The 5 Best Compost Bins for Food Scraps, According to Pros – Food & Wine

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Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission. Best OverallNatural Home Stainless Steel Compost Bin Best for BeginnersOxo Good Grips Easy-Clean Compost Bin Best Indoor Composting SystemAll Seasons Indoor Composter Starter Kit Best Outdoor Compost BinJora JK400 Composter Best ValueGeobin Composting System "Cooking can sometimes feel like a wasteful process, so composting is a great way to recycle food scraps generated in the kitchen and turn them into a rich soil amendment for both in-the-ground and potted plants," says Teddy Tedesco, Project Manager for the NYC Compost Project.  A good bin creates the ideal environment for your paper, food, and yard scraps to break down into nutritious plant food by controlling for moisture and temperature, allowing beneficial microbes to do their work while keeping larger critters and smells away. We researched the top options on the market with an eye for capacity as well as convenience for people with small houses or apartment gardens (or even just a few planters on a terrace!). To help you choose the right system, our list of the best compost bins is broken down by the different kinds of composting you might do, including countertop collection buckets like our first choice, the Natural Home Stainless Steel Compost Bin, outdoor systems, and more.  Our Top Picks Best Overall: Natural Home Stainless Steel Compost Bin View at Target ($30) Also available at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond. Pros: Sleek stainless steel design complements kitchen decor, the lid prevents fruit flies, and a charcoal filter keeps odors at bay. Cons: Small bins can fill up quickly in higher-volume kitchens, and charcoal filters occasionally need to be replaced. This bin does not produce compost itself but instead is an attractive and functional way to collect scraps until they're ready to go into the outdoor bin or municipal compost pickup. It made the top of the list because it's an easy, mess-free solution for a range of composting needs, and its small size and affordable price tag fit most kitchens and budgets—even if you'll need to purchase replacement charcoal filters.  The stainless steel is easy to clean and durable, making this bin a great choice for anyone worried about their countertop bin cracking or breaking with use. Made of recycled steel, this bin is an eco-friendly choice in more ways than one. There are many countertop compost bins with carbon filters on the market, in a range of styles and sizes, including the highly rated Epica compost bin and Chef'n's ceramic and plastic models. We chose this one in part because of its sleek profile and its availability from multiple retailers.  Capacity: 1.3 gallons Dimensions: 8 x 11.5 x 7.25 inches Material: Stainless steel Best for Beginners: Oxo Good Grips Easy-Clean Compost Bin View at Oxo ($33) Also available at Amazon. Pros: Easy to clean, durable, and affordable. Cons: Made of plastic, which is less eco-friendly than other options. If you're just getting started with composting, an affordable and easy-to-clean countertop bucket gives you a place to put your food scraps without breaking the bank. This Oxo model is highly rated by consumers, who note that it's easy to clean, and its small profile fits comfortably even in tiny apartment kitchens.  Like the Natural Home stainless steel bin, this bin is great for collecting and storing your kitchen scraps until you're ready to move them outside or to a municipal compost site. The hinged lid stays firmly in place to help reduce odors and insects. The manufacturer encourages you to use compostable liners, but the bin can easily be used without. If you do use it with liners, make sure your compost pickup service accepts them.  Capacity: 1.75 gallons Dimensions: 7.75 x 7.3 x 7.6 inches Material: Plastic Best Indoor Composting system: All Seasons Indoor Composter Starter Kit View at Amazon ($71) Also available at SCD Probiotics. Pros: It's compact in size and quickly and easily ferments scraps into compost. Cons: Requires you to purchase or make inoculated bran. For those looking for a complete indoor composting system, rather than a countertop compost bin, Bokashi systems are a fantastic choice. While these systems are not as attractive as countertop bins, they can be stored under the sink and out of sight and can save you the cost associated with a compost pickup service. They are also a fantastic choice for those who want to compost but do not have space for an outdoor bin.  Unlike most compost systems that need air to break scraps down, Bokashi systems are anaerobic, meaning they don't require oxygen; instead, they rely on microbes to ferment your scraps into usable compost. "One of the benefits of this system is you can compost material not recommended for aerobic systems, like fish, meat, and cheese," says Edna Lora, founder of Pasture Builders, Inc. in Atlanta. "The inoculated bran is a necessary component, so you have to make your own or buy it."  