Composting is a way to biocycle, or recycle organic material, and nourish your garden — and compost bins are all you really need to do it, and begin to change your home’s carbon footprint for the better. In recent years, the composting movement is gaining momentum, from suburban backyards and rural areas to urban apartment blocks. There are even avenues for composting if you don’t have a roomy yard — or any particular interest in gardening. Some neighbors, friends, and families even compost-pool in community gardens, backyards, and even rooftops.
If you want to think about how you can help create a greener Earth, think about this: According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste make up around 30 percent of what people throw away. And around one-third of what lands in your trashcan — and subsequently on its way to a landfill, via a CO2-emitting garbage truck — doesn’t need to. (On the bright side, electric garbage trucks are on the way in some areas). Instead of taking up space in an already overloaded dump and potentially releasing methane into the atmosphere, a banana peel could serve a better purpose by being turned into compost.
To make the leap to composting at home, you’ll need some equipment, which you can buy (or DIY). The basics? Containers or bags for collecting scraps, leaves, and yard waste, and a composter.
What to consider when shopping for the best composter:
Composting has its own language and slang, that might be worth familiarizing yourself with. Fun fact: The word “compost” comes from an old French word roughly meaning to bring together. “Composting works when you have the proper amounts of brown and green organic material,” explains Jean Bonhotal, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute in Soil and Crop Sciences.
And so: When you compost correctly, you create a balance of “greens” and “browns” through layers. Greens are your wet materials, such as carrot peels, apple cores, and freshly cut grass. Browns are your dry materials, such as leaves, noncoated paper, chopped hay, and woodchips. On a chemical level, they provide (respectively) nitrogen and carbon.
How much space do you have?
For a thermophilic composter to work properly, it needs to be a minimum of three cubic feet, says Bonhotal. If it’s any smaller, you won’t have enough mass to generate the right amount of heat—and this type of composter needs to get hot as the name suggests. For these types of composters, you need to have a decent amount of space. Some people will even set up more than one composter.
Another type of composter, which has gained in popularity for small spaces, is a vermicomposter, or put simply, a worm farm. These soil-dwellers have never been hipper, and you can have a worm farm indoors, or outdoors in warm climates. For an apartment or small home, these can have a smaller footprint than a thermophilic composter. They have shallow beds or trays for organic material, and they don’t build heat.
What kind of material is it made of?
The lion’s share of composters on the market are made of plastic. You’ll find a few made of galvanized metal, too. That said, not all plastics are created equal. There are ones made with recycled plastic like polypropylene (PP) — one of the most common plastics used in everyday containers (and FDA-approved for food contact). The Recycling Partnership estimates a single-family household uses around 17 pounds of it per year.
The downside to polypropylene is it can take decades to decompose in a landfill. The upside is it’s durable and can withstand weather in an outdoor setting for long amounts of time. Purchasing a recycled plastic product may not be ideal, but it is providing a solution and helping keep other trash out of landfills.
From a sustainability perspective, building your own is the most budget- and earth-friendly option, depending on the materials you use, such as wood, galvanized metal, and even bricks. However, even DIY composters need to sit above the ground however, so that air can circulate within it.
Do you want to passively or actively be involved?
A stationary composter sits on the ground, usually in the corner of your backyard on soil. You can layer your browns and greens periodically until it gets full. Once it’s full, the composting process begins. These work slowly because they are passively aerated unless you actively turn the material, but you don’t have to. Moving it around will mix and reduce the particle size, speeding up the process slightly.
A tumbler composter can be raised or on the ground. Many new models have a raised stand which also makes it easier to fill a bucket or wagon. These types of composters work best for large batches of organics if you have a large family, community, or school. They typically have a handle or some other way to turn or roll, which aerates the materials. This movement speeds up the process somewhat, but all thermophilic composters take somewhere between six months to a year to make compost.
Since a tumbler composter doesn’t need to sit on soil, this could be an option for an urban setting, such as a roof.
What type of climate do you live in?
