How to Compost With and Without a Bin (Ultimate Guide)

Composting is one of the best ways to break down organic matter in a green and sustainable way. Food and organic matter lack the aeration required to break down entirely in landfills, leading to harmful greenhouse gasses. In contrast, compost recycles kitchen and yard waste and converts it to ‘black gold’ that improves overall soil quality and works well as a fertilizer. 

Here’s how to compost with and without a bin:

  1. Choose the ideal composting unit for you.
  2. Find a location for your compost.
  3. Gather your materials.
  4. Put your compost together.
  5. Tend to your compost.

Composting looks intimidating when in actuality, it is pretty simple. In this article, I’ll explain how to compost with and without a bin in detail so that you can manage your composting easily and harvest the perfect homemade soil conditioner. I’ll also detail how you can use your compost once you’ve gathered it.

1. Choose the Ideal Composting Unit for You

The first thing to do when you begin composting is to set up a composting unit. 

This unit should fit in the available space, whether you have an acre of lawn or a few feet of counter room. You will also need to consider the amount and proportion of kitchen and yard waste you have for composting and how long you can afford to wait for the compost to be ready. 

Also, believe it or not, you can compost with and without a bin! So, this unit can be practically anything you want it to be. 

Find the Right Unit

Composting bins are convenient if you don’t have a lot of space in or around your house. They ensure that the composting materials are contained and maintain the heat required for organic breakdown even with smaller quantities of organic material. Moreover, you can purchase a bin or build your own. 

If you have a lot of space and yard waste, you can consider a composting unit with no container. Compost piles are a great way of composting if you have a large volume of organic waste, particularly leaves or clippings from your yard and trees. 

Using Multiple Units

A great way of managing compost is to set up multiple composting units.

Whether using bins or compost piles, multiple units allow you to manage your waste effectively. When one container is full, or if the pile is sufficiently large, you can set that aside to break down into compost. While the first unit is processing, you can add your food scraps and yard waste to the second unit. 

Spreading your compostables among a couple of units will ensure that you’re never in a position where you have organic waste that needs to be sent to the landfill because your composting unit is too full. 

Multiple units are also helpful in improving aeration in your compost units. You can move your compost between the piles or containers, which improves the overall airflow in the compost. 

Multiple units also allow you to use compost faster. 

Since the lower layers of compost are the first to break down, you can shift the uncomposted organic waste on top to a different bin to continue composting. Then you can access and use the ready compost at the bottom of the unit. 

Ideally, you should keep three composting units. It’ll allow you to move freshly broken-down compost into a new container for use. The existing container full of organic waste can continue decomposing, and you can start adding your waste to a new container. 

Composting With a Bin

Using a bin keeps everything neat and contained, and it’s also helpful in building up the heat needed for decomposition when you don’t have much material to break down. Among containers, there are many different composting units to choose from. 

An easy-to-use compost bin is placed directly on the ground, allowing worms and other organisms to assist with the composting process. An on-the-ground composter makes filling and mixing the compost easy, so these open bins are the most popular option. 

Some on-the-ground composters have an easy-to-open bottom, so you can take out the composted lower layers and let the top layers decompose in their own time. While composting on the ground has distinct advantages for the process and usage, compost doesn’t need to touch the ground to work.

Another common type of bin composter is the rotating bin. These bins have elevated stands, and you can rotate them with a handle. Turning the containers does the mixing work, allowing you to keep the container closed while creating a more homogenous compost. 

One composting unit with multiple built-in bins is the continuous feed unit, which composts even as you add new organic waste. These could be electric or manual units, and some of these units are small enough for indoor use. 

Creating Your Own Bin: Materials, Considerations, and Safety Precautions

If the bins available in the market don’t suit your needs, you can make your own. Decide on a suitable size depending on your requirements and how many units you plan to set up. Having at least two bins makes it easier to manage your organic waste consistently. 