This Bokashi composter made our list because its small size can fit in a compact kitchen space, it breaks down compost easily, and it includes a strainer and spigot to control moisture and prevent odors and flies. It comes in tan (made from BPA-free plastic) and in black (made from 75% recycled plastic). The starter kit comes with a batch of inoculated bran, so you can start fermenting right away. Capacity: 5 gallons Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 18 inches Material: Plastic Best Outdoor Compost Bin: Jora JK400 Composter View at Amazon ($949) Also available at EarthEasy. Pros: It's durable and easy to turn, and the multiple chambers allow you to cure compost in one side and add scraps to the other. Cons: High upfront cost, and it requires assembly. If you have the outdoor space for a compost bin and want to keep adding to it continuously, a compost tumbler is a great option. These move organic material around the compost bin, giving it the oxygen it needs to decompose. I replaced my own standing bin with compost tumblers and love the convenience of being able to quickly turn the compost without mess.  Since compost tumblers are enclosed, they also reduce the risk of attracting rodents. When picking a tumbler, be sure to look at the distance of the assembled tumbler from the ground. You want it to have enough clearance to easily fit a wheelbarrow underneath when it's time to empty your tumbler.  "Easy access for a turning tool is key as the compost pile needs to be regularly stirred up," Tedesco notes. With a freestanding compost bin, the material is turned with a pitchfork or shovel. Tumblers are supposed to stir up your compost with a simple turn of the chamber, but many can be hard to turn when full. One thing we love about this tumbler is the included hand crank, which makes it easier to turn even when full and to hold the chamber in place when removing finished compost.  We looked at a similar model from Mantis, as well as plastic tumblers, but the ease of use, high consumer reviews, and durable materials ultimately made the Jora tumbler our top pick. One final note when choosing a tumbler: Capacity is important. Lora warns that most smaller systems "don't have the necessary volume for efficient composting," so if you plan to purchase a tumbler, steer clear from small-volume models.  Capacity: 14 cubic feet Dimensions: 55 x 32 x 53 inches Materials: Powder-coated steel Best Value: Geobin Composting System View at Home Depot ($42)  Also available at Amazon. Pros: Affordable with an expandable and adjustable diameter and good ventilation. Cons: Open-topped model may attract rodents, and it's less durable than tumblers . If you want to give outdoor composting a try without breaking the bank, a Geobin is a fantastic option. The lightweight bin is much simpler to move than its heavier counterparts, and assembly takes minutes rather than hours. "This bin is easy to put together and take apart to move," Lora says. "It creates sufficient volume to compost effectively, and it is inexpensive."  I use a Geobin in addition to my compost tumblers, particularly for used chicken bedding and yard waste. Its wide, open top makes it easy to pour a bag or bucket of waste into the bin with little fuss, though if you are primarily composting kitchen scraps, that design may also attract rodents. You can lessen the likelihood of this by properly managing your compost with the right proportion of "greens" (nitrogen- or protein-rich scraps) and "browns" (carbon- or carbohydrate-rich materials), and with regular turning using a shovel or pitchfork. You can also take Tedesco's advice and place your bin on a slab or another sturdy surface that critters can't burrow underneath. Two great features we love are its good ventilation, the key for helping compost to break down, and the ability to expand the bin to multiple sizes. This makes it a great choice for smaller and larger households and can help you get a sense of the capacity your own needs if you ever purchase a tumbler or other more expensive option. Capacity: 256 gallons Dimensions: 36 x 48 x 48 inches Materials: Plastic Conclusion The best compost bin depends on your needs and what will be easiest to incorporate into your home. For apartments and small kitchens, the Natural Home Stainless Steel Compost Bin works great, while those with an outdoor garden might want something like a Jora JK400 Composter or a Geobin.  