How to Make a Compost Bin from a Plastic Storage Container

A man washing vegetables next to a compost bin
Colleen Vanderlinden

If you don't have much space to compost, or want to start composting on a small scale before committing to a full-size bin, consider making a compost bin from a plastic storage container. This is an easy project that will give you finished compost in a short period.


  1. Do this project outside. The drilling step creates quite a mess.
  2. If possible, toss a few handfuls of leaves or shredded newspaper into the bin whenever you add very wet items to maintain the correct moisture levels.
  3. To turn the compost easily, give the bin a shake every couple days.

What You Need

  • Plastic storage bin, eighteen gallons or larger
  • Drill and sharp drill bits
  • Kitchen scraps, yard waste, or shredded newspaper to fill the bin
  • Wire mesh, if you are drilling large holes
make a quick compost bin
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

What to Do:

  1. Obtain a Plastic Storage Bin: plastic storage bins are available just about everywhere, and most of us have at least one of them in our basement or garage. The bigger the storage bin is, the better. The bin you decide to use for composting should be no smaller than 18 gallons. The bin must have a lid. If you can obtain a second lid, this would be perfect to catch the liquid that leaches out of the bin. Otherwise, this nutrient-filled liquid will just be wasted.
  2. Prepare the Bin: you need to have air circulating around your compost to help it decompose faster. To manage this in a plastic bin, you will have to drill holes in the bin. It doesn't matter what size drill bit you use, as long as you drill plenty of holes. Space them one to two inches apart, on all sides, bottom, and lid. If you use a large spade or hole cutting drill bit, you may want to line the interior of the bin with wire mesh or hardware cloth to keep rodents out.
  3. Place Your Bin in a Convenient Spot: because this bin is so small, it will fit just about anywhere. If you are a yardless gardener, a patio, porch, or balcony will work just fine. If you have plenty of space, consider putting it outside the kitchen door so that you can compost kitchen scraps easily, or near your vegetable garden so that you can toss weeds or trimmings into it. It can also go inside a garage or storage shed if you'd rather not look at it.
  1. Fill The Bin: anything you would throw in a normal compost pile, you can throw into your storage container composter: leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grass clippings all work well. Anything you put into the storage bin composter should be chopped fairly small so that it will break down quicker in the small space. Fruit and vegetable trimmings can be chopped small with a knife, or run through a blender or food processor to break them down. Chop leaves by running a lawnmower over them a few times. Crush eggshells finely so they will break down faster.
  2. Maintain Your Bin: every day or so, as you think of it, you can aerate the bin by giving it a quick shake. If the contents of the bin are staying very wet, or there is an unpleasant odor coming from the bin, you'll need to add some shredded fall leaves, shredded newspaper, or sawdust to the bin. These will dry it out and help restore the ratio of greens to browns that make compost happen more quickly. If the contents are very dry, use a spray bottle to moisten the contents, or add plenty of moisture-rich items such as fruits or veggies that are past their prime.
  1. Harvest and Use Your Compost: the easiest way to harvest the finished compost from your bin is to run it all through a simple compost sifter so that the large pieces are kept out of the finished compost. Anything that still needs to decompose can go back into the bin, and the dark, crumbly finished compost can either be stored in a bucket or bin for later use or immediately used in the garden. It is also wonderful to use in container plantings. A plastic storage bin composter can be used year-round and is a convenient solution for those of us who don't have space for a large pile.