When it comes to materials, it’s essential to choose something sturdy enough to withstand the process of decomposition, where several gases are released. Even commercially available composting bins struggle to hold up against the process if they’re cheap plastic. 

The organic waste will expand as it decomposes, so using malleable but sturdy materials will ensure that the bin grows with the compost. In addition, choosing something heavy will ensure that you won’t have to worry about your compost bin blowing over

Plastic-coated wire mesh (at least 16 gauge), hardware cloth, bricks, wooden pallets, snow fencing, or wood are excellent options for making your bin.

When using wood, it is essential to remember that it is an organic material and will decompose. So, you’ll need to repair and replace wooden bins frequently. 

It is equally important to ensure that the wood doesn’t have any preservatives. Wood treatments that make the material “weatherproof” and other chemicals will poison your compost. 

Chemically treated wood will leach into your compost over time. The chemicals will reach your plants, fruits, vegetables, and eventually your body from the compost, which can be very dangerous. A typical chemical that leaches from treated wood is arsenic, which is highly poisonous.

So, always go with unfinished, all-natural wood


Vermicomposting involves using worms to create organic compost material. You use vermicomposting in deep beds, trays, or a worm bin. 

Vermicompost or worm castings improve soil quality in several ways, from providing nutrition to improving the aeration of the soil. It is made when worms break down organic matter in a compost bin. 

A high-quality worm bin should have a tight-fitting lid and dark color to prevent light from entering the container. That creates the ideal living conditions for the earthworms. Apart from the light, you must maintain the right temperature, pH, moisture, and aeration to keep the worms healthy.

The worms used in vermicomposting are typically the red wigglers, whose scientific name is Eisenia fetida

The ideal conditions for these worms include cozy temperatures around 70 °F (21.11 °C), with a 7.0 pH and moisture levels that hover around 80%. The tightly closed bin will encourage warmth and moisture, but you will still have to be careful to maintain the ideal pH and temperature conditions. 

An important thing to remember before deciding on vermicomposting is that not all organic material is suitable for worms. So, you should consider what organic material you have available for composting before deciding on the type of composting unit you want to use. 


Bokashi is a Japanese composting method that uses a bin and works much faster than traditional composting methods. The process uses fermentation instead of decomposition, so the compost is ready in five weeks.

While bokashi can be expensive because it needs bran, a filtering tray, and a bin, it is far easier to use and maintain than other composting methods. Bokashi is also the easiest way to compost if you live in an apartment or don’t have much outdoor space since the bins can fit on your countertop. 

You can purchase a bokashi kit or make your box with a filter. The bin needs to be filled with organic waste and bran, then closed. Then, allow the material to ferment for two weeks, after which you can bury it under the soil for further decomposition. 

Any liquids from the waste will collect in the filtration tray, which you can use as liquid fertilizer

Bokashi compost is convenient because you can use it with other composition units and methods. For instance, if you already have a vermicomposting system, you can use your fermented compost to feed your worms. In about five weeks, the worms will break the bokashi compost down to rich soil that you can use as potting soil or in your garden. 

If you’re wondering whether bokashi or vermicomposting is for you, this article is for you: Bokashi vs Vermicomposting: Differences Explained

Why Aeration and Moisture Control Are Important

A compost bin needs air holes to stay warm enough for decomposition. Aeration also prevents anaerobic decomposition and keeps the moisture at optimum levels. 

Heat is necessary to help organic waste break down. The decomposition process generates heat, and a functional composting unit will generate about 104 to 140 °F (40 to 60 °C) in a few days. As the waste heats up, it decomposes even faster and destroys disease-causing pathogens. 

The microorganisms that break down the organic waste in a composting unit generate this heat. These organisms are aerobic, which means they need oxygen to stay alive. So, aeration is essential for aerobic decomposition.

Maintaining moisture levels in the compositing unit is also essential to ensure that everything decomposes evenly without liquefying or rotting.

Air holes in your composting unit ensure airflow. In addition, vermicomposting bins also need air holes for the earthworms to survive. 

