afraid of having a big unsightly compost pile in my yard. Now you have given me the perfect solution. :)

  3. says

    I love these tips! My SIL is a composting queen and has all the fancy (and expensive) equipment, but this sounds much more doable for us. Maybe I won’t be the black sheep of my Earth friendly family much longer…we’ll see. :)

  4. says

    I’ve been composting for years now and I just toss it in a pile in the corner of my garden. It’s well spread out so I can visually see where I need to toss more brown matter and where green waste needs to be. I try to do the 1/3’s but it doesn’t always happen. I’ve found that leaving it exposed to rain, sun and birds creates great compost pretty fast. Anything I toss out there the birds go through quickly. I love that they shred it all up, its speeds up the breakdown even further. Of course, you have to have an area set aside that your neighbors can’t see. =)

  5. Shannon says

    It’s almost as if you two read my mind to find out what project I’m thinking about tackling but am stumped by, then go ahead and do the work of figuring out the cheapest and easiest way of tackling said project, then post step-by-step instructions with convenient (and sometimes adorable – hi Burger!) pictures. Amazing!

  6. garden buddy says

    The Richmond Clean City Commision will be holding a one day event to help Richmonders start composting.

    On September 6, 2008 from 9am to 4pm go to the Compost Bin Truck Load Sale at the Willow Lawn Shopping Center located at 1601 Willow Lawn Dr. You’ll find them in the parking lot between Kroger’s and Gold’s Gym.

    Get $100 value for just $35! The Earth Machine is an 80 gallon capacity composting bin that fits in any vehicle. Made of recycled materials, over 2,500,000 of these machines are in use across the country!

  7. c says

    I love composting! If you have any friends who already have worm compost bin, ask them to give you some worms. And just add them to your compost bin! They will even make it faster to decompose food scraps, and they will eventually multiply over time, so you can share your worms w/your friends. :) And you won’t have to stir. It’s kind of a lot of work if you do daily… Worm will do the work for you!

    Another tips : I bet the bin will get fill up quickly with two+ people household, you might want to create another bin, so you can let the full bin sit and decompose all the materials while you are adding more materials to second bin.

    Good luck!

  8. Tiffany says

    Thanks for this easy project idea. I’ve been wondering where to start with this.

    Our lawn mower just died and we replaced it with a manual push mower (no motor, no electric) in an effort to be green. This composting project will be another small thing we can do.

    Keep up these green tips. If more people know about the easy things they can do, the better off we’ll all be.

  9. Jen says

    Greetings from NYC! I’ve been composting for over a year now, and here are two tips you might want to consider.

    1) Get a tight cover for your kitchen compost bin (under the sink) because you’ll be surprised at how quickly any interested bug in a wide radius will find a way in.

    2) Consider poking a hole into the bottom of your outside compost bin and collect the ‘tea’ (I swear that’s what it’s called)….or just let it drain out. As things break down (and when it rains heavy) you’ll find your moisture content will get too high. If you collect the ‘tea’ you can use it (diluted) for house plants, etc. Very healthy.

    Have fun!

  10. Lori says

    I haven’t seen the site yet, but I love the site for great eco ideas. They have a daily newsletter (the daily “bite”) with an idea or two. Fun to read too, good sense of humor.
    Thanks for all you do – love your blog!

  11. Emily says

    Many towns (at least in the Northeast) allow you to purchase bins from the town hall at a rate far reduced from hardware or garden store prices. We bought our composter that way.

    We use a lidded but large tupperware container for putting “scraps” in till we’re ready to take them to the composter. The lid is important b/c otherwise, the scraps will attract fruit flies.

    We have cut our trash output dramatically (gone from two full barrels each week to one not quite full barrel). I imagine in the fall for yard clean up we will cut it even more.

    Good luck!

  12. ErinEvelyn says

    I 100% guarantee you’ll get giddy about scooping your first batch of compost to use. My suggestion? Mix it with regular potting soil for some potted greens & flowering plants in spring. (Put them on your porch to complement your bargain hanging baskets, perhaps?) Even if you get the tiniest (aka cheapest) plants from your garden center, they’ll grow faster and larger than your’re used to. It’s AMAZING to watch, and very rewarding … almost like a prize for yourself for doing the right thing. Kudos. Welcome to the Compost Club.

  13. Elizabeth says

    We started putting our composting food container in the fridge so it won’t smell or attract insects. It also enables us to collect scraps for a few days and then add them all at once, rather than having to take it out more frequently. Does anyone else have trouble finding enough ‘brown’ matter to compost? We always end up with too much food and not enough other stuff…

  14. YoungHouseLove says

    Thanks for welcoming into the Compost Club, ErinEvelyn! I’m already excited about scooping out my first batch so this is currently a good exercise in patience.

    Garden Buddy, great tip on the EarthMaster sale in Richmond. $65 below retail!? You’re speaking my language. But alas, I think we’ll let some completely-compost-bin-less person take advantage of the “limited supplies.” Plus, I couldn’t shun my own creation so soon…

    C, we’ll go on a friends-with-worms hunt this weekend. Sounds weird, but exciting at the same time.

    Thanks also to everyone for the advice on storing scraps inside. We haven’t noticed a smell or fly problem yet, but we’ll keep our eye out for a nice, lidded container. Jen, good tip about the “leak” too – I had read briefly about that but wasn’t quite sure what it meant. We’ve already got holes in the bottom so I’m thinking I’ll grab another, larger tupperware lid for it to sit on and help collect leak-age.

    And to all those starting their composting journey with us. Please keep us posted. Hopefully we can all learn from each other in this!

    Happy scrapping everyone!


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