When I began researching how to compost a few months ago, I immediately became overwhelmed. All the different composting methods I read about were seemingly inaccessible to me —I couldn’t start outdoor composting since I live in a high rise, and indoor composting would take up too much space in my studio apartment. Collecting my food waste, however, seemed feasible. I bought a compost bin to gather food scraps and other materials, and found a local food waste collection site where I could empty the bin each week.
Collecting my food scraps in a compost bin has prevented them from ending up in the trash, which was my overall goal. And it has allowed me to contribute to the composting process in a very manageable, beginner-friendly way.
Composting involves the decaying of food scraps and other materials by recycling them into an organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow, experts told us. But it requires some level of skill and knowledge, space and, in some cases, a lot of time. It’s not plausible for everyone, but the beginning step of gathering food waste and other materials is. If you’re thinking about buying a compost bin, we talked to experts about the features you should think about while shopping and rounded up a handful of highly rated bins based on their guidance. Experts also walked us through their tips for using a compost bin and how to reduce overall food waste in your home.
Highly rated compost bins
To recommend the following compost bins, we selected highly rated options and ensured each comes with a lid at the recommendation of the experts we spoke to. I also included the compost bin I personally use.
OXO’s compost bin is available in two sizes: .75 gallons and 1.75 gallons. I purchased the smaller option to keep in my freezer and it checks all the boxes I was looking for. The bin’s handle makes it easy to transport and it has a removable lid I take off to empty it. OXO also says the lid has a soft-seal design that promotes oxygen flow to help prevent odors. You can purchase both sizes of this compost bin in multiple colors. The OXO Good Grips Compost Bin has a 4.6-star average rating from more than 15,600 reviews on Amazon.
Simplehuman’s Compost Caddy attaches to an included magnetic dock that hangs on the side of the brand’s rectangular or slim liner rim trash cans. You can also keep it detached on your countertop or in the freezer. The brand says its soft-seal lid allows food scraps to breathe, helping prevent odors and bugs. The caddy features a plastic inner bucket you can remove when emptying its contents or cleaning it. The 4-liter stainless steel caddy also comes with OXO’s Code Z compostable liners. The Simplehuman Compost Caddy has a 4.7-star average rating from more than 11,500 reviews on Amazon.
This dishwasher-safe compost bin is made of biodegradable bamboo fiber, according to the brand. The lid is built with a charcoal filter, which the brand says helps eliminate odor and lasts about two months before it needs to be replaced. (You can purchase replacement filters online.) The compost bin has about a 1.15-gallon capacity and is available in multiple colors. The Bamboozle Compost Bin has a 4.4-star average rating from 1,330 reviews on Amazon.
EPICA’s compost bin is constructed from stainless steel and features an air-tight lid, according to the brand. The 1-gallon bin is built with a charcoal filter, which EPICA said can last up to six months before it needs to be replaced. This bin also has a carrying handle and comes in two colors: silver and white. The EPICA Compost Bin has a 4.8-star average rating from nearly 14,700 reviews on Amazon.
Norpro’s Compost Keeper has a 1-gallon capacity and comes in multiple colors. Its lid has a filter that the brand says lasts for up to six months — you can purchase replacement filters online. The ceramic compost keeper also features a handle. The Norpro Ceramic Compost Keeper 4.5-star average rating from 2,164 reviews on Amazon.
Instead of buying a specialized compost bin, Rhonda Sherman, extension solid waste specialist at North Carolina State University, said she uses a plastic bin with a lid to store her compost and keeps it in her freezer — she sent me a picture of her bin and I found a similar option from Sterilite. The plastic bins, which come in a pack of 12, feature a snap-on lid and have a 6-quart capacity, although Sterilite sells these bins in a variety of sizes. These Sterilite Storage Boxes have a 4.6-star average rating from more than 7,100 reviews on Amazon.
What is compost?
Compost is organic matter that can be added to soil to help plants grow, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Compost is generated over time as food scraps and other materials like leaves, paper towels and sticks are mixed together and decompose. Generating compost can take weeks, months or even years, depending on the composting method, experts told us.
Composting food scraps and other materials instead of trashing them is beneficial to the environment — the EPA states that “food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away.” The agency said keeping these materials out of landfills is important because over time, they can release methane, a greenhouse gas. Whether you’re collecting food scraps and other materials to bring to a food waste collection site or composting at home, you’re participating in reducing trash.