Factors to Consider Type What you need from your compost bin ultimately determines which bin is right for you. "Before you shop for a compost bin, you have to figure out what you want to accomplish," Lora explains. "The amount of time you want to spend, the amount of space you have, and your inclination will determine the most appropriate system for your situation. Apartment dwellers may do best with a compost pickup service, or donating scraps to a local community garden or another organization that practices composting."  If you use a compost pickup program like Compost Now in Atlanta, all you might need is a countertop pail to collect scraps until you take them down to your collection bin.  Local Laws Make sure to take a look at the current composting regulations (like these in California) before you get started. If you're composting at home, a compost pail alongside a convenient outdoor or all-in-one system can make composting a breeze.   If you're using a compost pickup service, make sure the bin you choose helps you follow your municipality's guidelines. Some countertop bins also use biodegradable liners for storage and disposal, so if you are using a pickup service, check that they accept these liners before buying your bin.  Capacity Make sure to select a bin with enough capacity to hold the scraps you produce. If you're composting yard waste along with food scraps in an outdoor bin, you'll need more space. If you're just sending food scraps to a compost pickup service, a small bin might be all you need.  Make sure your countertop pail is large enough to hold scraps without frequent trips outside, and that outdoor compost bins and Bokashi systems are large enough to accommodate all your scraps and yard waste. A good rule of thumb is to get a bin that's twice the size of your compost pile, but I always encourage people to go larger if they can, so they don't have to worry about overfilled compost later.  Ease of Use Compost systems don't have to be complicated to be effective: A simple system helps you reduce waste almost effortlessly. In addition to thinking about what type of bin you need, think about how easy that bin will be to use long-term.  If you're using an outdoor compost bin or an indoor composting system like Bokashi, think about where it will be and how you plan to use it. If it's right outside the door, you might not need to collect scraps in a countertop bin before bringing them outside to compost. But if it's across the yard, a countertop bin might make things more convenient. Additionally, will your indoor bin require filter replacements or regular cleaning? Will you be moving your outdoor bin around the garden and, if so, how easy will it be to do that? Is your bin easy to empty? Thinking now about how you might use your bin in the future will help you make the right choice. The Research To find the best bins, we used our own composting experience and input from gardening and compost experts, along with scouring customer reviews and product specifications. We focused our research on what would be accessible and convenient: After all, you're more likely to use your compost bin if it's low effort. What Didn't Make the List IM4000 Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter View at Amazon ($81)Though it has a lower price tag than the Jora and is highly reviewed by some experts, this tumbler ultimately didn't make our list because it's more difficult to use than some tumblers. In my experience with this tumbler, it is hard to turn when full, slightly too short to fit a wheelbarrow underneath, and tricky to scoop out with a shovel. However, if you are new to tumblers and want a budget model that won't be filled to capacity, this tumbler may work for you.  Nature's Footprint Worm Factory 360 View at Amazon ($132)Worm compost systems require little space and are a lot of fun to watch, but ultimately didn't make the list because they require regular checking and careful attention to what and how often you feed your worms. Tedesco says a worm bin "really should be thought of as a pet. They are quite easy to care for, but many people take a set-and-forget approach and that's when things can really go south. Stay attentive to keep your worms happy, and they can make good compost for you all year. There are also automated indoor bins that don't require much labor but are quite expensive, and you may need to buy ingredients regularly." Greene's Cedar Wood Composter View at The Home Depot (From $169.98) Freestanding bins can be simple to assemble, but our experts didn't recommend them as highly as tumblers. "Many of these bins are not big enough for effective composting," Lora tells us. The compost in freestanding bins is harder to turn than in a tumbler, so no freestanding bins ultimately made our list. However, we love the aesthetics, durability, and earth-friendlier materials of wooden bins over plastic bins. If you decide to go with a wooden bin (and have some elbow grease to keep it turned), make sure to choose one made of durable, pest-resistant wood.  