In case you missed it, composting at home is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet recover from the damage we humans have done to it. There are obvious long-term benefits when you opt in to a more environmentally-friendly way of life with small steps like composting, and this particular practice boasts some immediate advantages for the individual, too—namely the promise of achieving all your gardening goals. Yep, with compost in your corner, you don’t even need to have a green thumb to grow some impressive plants and veggies on your home turf. (Psst: No garden? No problem. Composting can also help your local park thrive if they have a compost drop-off spot.)
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), composting is “the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants.” Basically, compost is superfood for your garden—and you can make the stuff with nothing more than last week’s soggy fruit salad and a handful of leaves. How, you ask? Well, when you send food scraps and other organic stuff to a compost bin that boasts the right conditions, decomposition will occur—courtesy of the organisms and microorganisms that feast on the material. (As they say, one man's trash is a nematode’s treasure.) Once all the decomposing organisms have gorged themselves on your waste, the end result is a thoroughly digested product that’s rich in nutrients and good for the ground. Aside from the obvious bonus of eliminating stinky trash whilst growing your own Eden, the NRDC says that home composting reduces food waste, conserves water and cuts methane emissions from landfills, to boot.
That said, not everything you typically chuck can be rerouted to the compost bin. The NRDC cautions against composting oil, lard, meat, fish, bones, dairy, diseased or pesticide-treated plants and pet poop (ew). These ingredients can kill the microorganisms you want to attract, create a big stink in your backyard and potentially invite unwanted guests (think: bears, raccoons and rats) onto the premises. Eggshells, fruits and veggies in any condition, uncoated cardboard or paper, coffee grounds, hair, fur and yard trimmings are all fair game, though. OK, ready to get started? Excellent. Now all you need is a receptacle for all that compostable gold. Read on for a rundown of the different types of bins on the market, plus our picks for the best compost bins in each category.
The Different Types of Compost Bins
There’s more than one way to approach composting—so before you get started, it’s important that you first pick the method that suits you best and then select the style of bin designed for the job. We asked Tanya Finney, supervisor of the South Coast Botanic Garden, to give us the lowdown—specifically, the pros and cons associated with the different kinds of compost bins—and here’s what we learned.
Per the gardening expert, stationary bins are “well suited for a backyard garden, where you have at least a 3ft x 3ft area to dedicate to composting.” She also told us that these types of bins are generally easy to use and a solid option because they allow for a customizable approach to composting: Patient gardeners can leave the bin to cold compost over a period of months, while the gung-ho can turn their compost on a weekly basis for a quicker reward.
Tumbling composters churn out a finished fertilizer much faster and with less physical labor than stationary bins, making them “a good alternative for someone who can’t bend or use a fork to turn a stationary type bin,” explains Finney. The major drawback? Tumbling composters are most often elevated off the ground, so you are less likely to get help from worms and other decomposing organisms with this method.
If you’re creeped out by worms, clearly this is not the option for you. That said, worms can work wonders on food scraps, so this method is excellent if the majority of your compost material is coming from the kitchen. According to Finney, worms serve the composting process by leaving behind nutrient-rich castings—and the end result is a fertilizer that’s especially beneficial for planters. Plus, these composters have a low-profile and can even be kept indoors for extra convenience.
Hopefully, you now have a composting approach in mind. So, without further ado, here are our top picks.
1. Lifetime 60058 80-Gallon Compost Tumbler
Spoiler: This thing is a beast. This super-sized composter boasts a galvanized steel base and sturdy, UV-protected polyethylene tumbler. The single-compartment tumbler isn’t the easiest to operate, due to its whopping 80-gallon capacity and non-cylindrical design (if you fill ‘er up, the thing will get heavy and hard to turn). Still, a locking bar that allows the tumbler to lock at every ⅙ of a turn makes life a little easier and, by all accounts, this bad boy does a bang up job of thoroughly mixing and preparing large amounts of compost for use in as little as three weeks. Plus, fans of the product rave about the durable construction and the raised design—a combination that protects compost from scavengers of all sizes.
2. FCMP IM4000 Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter
Best Dual Chamber Composter
A more modestly-sized tumbler—the FCMP dual chamber compost bin is a quick and easy way to get compost ready in as little as two weeks, without even getting your hands dirty. This guy also scores major points for its user-friendly design: The large openings and removable door make it a breeze to discard scraps (without accidentally dumping them on yourself), while the ergonomic handles ensure you can tumble your compost comfortably. Above all, the major selling point here is the dual chamber feature, which allows you to churn one pile of waste into compost while simultaneously filling the other chamber with fresh meat (so long as it isn’t actually meat).
3. FCMP Outdoor Rolling Composter
Best Compost Bin for Beginners
As is the case with all tumbling composters, this guy has the benefit of providing superior aeration while sparing you the hassle and mess of having to dig and mix the compost by hand. Unlike other tumbling composters, though, this rolling model is designed with mobility in mind—a quality that will be appreciated by beginners and seasoned composters alike, since schlepping buckets of finished compost around the backyard is a pain and wheelbarrows are just another bulky investment. Plus, this 19-gallon bin is made of UV-inhibited polyethylene, so you can let it bake in the sun, which is what your compost really wants you to do. (Hint: Your plant food will be ready in as little as two weeks if you place this puppy somewhere warm and sunny.) The icing on the cake? This FCMP model is the only one on the list that arrives fully assembled.