The heat inside of a composter is generated by the aerobic microorganisms metabolizing, including bacteria with help from fungi, and it can get pretty toasty. Temps inside a thermophilic composter can reach up to 130°F to 150°F. “It’s like a room full of fifth graders running around,” says Bonhotal. “They’re going to generate a lot of heat.”
However, exterior conditions and where you place your composter does play a role. In cool climates or during the winter, putting your composter in a sunny spot can help trap solar heat, and in warm places or during summer, putting a composter in the shade can prevent it from drying out.
In contrast to thermophilic composters, worm farms don’t generate heat. The range of temperature for a worm farm is 45°F to 90°F, according to Bonhotal, and worms do not like freezing temperatures.
How do you want your composter to look?
Many seasoned composters will build their own setups using simple wood pallets or wire bins. Even though homemade composters are your most budget-friendly and sustainable, they may not look as neat as a composter you purchase.
From an aesthetic perspective, many composters you buy come in earthy hues, such as green, brown, or black, to camouflage into your backyard. They’re neat because you want your composter to get hot, but you don’t want a hot mess. Indoor worm farms often look like a little piece of furniture.
What is the best composter?
A great composter doesn’t have to be one you buy. There are many relatively easy, hands-on ways to make one (in fact, we’ve included a guide to build-your-own setups) and this is often the most sustainable and budget-friendly. On the flip side, a ready-made composter can have a few added benefits, such as keeping away critters and lasting longer in shifting weather conditions. Or, it just makes the process easier if you’re new to composting or all-thumbs at assembly.
And these are our favorite picks, for all kinds of composters:
– When you have a decent-size backyard: Soil Saver Compost Bin
– When you’re willing to spend a little more: Jora Composter Tumbler
– When you have a small space: FCMP Outdoor Essential Living Composter
– When you’re into saving money (and the planet): Exaco Eco Master Compost Bin
– When you want to build it from the ground up: Wire Mesh Bin
The Best Overall Composter: Soil Saver Compost Bin.
– Popular and time-tested.
– A tried-and-true composter for newbies.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Ontario, Algreen started out three decades ago with a vision to produce locally made products using recycled and sustainable materials for all types of garden nerdery. For every planter they sell, they plant one tree through a partnership with One Tree Planted.
Along with products for building a garden, such as pots and water features, they have composters and soil amenders like the decorative, 60-gallon Solar Digester, which looks like a Grecian urn.
Their classic composter has been a go-to for more than 25 years and comes with a manufacturer’s 25-year limited warranty. The black recycled plastic is built to last and holds in essential heat inside. For easy-filling and mixing, there’s a wide opening and a latched lid and two sliding doors at the bottom for accessing compost.
You don’t need any tools to set it up and the insulated panels bolt together for durability. The Soilsaver also comes with a handy guide “A Sense of Humus” filled with tips for composting.
The Best “Forever” Tumbler Composter: Jora Composter Tumbler
– Attractive and functional.
– Easily the world’s best-looking composter.
Designed by a Swedish engineer in 1989, this compost tumbler ticks all the boxes—it’s easy to use, it reaches high temps in all weather, it prevents rodents from getting in, and it’s stylishly designed to boot. It’s an all-around, high-quality unit made for the long haul and it produces top-notch compost.
There is one catch though. You’re going to pay a little extra for this beauty compared to less attractive ones. Your grandma may have called it the Cadillac of composters—but the Tesla of composters is more like it.
Since the powder-coated, galvanized steel construction may outlast your mortgage, many would say the extra cash is well-spent if only for not having an eyesore in your yard. As a renewable material, galvanized steel provides maintenance-free longevity for decades and is 100% recyclable.
Within the chambers, the polyethylene plastic insulation is 100% recyclable and durable. The insulation allows this composter to work year-round and create the very hot temps necessary for compost to be usable.
For convenience and efficiency, the side-by-side chambers allow you to toggle between filling one and leaving one to mature before emptying and starting over again. To discourage critters from getting in, it’s off the ground and has tight fitting latches, including a padlock ring if you want to keep your “black gold” under lock and key.
They company also has a school program.