How to shop for a compost bin
A compost bin — also sometimes referred to as a compost keeper — is a container that you use to collect food scraps and other materials, said Sherman. Once the bin is full, you can move its contents to a composter or a food waste collection site. Composters are where the actual composting takes place — compost is created inside a composter, and the final decayed product matter can be added to gardens, for example, to help plants grow.
Though compost bins are useful, they aren’t necessary. If you don’t want to purchase a bin specifically designed to hold to use for collecting compostable material, you can use bins you already have at home, said Jennifer Trent, food, beverage and organics program manager at the University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center. For example, she repurposes an ice cream bucket as a compost bin. Sherman uses a plastic shoebox.
We talked to experts about features you should think about when investing in a compost bin, as well as factors to consider that may impact your purchase.
Experts told us the most important feature to look for in a compost bin is a tightly fitting lid. This helps prevent odors that may develop in the compost bin from spreading throughout your home. Additionally, fruit flies and other bugs may be attracted to the compost bin if the lid isn’t tight enough, Trent said.
Trent said some compost bins are built with carbon or charcoal filters, which can help decrease odors. However, this feature is not essential, as there are other ways to eliminate the odors your compost bin may emit. For instance, Sherman recommended putting your compost bin in the freezer to stop the food waste from decaying while you’re collecting it. Trent also added that keeping your compost bin in the freezer helps eliminate the chance that fruit flies will be attracted to what’s inside. I keep my compost bin in the freezer and have never had issues with odors or fruit flies.
Another factor to consider is the size of your compost bin. If you live alone or don’t foresee your household producing that much waste, a smaller compost bin is efficient. But if you live with multiple people or your household produces more waste, you may want to invest in a larger bin so you don’t have to empty it as often.
Because the food waste collection site in my neighborhood is a few blocks away from my apartment, buying a compost bin that I could easily take with me when I walk or drive there was important to me. I looked for a non-bulky option that has a handle. I also considered how large it was, as well as how heavy it got when it was full.
Some brands also sell bags or liners they say are compostable, which can be convenient and helpful when it comes to portability — once your bin is filled, you can take the bag out and bring it to your food waste collection site or a composter.
Sherman said compostable bags are only truly compostable if they’re certified through the Biodegradable Plastics Institute, which tests products at permitted composting facilities. However, the composting conditions at a facility are different from what people can achieve in their yard, which means that while these bags might decompose at a composting facility, they’re not going to decompose in your backyard, Sherman explained.
What to add to a compost bin, and what to avoid
Learning about what types of food waste and other materials can go in a compost bin is what originally inspired me to purchase one. “You can collect virtually anything,” Trent said. The EPA and other organizations provide lists of what you can add to a compost bin online, and when I surveyed what I was putting in my trash can every day, I realized that over half of it could go in a compost bin instead.
There are two main types of items that you can add to your compost bin:
- Greens, also known as nitrogen-rich sources. This includes all types of food scraps, like fruit and vegetables, grains and bread, eggshells, coffee grounds and more.
- Browns, also known as carbon-rich sources. This includes uncolored newspaper, paper towels, leaves, twigs and more.
When you’re assembling a compost pile in a composter, you need to be conscious of the ratio of greens to browns you’re adding, experts told us. But if you’re simply collecting your food waste and other materials, you can add any quantity of greens and browns. In my experience, once you begin collecting your food waste, separating out what to add and what not to add to the compost bin becomes pretty thoughtless, similar to how easy it becomes to separate your recyclables after you do it for a while.
As for what not to add to your compost bin, Trent advised against putting fats, meats, oils and dairy in since “they emit an odor.” And if you or a food waste collection site moves the contents of its bin into a composter outside, raccoons and other animals will be attracted to meat items specifically.
Why trust Select?
Select writer Zoe Malin has covered numerous gardening, home and kitchen topics, from raised garden beds and gardening tools to meal prep containers and Stasher Bags. Malin collects food waste using a compost bin at home, and in addition to leaning on her own experience, she spoke to multiple food waste reduction experts. Based on their guidance and recommendations, Malin reviewed the features of highly rated compost bins from OXO, Simplehuman, Bamboozle and more, looking at features like filters and tightly fitting lids.