Does the Bin Need a Bottom: Placement and Construction Considerations

A compost bin does not need a bottom when placed directly on the ground. A container without a bottom allows earthworms and other organisms to enter and speed up the composting process.

If you’re building your bin, you can simply use three or four wooden pallets to create a containment area for your organic waste directly on top of the soil in your garden. 

Ensure that you can still access the bottom layers of your compost in some way – like an opening at the bottom and a side panel. Such an opening will allow you to access and use the composted layers of organic matter at the bottom of the unit while the remaining materials continue composting. 

However, if you’re using your compost bin indoors, your container must have a bottom to ensure that the compost doesn’t leak everywhere. Compositing will involve liquid leakage from the organic matter as well, and while this liquid is fantastic for plants, it is not great for concrete or other floorings, and it can smell quite foul.

How Can I Compost Without a Bin?

You can compost without a bin by simply building a compost pile in your yard in a convenient location or keeping it in a trench. Composting without a container is ideal for yard waste and large quantities of organic waste comprising dried leaves and yard clippings. 

A compost pile will need to reach about one cubic yard (0.76 cubic meters) in size to ensure that it can retain heat and become self-insulating. When it attains this size, the organic material generates enough heat to break down. The larger your compost pile, the faster your organic waste breaks down into the soil. 

If you choose to use in-ground composting, you will need to dig a hole. Then, fill the trench with organic materials and waste, and cover the organic materials with the soil you dug up.

The composting area should be left undisturbed for several months while the organic matter breaks down. Then, you can turn the dirt and compost over and plant it directly in the area. 

In-ground composting is convenient as it enriches the soil directly, so you don’t need to add your finished compost to the ground later. The soil becomes enriched, and you can use it as soon as all the organic waste has broken down. 

Composting without a bin is convenient, as it requires less work and maintenance than composting with a container. One such advantage of composting without a bin is that it doesn’t need additional work for aeration since it is an outdoor pile. 

In-ground composting also bypasses all the maintenance work that other composting units need. However, since this method is used primarily for yard waste, like leaves, twigs, and sticks, it takes more time to allow these materials to decompose. 

This process is only possible if you have a large pile or in-ground composting space. So, it is generally more practical to compost with a bin for people who have limited access to outdoor areas or a small quantity of organic waste. 

2. Find a Location for Your Compost

Once you’ve decided on the composting unit you’re going to use, you have to figure out where you will place it. The most straightforward answer is to put it where it is convenient to fill, maintain, and use.

A few things you can consider when placing your bins are how warm it gets, the space you need, and how much distance you can keep between your main living areas and your composting. 

Should Compost Pile Be in Sun or Shade?

Your compost pile should be in a relatively shaded spot that receives a few hours of sunlight. Shade is essential to keep the pile or bin moist and cool since it will generate enough heat on its own to decompose your organic materials. 

You should never place a vermicomposting unit in sunlight since the worms are sensitive to light and heat. Regular composting piles and bokashi may benefit from a few hours of daylight, especially if you live in an area with cooler climates. 

Overall, the convenience of shaded spots for filling and maintenance far outweighs any additional heat from the sun. 

Ensure That You Have Enough Space for Your Compost Unit

The amount of space you need for composting depends on how much organic waste you have to compost. 

Typically, using composting bins uses up less space than a composting pile. The smallest reasonable size of a composting bin is around 3 by 3 feet (0.9 by 0.9 meters) and also 3 feet (0.9 m) in height.

Composting bins use less space than composting piles, as the compost can be stacked much higher without spreading out horizontally. 

On the other hand, composting without a bin by piling up your organic waste or filling it into the ground needs more space. As I mentioned earlier, a composting pile needs to reach about one cubic yard in volume to become self-insulating enough to decompose effectively. 

Composting without a bin is most effective for people with a lot of space and organic waste, including kitchen or food scraps and yard waste. 

Keep Your Compost a Short Distance From Living Areas

Your composting unit should be far from living spaces like your bedrooms and living rooms but accessible from your kitchen. 

