How To Compost in a Garbage Can or Trash Can: DIY Guide


One of the most effective ways to get fresh, ready-to-eat herbs and produce is to grow them yourself. Whether you are an organic gardening expert or a novice, gaining access to fresh ingredients right at your fingertips doesn’t have to be a hassle. If this interests you, a great way to start your gardening adventure is to invest in a compost trash can.

Although creating your compost out of a garbage can isn’t the most glamorous approach, if you can look past this simpler gardening technique, you’d be amazed at how easy it is to cultivate quality cooking ingredients without having to pay a premium for them at your local grocery store.

With the right tools, materials, and techniques, the process of installing and maintaining your compost can be accomplished confidently with ease.

Making a Garbage Can Compost Bin

To start your garbage can compost bin, you have to gather all the materials necessary to make it happen and most of the things you can find in your backyard. Nature will provide half of the materials, but you might need to take a trip to the store for the rest.

Chances are, you probably own a handheld power drill and a garbage can at your residence. If you already have these things, you are on your way to creating a completely functional and self-sufficient compost either inside or outside of your home.

Now let’s get into exactly what you need to compost.

Purchase the Correct Garbage Can and Planting Tools

Where you want to put your compost bin will affect the size of the garbage can you purchase. First, decide how big your space is and go from there.

Below are all of the things you need to buy for an easy, affordable compost system:

  • Drainage Pipe (4–6-inch diameter)
  • Drill (with drill bits of various sizes)
  • Plastic Trash Can (with lid)
  • Foliage
  • Food Scraps
  • Soil
  • Plastic Container or Bowl
  • Seeds (for later)
  • Worms (optional)

This video will explain exactly how you build your compost correctly and easily, with more info below:

Remember, it doesn’t take an engineer or rocket scientist to build a compost. Anyone can do it and you can even invite friends and family to join in on the experience for a nice bonding activity!

Decide Where the Compost Will Be Stored

Your compost can go one of two places, either inside your residence or outside, somewhere on your property. There are multiple reasons why someone might want to keep it either inside or outside:

Inside

  • It’s convenient for throwing food scraps away without having to walk very far
  • You can avoid bad weather that might damage the compost
  • No wild animals can get to and eat your compost products
  • It might be easier to keep up with maintenance if the bin is always within sight

Outside

  • Don’t have to worry about spills and bad smells
  • The plants will be in their intended natural environment
  • Airflow and sunlight are more accessible to the plants
  • Worms and insects won’t have a reason to come inside your residence

One of the best ways to decide if you want your compost inside or outside is to think about your preferences and specific living situation. If you have kids or pets, keeping your compost inside might be somewhat problematic.

No matter what you decide, you can find comfort in knowing that composts can adapt to any environment they are placed in as long as that environment has all the basic things they require.

Establish a Dependable Water Source

Plants, herbs, and greens will only grow if they are given adequate sunlight and water. Establishing how you’ll get water to your compost is one of the most important steps to cover early on because, without a consistent water source, your plants won’t thrive or grow correctly.

There are two different options for watering your compost plants:

  • Some people will choose to water the plants themselves: This is a great option for someone diligent, thorough, and focused. These qualities will ensure that the plants are watered at the same time every day by hand. Watering your plants might take time, but in this way, you can establish a routine and watch your plants grow by the day.
  • Some people might opt for a DIY plant irrigation system: If you invest the time to build a system that will water your plants at the same time every day, you can avoid forgetfulness and sparse watering that might result from someone water the plants themselves. Also, this system would run with an automatic timer, making the watering process even more precise.

Decide if you want to take a more old-fashioned approach with a watering can or if you prefer to make a DIY irrigation system for your compost plants. Either option is great as long as your plants get the water they need.

Here’s a quick video showing how to make a DIY irrigation system:

Supervise the Growing Process

The only way to know your plants are growing is to check on them every once in a while. Nothing about this process is more rewarding than watching the buds on your plants cultivate sprouts and grow into exactly what they intended to be.

Gardeners take pride in the collaborative relationship between plants and positive human interference. Your job as a gardener is to supervise, adapt, and improve the growing process. If your plant needs a little extra help that it can’t provide itself, it is the owner’s responsibility to manage the environmental conditions to optimize the growing process.