4. Utopia Kitchen Countertop Compost Bin
Best Countertop Compost Bin
When it comes to compost bins, there are two basic types that address distinct composting needs. While most of our recommendations are for the type of bin that actively helps turn food and yard scraps into fertilizer, this one belongs to the second category—namely, bins that serve as indoor food scrap receptacles, so you don’t have to book it to the backyard every time you fix yourself a snack. Enter: Utopia Kitchen’s attractive, low-profile 4.9 liter compost bin—a clever countertop receptacle with a charcoal filter that will hold onto your banana peels, eggshells and the like (without stinking up your kitchen) until you’re ready to run those scraps to the big boy out back.
5. Miracle-Gro Spinning Soil Composter
Best for Garden Waste
A crank handle can save you some physical exertion and is a welcome feature on a composter, provided it actually works well—and happy customers say that this one does indeed perform. Aside from the convenience of being able to tumble your compost without breaking a sweat, this bin also scores points for sturdy and efficient construction: A strong steel base supports the tumbling bin, which is built out of heavy-duty, UV-protected plastic and features an integrated aeration system. (Bonus: Thanks to its unassuming size this option is also a good fit for smaller outdoor spaces.) The takeaway? This composter will withstand any type of weather and make short work of your yard waste year-round—just add kitchen scraps sparingly, if at all, since the oxygen holes do tend to scatter debris during tumbling, and that can get gross when food is involved.
6. Redmon 8000 65-Gallon Compost Bin
Best Stationary Bin
This no-fuss bin doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but it is a very happy home for compost, and it’s built like a tank from thick and super durable, UV-protected recycled plastic. Indeed, this stationary bin can certainly take on the elements, all while maintaining a hot and steamy atmosphere to turn scraps into black gold in the blink of an eye—some say even more effectively than tumbling composters. Just keep in mind that bottomless compost bins like this one require you to periodically go in and mix your compost pile by hand (or by pitchfork, as it were) and, though they keep the compost neat and nicely-formed, they don’t do as good a job at keeping out pests.
7. Worm Factory 360
Yep, worms (i.e., those decomposing organisms we were talking about earlier) are literally the life of any compost party. If you’re not squeamish, consider speeding things along with a vermicomposter—a compost bin that’s designed to be an ideal habitat for the worms you introduce. Don’t worry, your new pets will return the room-and-board favor by transforming your waste into fertilizer that’s so rich in nutrients, it puts less-wormy compost piles to shame. The ingenious eight-tray design here makes the process foolproof—just fill the bottommost tray with compostable material and introduce a handful of worms. As you work your way up to the top tray by adding more scraps, the hungry houseguests will follow—leaving behind perfectly prepared compost, one tray at a time. Bottom line: This vermicomposter is particularly user-friendly—and the general approach makes for a fascinating composting experiment that’s worth sharing with the whole fam.
8. Exaco ECO 2000 Kitchen Compost Pail
Best Kitchen Compost Bin
Much like the countertop number mentioned above, you can file this compost bin under ‘kitchen scrap storage,’ but with one key difference—this one comes with a considerably larger nine-liter capacity. This guy might not look as sleek as the stainless steel alternative, but the high density, dishwasher safe polyethylene here is particularly easy to clean. The benefits of this kitchen compost bin also include a tight-fitting lid that snaps shut to keep insects out, a charcoal filter for maximum odor control, and latches that allow it to attach to the interior of a cabinet door—you know, so it doesn’t have to be on display.
9. Geobin 216-Gallon Expandable Compost Bin
Best Large Capacity Bin
The value here is hard to beat, considering that this no-frills plastic compost bin can hold a whopping 216 gallons of compost material. Plus, it’s hands down the easiest and most straightforward compost bin on the market: It collapses and expands for easy set-up and take down, and its plastic construction is incredibly durable. That said, this one is fairly lightweight, so it will need to be secured with zip-ties or weighted down so it doesn’t blow away like a tumbleweed. Buyers should also be aware that the open top of this bin makes it best-suited for yard waste, paper, cardboard, coffee grounds and other compostable material that won’t attract vermin. In other words, stick with a lidded option for food scraps. Still, Geobin owners give this guy rave reviews—so if you’re using it as intended, it’s safe to say you (and your pocketbook) will be pleased with the purchase.
10. Good Ideas Compost Wizard with Dual Tumbler
Best for Small Backyards
This little tootsie roll is just the right size for smaller outdoor spaces and, with its seven cubic foot capacity, can still store quite a bit. Of course, we’re fans of the sleek, all-black design, but don’t write this compact composter off as mere backyard eye candy, because its design allows it to absorb heat like nobody’s business. Another perk: The base of this tumbler features a wheeled tray that collects up to five gallons of compost tea (i.e., the liquid that drains off from your compost) so you can easily add that brew to your garden for an even bigger boost.
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