An old garbage can makes an ideal compost bin for smaller yards or if you produce smaller amounts of compostable waste. It is easy to build and is an inexpensive way to start composting. It can also produce finished compost relatively quickly.


All you need is a garbage can with lid and a drill.


Drill 1/2 to 1 inch holes (with a hole saw ideally) in the garbage can every 8-10 inches over the entire surface of the bin including the lid and bottom. Place the bin in a well drained area or on a couple of concrete blocks and you are ready to compost.


There are a few different ways that you can use your garbage can composter. Commercially available plastic compost bins have a door or opening at the bottom so that you can remove the mature compost from the bottom. The fact that your garbage can does not is one of the disadvantages of this kind of composter. You can however deal with this problem in a few different ways.

  • The best option is to have two garbage can compost bins so that you can let one batch mature while you are filling the other. Once the first can is full, you simply leave it until it is fully matured and then harvest the entire contents of the can. You will need to check the moisture and aerate every couple of weeks.
  • You could simply turn the can over when it is full and dump out the contents, harvesting any mature compost that was at the bottom of the can and is now on top of the pile. Then just put the remaining material back in the can.
  • To make aerating and mixing the contents of your bin easier, you could simply lay the can on its side and roll it. This can accelerate the decomposition and produce finished compost much quicker, however you need to consider the following:
  1. The bin needs to have tight fitting lid or you need to secure the lid when rolling.
  2. If the garbage can has handles on the side, you will have to remove them or in the case of a metal garbage can you can hammer them flat to the sides.
  3. If you garbage can has sides that taper towards the bottom, your can will roll in circles.
  4. You should roll your bin every 2 to 3 days and check the moisture level regularly.


You’ve built it, now it’s time to use it. For more on getting started, check out our composting program information. If you have questions:

  • Give us a call: toll free at 1-866-394-8880 or in Winnipeg at 925-3777
  • Drop us an email