Composting units can attract animals like bears, snakes, fruit flies, and white worms if something goes awry in maintenance. 

To prevent animals and other organisms from entering your house, you should keep your composting units away from your walls. A balcony or utility space will be ideal for your composting unit if you live in an apartment. 

However, the unit shouldn’t be so far away that filling and maintaining the compost becomes difficult, especially in bad weather. 

Cover the Compost

While covering the compost is not necessary, it does help retain heat inside the composting unit. This additional heat speeds up the process of aerobic decomposition, so you’ll get usable compost much faster. 

If you’re composting with a bin, using a cover is more efficient as it helps process the organic waste faster and prevents your pets or other animals from getting inside. Most commercially available composting bins have lids. 

The process of composting, when done correctly, does not release any odors. However, it is best to prepare for eventualities where things go wrong or the weather conditions change. 

When composting without a bin, a compost pile effectively becomes its cover. The dried leaves on top form the “lid” for the decomposing organic waste inside the mound.

In addition, when you’re compositing in the ground, you will pile the soil you’ve dug up over the organic material, forming the cover for the compost in the hole. 

Using a Plastic Cover for Compost

You don’t need to cover the compost with plastic, but you can. You can use reusable or compostable plastic for composting. If your composting unit is made of plastic and has a plastic cover, you can use that. Otherwise, you should avoid thin plastic, as it will release toxins into your compost.

Plastic is a common material for commercially available composting units, and you can use it to make compost as long as it is good quality and reusable. You should keep single-use plastic out of composting units to prevent any leaching of toxins. 

3. Gather Your Materials

Once you’ve got your composting unit set up, you need to start collecting all the different kinds of organic waste to fill your composting unit.

So, let’s take a look at all of the various materials you will need to make a balanced compost system:

Greens, Browns, and Moisture

Composting feedstock is the term used for all the organic material you can place in your composting unit. This feedstock comprises greens and browns. 

The greens supply nitrogen and moisture, while the browns provide aeration and more substance to your compost.

Greens include food scraps, grass, fresh manure from livestock, and garden waste like weeds. Although greens supply moisture, you still need to water your compost to keep things damp. 

Browns refer to dried brown leaves, straw, paper and cardboard, sawdust, and woodchips. These bulkier, more fibrous ingredients will bulk up your compost, adding some well-needed aeration and plenty of room for decomposers like worms to work their way in. 

Balancing the greens, browns, and humidity in the unit ensures a mess-free and smell-free process that results in good compost. A good ratio is 3:1 browns to greens for healthy compost.

Separation and Collection 

Along with your composting unit, setting up a collection unit or multiple units in the spaces where you generate organic waste is helpful. So, you might need a collection bin in your kitchen and another in your yard if you have a lot of space and use a composting bin. 

Even if you’re composting without a bin, having a collection bin in the kitchen is handy because you can collect all your food scraps for a few days and then bury them all together in your compost pile. 

Compostable Food Scraps

Food scraps are the most common addition to compost for households. The food scraps you can compost include peels, rinds, and cores of fruits and vegetables. You can also toss in some whole vegetables, including their shells and skins. 

In addition to vegetables and fruits, you can add coffee grounds, tea leaves, and any paper filters you might use for these beverages. Remove all staples and stickers if you’re putting tea bags into the compost

You can also add eggshells to your composting unit. 

What Vegetables Should Not Be Composted?

While most vegetables can be added to the compost as part of the greens in the feedstock, some vegetables can cause more harm than good in your composting unit. 

You should not compost acidic vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, lemons, and other citrus fruits. In addition, vegetables with preservatives, such as salt or pickled plants, cannot go into your compost. 

Compostable Yard Waste

Most yard waste is easily compostable. Grass clippings supply the greens to your composting units, while dried leaves, twigs, and sticks provide the browns. 

Any garden cleanout, like freshly pulled weeds, prunings, and clippings, can be added to your composting unit. 