The Best Indoor Vermicomposter: FCMP Outdoor Essential Living Composter
– Space saving and easy.
– A simple worm farm setup in modern colors.
Even if you’ve never thumbed through a copy of “Worms Eat My Garbage,” vermicomposting, or worm farming, fits into the highly doable category of biocycling in a small space or apartment. The late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger applauded its author, Mary Appelhof, for showing people “how we can eat better food by growing gardens with worm power.”
Within the world of composting, vermicompost would be akin to champagne, fetching $400 to $1,300 per cubic yard. This worm-produced compost is most prized for enhancing soil biodiversity.
Getting started with indoor worm farming is pretty easy and pretty fun, especially if you have kids or were the kid who loved take-home science projects. This low-profile model comes in an array of pleasant colors, including plum, green, black, and gray, and looks like a little piece of furniture. It can blend into the background or add a cheerful pop of color, and is made with BPA-free, UV-inhibited, recycled polypropylene.
Once you lay down the organic bedding, it provides a comfy, well-ventilated WFH space for your wriggly housemates to move in and get to work. Good aeration and tasty food scraps allow worms to do their best and they can easily shimmy around and migrate between trays. There’s also a moisture control channel to prevent the bedding from drying out. Worms aren’t included, but you can easily buy red wiggler worms on the internet.
The Best Budget Composter: Exaco Eco Master Compost Bin
– A basic option for backyard composting.
– Durable and reliable.
Made in Germany by Graf, this bare-bones composter is well-built from 100% recycled, UV-resistant polypropylene and has a spacious, 80-gallon capacity.
In the U.S., Graf products are distributed by Exaco, a family-owned wholesaler based in Austin, Texas. With 80% renewable energy used in production and a focus on sustainability, the company, which started out in 1962 producing containers for wine- and fruit-growing, has been making composters and clever garden products since 1974. They’ve consistently picked up design and innovation awards, and this model offers pragmatic construction for getting the job done.
It does require some assembly, but you can put it together without any tools. The top has a latched lid to keep out curious animals and prevent fly-ups in windy conditions, and the bottom has a compost door for easy access.
When you purchase a composter of this size, one question you’ll need to ask is whether you will have enough greens and browns throughout the year to fill it. For the composting process to begin, your composter needs to be full of feedstock (another way of referring to your greens and browns). One solution is compost-pooling with neighbors, friends, or family members.
You may also need to consider ways to stockpile or source browns year-round, such as saving fall leaves to use through the cold seasons, finding out when your community cuts trees, collecting dry grass cuttings, or using non-coated paper and cardboard.
The No-Spend Option + The Easiest DIY Composter: Wire Mesh Bin
– Budget and eco-friendly.
– A hands-on, build-it-yourself option using minimal supplies.
Many avid gardeners will build their own setups because it’s sustainable, cheap, and satisfying if you have a crafty side. It also allows you to customize and build around your needs.
You can jerry-rig a composter out of wood, galvanized wire, and bricks. One of the easiest and most basic options is rolled-up, galvanized chicken wire. In a nutshell, using a 12.5-foot length of 3-foot-wide chicken wire, you’re going to assemble a 3-foot-wide tube, affix it using heavy wire, and stabilized it with 4-foot wood or metal posts. To pull off this weekend project, you’ll need some work gloves, pliers, heavy-duty wire snippers, and a hammer.
Once the compost gets going, the bottom of the pile will produce compost first and one way to harvest the ready compost is tipping up one side and scooping it out.
Between completely building your own and buying a ready-made one, there are also modular wood options. The Greenes Fence cedar wood composter is made from chemical-free cedar and you can add on and customize. However, it’s a fairly pricey DIY option, costing around $160 for the base one and then $120 for add-ons.
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If you enjoy gardening, composting can be a satisfying task for feeling a sense of accomplishment and giving your green thumbs a break from your screen. You could compare it to the joy a baker feels making their own sourdough and, in a sense, you’re cooking up plant food. Compost isn’t exactly fertilizer, but rather a valuable soil conditioner improving the overall quality and growing potential. It may not be Brawndo, but it’s what plants crave.
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