By Tammy Churchill
As more people are trying to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, many are trying to figure out what would be the best compost bin for them. Composting is an excellent way to keep food waste, yard clippings, and paper products out of landfills, with the added bonus of producing an excellent soil amendment. The main start-up cost is the composting bin itself.
The purpose of a compost bin is to contain your pile. There is nothing magical about the plastic, metal, or wood bins themselves that will suddenly turn your green and brown materials into compost.
By keeping all the materials confined, the bin allows the naturally occurring bacteria and fungi decomposers to more easily do their job of breaking down organic materials.
Table of Contents
What criteria should you use for selecting the best composting bin?
When shopping for your first compost bin or adding extra capacity, there are certain criteria to keep in mind:
- Size: If you want a hot pile – one that will kill weed seeds as well as dramatically speed up the composting process – the larger the compost bin the better. Ideally, a compost pile would be at least a cubic yard, but none of the readily available bins on the market are that large. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a hot pile in a standard compost bin: I know from personal experience it definitely can be done. It only takes a little knowledge to get the mix of materials right when building the pile to get the temperatures to rise.
- Your environment: “Best” is relative. It depends on your situation. Do you have wild (or even domestic) critters that want to raid your pile? Do you have an outdoor area available? Do you have yard waste or other “browns” to add to your pile? What is your weather like? Is it very wet, very dry, or extremely cold?
- Cost: More expensive isn’t always better. It would be a waste to spend several hundred dollars on a fully insulated composter if you live in a temperate climate.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What are the best outdoor composting bins?
Depending upon what your needs are, these are the composting bins that I have had the most success with either personally or through my experience helping others as a Master Composter.
Best Compost Bin – Budget
Example: GeoBin Composting System
If you are looking for a basic bin that simply contains your compost pile, this may be the bin for you. It is inexpensive and easy to assemble. I bought this bin when I was first starting my composting journey more than a decade ago, and it’s still in great shape.
This style of bin is great if you just want to try your hand at composting without making a major investment, so long as you don’t have a major critter problem. It is a good size, allows for a lot of aeration, is easy to remove and set back up when turning the pile, and the GeoBin Composting System is made in the USA.
If you live in an area that is very rainy or drought prone, I would recommend putting something on the top to help keep your pile at the right moisture level: a large trash can lid could work, so could a contractor trash bag either fished through some of the air holes and knotted, or simply tucked in with some rocks around the edges to keep it in place. Your bin will compost fastest when kept as damp as a wrung out sponge. Too wet will make your pile super smelly as it starts to decompose anaerobically. A too dry pile will slow down decomposition or stop it entirely. The cover would help repel additional water or reduce the amount of evaporation while still allowing for airflow.
Best Traditional Composting Bin
There are lots of bins in this category. They all cost roughly between $75- $150 and have similar features. This class of composters is good as a whole because they are large enough that they can heat up, and they have direct access to the ground which provides the micro- and macro-decomposers to help the pile process faster.
Note: Many jurisdictions offer rebates on specific bins, bringing the price down below even the budget bin listed above. Sometimes they even offer them for free. It’s worth a quick Google search. With the similarities in bins, it might be the best option for you.
I am recommending this particular bin for two reasons:
- I’ve had it for 5 years and it is still going strong.
- It has a locking top that will keep out some critters.
The downside of these types of bins is that persistent animals can get in them – either chewing through the plastic, lifting the doors at the bottom, or digging under. I have heard from those in more extreme climates that sides can split as the plastic becomes brittle, so bringing them into the garage or garden shed during the deep freeze months when compost piles aren’t composting anyway could help preserve the bin.
Best Compost Bin – Tumbler
Example: FCMP Outdoor Roto Tumbling Composter
I will preface this selection by saying that I personally do not use a tumbler composter. These are ideal for areas where critters are prevalent and persistent. The fact that they are off the ground and rotate helps to keep them rodent free.
What is great about this particular tumbler is its size. The market is flooded with dual chamber composters. Unfortunately that style cuts the overall volume of the materials in half, making it difficult for the pile to heat up. Having only one compartment speeds up the decomposition. It also means that the assembly of this particular bin only involves adding on the legs, which is not normally the case for the multi-chamber units. Much more assembly is typically required.
Since the materials in tumbler bins aren’t in direct contact with the ground, which has all the microbes that are involved in composting, adding in a shovelful or two of dirt from the garden can help get the process started.
Another attribute to consider when selecting a tumbler is how easily it spins when loaded. The act of turning the pile adds the air necessary to help speed up the process, so you want it to be easy for you to do every day. This tumbler has great reviews regarding this feature.
Please keep in mind with all tumbler composters, it is possible that excess fluid will leak out. You won’t want to keep it on your deck or patio since that leachate can stain.
Best Compost Bin – Vermicomposting
Worm Factory 360 Black US Made Composting System for Recycling Food Waste at Home
Vermicomposting is the process of composting food scraps using worms. Vermicomposting bins are typically made of multiple trays that are stacked on top of each other, the mesh at the bottom of the upper tray rests on the contents of the tray below, allowing worms to move between levels.
This method of composting is great for households that don’t have a lot of yard waste or for people with limited to no outdoor space since worms can happily compost for you indoors. Unlike other composting methods, it can be continued year round, even in extreme cold, so long as it is kept inside.
The Worm Factory is a great vermicomposting system. Its design is expandable up to six trays high, and it has a worm “ladder” – think slide in reverse – in the moisture collection bottom tray to help worms that accidentally migrate down there get back up to their food and bedding. If properly maintained at the dampness of a wrung out sponge and not too much food is added, it is odor free.
Note: The amount of bedding that is currently being bundled with this composting worm bin is not sufficient to get started. I use shredded junk mail mixed with coffee grounds (to prevent clumping) for my worms, and they love it. You can purchase coconut coir, but it is not needed.
Also, you will need to buy red wiggler worms to make this work. Earthworms from your garden do not survive well in captivity and don’t like food scraps. I was pleased with the shipment I received from Uncle Jim’s Worm farm, which sells in quantities from 100 worms to five pounds of these excellent decomposers. It can get pricey, though.
You can also buy red wigglers at bait shops or garden centers. I got my starter worms for free from a member of a gardening group on social media in my area who had a surplus, since if you treat your worms well, they multiply.
Best Compost Bins – Kitchen
EPICA Stainless Steel Compost Bin 1.3 Gallon-Includes Charcoal Filter
Although sold as a composting bin for the kitchen, it isn’t actually a composter. What this category of bins does is provide a convenient vessel for collecting food scraps until you have enough to warrant a trip out to the compost pile.
I love this particular bin. I’ve had it for three years, and it looks exactly the same as the day I took it out of the box. I personally think it’s nicer looking than all of the plastic ones on the market. I don’t mind having friends visiting and see it on my kitchen counter.
It has a replaceable charcoal filter in the top that helps with odors as well as keeping the fruit flies out. This particular model is made from a single piece of metal, so there is no bottom seam that could begin to leak over time.
Hopefully this best compost bins review has helped you select the right bin for you based on budget, climate, local critters’ determination level, and the materials you are hoping to compost. You will soon be redirecting food waste from the landfill and creating a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden.
More on composting
Do you want to create a personalized compost bin to fit your needs? Explore materials, design elements, and sizing considerations in our article “DIY Composting Bins“.
If you’ve heard that composting is complicated, then this class >> Composting: How to Turn Waste and Manure Into Black Gold << is for you. It’s simple to make and use, and it costs nothing other than your time and the tools that you use, which you probably already have on hand.