Trim Weeds and Manage Insect Interference

Weeds are a plant’s biggest enemy. They crowd the terrain, suck nutrients and water out of the soil, stealing from the plants that need it. Also, they can grow tall enough to block sunlight and cover your plants. Make sure to pick them often so they don’t create these problems for your plants.

In terms of insects, the best way to keep them off the plants is to use a pesticide that they aren’t attracted to. Linseed Oil is a great natural alternative for a botanical pesticide that won’t harm humans and still keeps the insects away for good. There are no dangerous chemicals involved and you can find linseed oil at your local department store near the gardening section.

Pick Your Plants and Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

Harvesting fresh fruits, plants, and herbs are arguably some of the best aspects of organic gardening. If you get to the point where your plants are fully grown, this means you’ve made it to the finish line. Luckily for you, the rewards of this process are very tangible (and tasty). Once you get hooked, you’ll never want to buy standard produce from the store ever again.

Can I Compost in a Plastic Trash Can?

Composting in a plastic trash can is a convenient and cost-effective way to start organic gardening. The great thing about composting in this type of container is that it’s cheap and easy to drill into with a standard-size drill bit. Plus, there are various sizes to choose from in case the place you want to store it is very snug.

If you are worried about the plastic melting into the soil and contaminating the product, don’t worry! As long as you purchase a thick plastic trash bin and keep it away from direct heat sources like near a water heater or a kitchen stove (if you plan to keep it inside your house) there shouldn’t be an issue.

There are some reassuring components about plastic that make it able to withstand high heat temperatures:

  • Most plastics trash cans are made with either Polypropylene or Polyethylene: These chemical compounds can withstand high heat temperatures between 266 and 340 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • You can tell when plastic is outdated and has reached its limit: If plastic starts to fade or the material starts to warp, it means the plastic has reached the end of its life span.

Both of these factors make plastic trash bins the perfect vessel for your desired composting materials. It’s no wonder many people are starting composts of their own for half the price of commercialized compost containers.

What Can I Plant in My New Compost Trash Can?

You might think that you can immediately plant seeds in your compost when you finish assembling it, but it takes time for all the leaves and food clippings to break down. Not to mention, unless you are purchasing worms of your own, it will take time for the worms from your backyard to creep in and break down the compost pile to enrich the soil.

On average, it takes about three months for compost soil to be ready for planting seeds. You want to wait for this process to pass so your seeds can grow in the best soil conditions possible.

Some of the best things in life require a little patience and time and your compost bin is no exception to this rule. Once your soil is ready, you can pick from a wide variety of seeds that will produce some of the best ingredients you’ll ever have to cook with because they are 100% organic and grown by you.

Here’s a great article we wrote all about What You Can Do With Compost.

Below are some basic ideas for the different things you can plant when your compost soil is ready:

  • Fruits: Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes
  • Vegetables: Lettuce, potatoes, bell peppers, carrots
  • Herbs: Chives, dill, cilantro, basil, rosemary

Things You Should Avoid Putting in A Compost Bin

There are many ways to mess up a compost bin and putting things that shouldn’t be in there is one of the easiest mistakes to make if you don’t know what you’re doing. To prevent your hard work from going to waste, it is best to look out for things that will interfere with the growing process.

Here are some of the most common things that can’t get broken down in a compost pile:

  • Bones: These simply cannot be broken down by worms alone
  • Stickers: Make sure to take these off the fruit before throwing scraps into the compost
  • Oil/Grease: Soaking your plants in oil can prevent them from getting water
  • Leaves coated in chemicals: You want to add leaves from your lawn but make sure they don’t have any pesticides or weed treatment spray on them first
  • Milk and Eggs: These food items can create a horrible smell and attract unwanted animals
  • Dog or Cat Feces: This kind of waste can contain parasites and other bacteria that you don’t want to get in contact with your compost

For a more complete list, check out our What You Can/Can’t Compost article.

As long as these things never make their way into your compost pile, you’re sure to have plants that grow quickly and with no interruptions.

Composting Is a Great Way to Introduce Nature into Your Everyday Life

One of the best ways to get more in touch with the natural world is to start composting and growing your own food. This can help you appreciate all the work that goes into cultivating healthy, fresh ingredients.

It’s easy to take these things for granted but when you do the work yourself, it’s that much more rewarding, and when you compost, you can take pride in knowing that you are nourishing plant life that can grow and nourish you back.

Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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