This Greene's Cedar Wood Composter is easier to use than plastic bins like the Enviro World, which Lora notes have small doors to remove the compost that are quite difficult to use. We preferred this cedar model over the plastic models in part because it's roomy enough at the top to support easy turning and compost removal. Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler FC-50 View at Amazon ($324.95) This compost system claims to turn food scraps into plant food in just a few hours, and consumer reviews confirm that it does break down scraps quickly. It didn't make the list because of the additional cost and hassle of ordering replacement filters, as well as the fact that it is not actually a composter.  "Technically these systems do not create finished compost," Lora explains. "They produce dried organic material that would need further processing before being used as a soil amendment." Pro Panel Q+A Q: How do you start composting?  A: It's simple to make compost if you follow a few easy steps. "To create compost, layer green material (nitrogen) and brown material (carbon) and add water," Lora says. "Some examples of carbon are shredded paper and cardboard, kitchen and toilet paper roll tubes, wheat or oat straw, dead garden waste, sawdust, wood shavings, and dry leaves. Some examples of green material are fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filter paper, teabags, feathers, eggshells, plant and grass clippings, chickweed, and other non-noxious weeds. Avoid adding weeds that have gone to seed unless you actively manage a pile and turn by temperature." Tedesco urges beginners to start with a small amount of yard waste to get familiar with composting before diving in fully. Q: What can and can't go in a compost bin?  A: "Always avoid meat, dairy, grains, and greasy foods, as they are the most attractive to pests and take a lot longer to fully break down," Tedesco says. "Start small and conservatively—roughly cut up an equal mix of fresh and dried garden waste, keep it moistened to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge, and stir it up a few times a week, and you will find that it will start becoming beautiful compost. Once you have a decent feel for the process, start adding some food waste. Food waste tends to be a lot wetter than garden waste, so always make sure to mix it with at least an equal volume of dried material like fallen leaves or wood chips." Q: How can you keep a compost bin from smelling? A: "If a compost pile smells bad, it indicates too much green material in the bin," Lora explains. "Just add more carbon material or browns and mix well." Tedesco encourages people to keep compost piles on the drier side: "Yes, the process may slow down a bit, but you can always add a little water if needed to get it to that 'wrung-out sponge' consistency. Because food waste contains a lot of water, you tend to wind up with a compost pile that is too wet and starts to smell like a landfill. Aside from a strong whiff or two when you're stirring things up, a well-maintained compost pile should not have a strong foul odor." Q: How do you prevent your compost from attracting pests? A: A secure, critter-proof outdoor bin is your best bet for warding off rodents. While you need air holes for oxygen, Tedesco warns that these need to be 1 inch wide or smaller to keep rodents out. Also check if your bin has a closed bottom: "If not, you may need to set [it] on a foundation to prevent burrowing of critters underneath."  While a well-maintained compost pile shouldn't attract rodents, Tedesco notes that bins, like any garden equipment, can become an attractive shelter. To prevent this, keep your bin at least a foot away from walls and fences, and make sure it's on a hard foundation (concrete or gravel work great).  Inside the house, fruit flies love to congregate in countertop bins: The best way to avoid them is to choose a bin with a tightly fitting lid, and to keep the lid securely in place when you aren't actively filling or emptying your bin. This also helps prevent lingering odors from infiltrating your kitchen, as does regularly cleaning your countertop bin.  Our Expertise Julia Skinner, PhD, is a writer and an avid gardener, who educates the public on food waste reduction and fermentation through her business, Root. She is passionate about native plants and about enhancing soil health using organic methods. She interviewed two experts for this piece. Edna Lora is a long-time organic grower, homesteader, and amateur soil scientist in the Atlanta area. She founded Pasture Builders, a Georgia-based organic gardening and farming company. Teddy Tedesco is the Project Manager for the NYC Compost Project, hosted by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and holds a Certificate of Horticulture from Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
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