Composting Containers

There's no one set way to compost. The most important factor to consider when choosing which method to compost is what fits your lifestyle and can make composting easy. So while selecting a compost style, think about how much space you have available, what materials are at your disposal, how much time you can invest, and how neat you want your compost to look. The following is a few of the many options from which you can select, but click on the link to learn more about each one!

Holding Units

Holding units are bins used to hold yard and food scraps until composting is complete.

Container-based bins can be plastic and can be different sizes and shapes. Many systems designed for backyard use are roughly the size of a garbage can and may look like a tall box. A bin made of black plastic, called ‘The Earth Machine', can be purchased at a discount through the Recycling Commission.

Holding units can also be constructed from circles of wire fencing, hardware cloth, wire framed in wood (not pressure-treated), concrete blocks, or from wood pallets joined to make a holding pen. Materials in bins with volumes less than 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet will not heat up to the desired 120-150 degrees needed for optimal decomposition, pathogen and weed-seed destruction.

Aerate your pile regularly-a spading fork or pitch fork works well.

Turning Units

Turning units have what holding units don't-the ability to easily be turned and aerated. There are 3 general forms: a series of bins, or a rotating barrel or rolling ball. The rolling units make aeration easier, allowing aerobic bacteria the oxygen it needs to break down materials.

Series of Bins

For a series of bins it is common to have 3 bins, with the first bin being the place where fresh material is added. Materials need to be saved until there is enough to fill 1 bin of a multiple unit, or to fill a barrel unit to the prescribed level. Food waste can be accumulated in a plastic, 5 gallon bucket and topped with sawdust or newspaper to reduce odor.

Once the first bin is full, it gets turned into the second bin, and then into the third bin in a constant succession based on the rate of input. Transferring materials from one bin into the next provides aeration. Regular aeration to each pile will accelerate the rate of decomposition, provided that there is the ideal moisture level and mix of nitrogen and carbon materials.

The last bin will hold the most decomposed material and should be allowed to finish and cure for 3-4 weeks till the internal temperature has been stabilized to the same ambient outside temperature.


Recommended dimensions for a heap are 5 feet wide by 3 feet high. Length can vary depending on the amount of materials used. The wider width will help the pile retain heat better. Materials can be added as they are generated or they can be stored until enough are available to make a good sized heap. Ideally, 2 heaps are better than 1. When the 1st heap is large enough, it should be allowed to compost undisturbed. Start a 2nd heap with new material.

Turning is optional, but food scraps should be turned and buried deep into the pile so as to not attract pests, and woody materials should be cut into small pieces. Regular turning will aerate and accelerate the rate of decomposition, especially if optimum moisture levels are maintained with the right balance of nitrogen and carbon materials.

Pit / Trench

This is a simple way to compost kitchen scraps. Dig a 1 foot deep hole, chop and mix the food scraps into the soil, then cover with at least 8 inches of soil.

Depending on the soil temperature, the amount of microorganisms in the soil, and content of food scraps, decomposition will take from 1 month to 1 year. Food waste burial can be done in any unused area of the garden, and the compost created in situ will benefit surrounding plants.

The English system, known as pit or trench composting, maintains a 3-season rotation of the alternating placement of a compost trench, walking space, and planting.