While you may not be able to compost large logs and branches in your home composting units, large industrial composters can break them down even if it’s an in-ground composting unit. 

Checking with your local municipality will help you identify how you can get more considerable yard waste to an industrial composter. 

Do I Need to Add Dirt to My Compost?

You do not need to add dirt or soil to your compost. Adding soil to your compost can prevent aeration and cause anaerobic decomposition, which causes the organic waste to rot and smell bad. However, soil can cover compost and provide additional microbes to start decomposition. 

Materials to Avoid in Your Composter

When you’re composting at home, there are several organic wastes that you should avoid adding to your composting unit. 

Here is a list of some organic wastes that you should never put in your composting unit:

  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, or butter
  • Meat products, including meat scraps and bone
  • Lard, mayonnaise, oils, and other fats
  • Salad dressing 
  • Lime, perlite, volcanic ash, and other soil amendments
  • Pet waste, including those of your pet dogs and cats
  • Whole eggs
  • Diseased plants
  • Chemically treated plants 

While organic wastes like fats, dairy, and meat products do break down over time, they need a lot of time to decompose and will attract animals to your composting bin as they break down. Meat and dairy also release foul odors as they break down. 

Diseased and chemically treated plants will leach toxins into your compost, and pet waste will release pathogens. Since you intend to use the compost, you do not want to introduce toxins into your plants through tainted compost. 

4. Put Your Compost Together

After you’ve collected all your organic waste, it’s time to put your compost together in your composting unit. Whether you’re using a bin or not, it is important to follow two basic rules: shredding and layering. 


If your organic material is in smaller pieces, it is easier for the microorganisms to break it down and produce compost. So, shredding your organic waste helps you get compost slightly faster, especially for larger vegetables and rinds. You should always cut or rip large objects into smaller pieces before adding them to your compost. 

You should also break up yard waste before adding it to your composting unit. Dried leaves are acceptable, but you should rip and snap up twigs and sticks to speed up how long they take to compost. 

Be sure to shake out your grass clippings when you add them, so they don’t clump up in your composter.  


Layering your compost is crucial to avoid foul odors as the organic waste breaks down. You should layer greens and browns in your composting unit like lasagna to ensure that the food is completely covered as it breaks down. Layering your compost is essential when you’re composting with a bin. 

Even when composting without a bin, it is crucial to ensure that the greens are always covered by or buried under a thick layer of browns like dried leaves to keep odors in and animals out. 

Covering the greens with the browns also ensures that the green components don’t clump, which could slow down the process of decomposition. 

The first layer in your composting unit should be a layer of browns. Then, you can layer your greens till it is about a few inches (5+ cm) thick in your composter, followed by a generous layer of browns that is thick enough to cover the food completely. 

Remember to maintain the 3:1 ratio in the thickness of the layers to ensure enough brown to aerate and give structure to your compost as it breaks down.

5. Tend to Your Compost

Once your composting unit is full, you can leave it to compost over a few months to a year, depending on how large your pile is and what it comprises. 

If you’re composting in-ground or in an outdoor pile, you can leave it over the winter or for a year till the organic waste combines with the soil. 

If you’re using a composting bin, it’s good to tend to your compost. Passive composting works well, but it takes more time. You might also miss any problems that may crop up in your compost. 

The main things to do as you tend your compost are to ensure that it has enough moisture, turn it over for aeration, and troubleshoot any problems you notice. 

Ensure Your Compost Is Moist

Moisture is essential for compost, as, without it, the organic waste will take a long time to break down. The ideal moisture content for compost by weight is 40-60%. The microorganisms involved in breaking the organic matter down need moisture to function. 

Most compost feedstock already has a source of water from the greens. However, if you’re living in very hot or dry climates, you might need to water your compost occasionally to ensure enough moisture for the microorganisms to work. 

Turn the Compost

Regular mixing or turning of compost helps accelerate the process of decomposition by aerating the compost. Aeration increases the oxygen levels in your composting unit, making it easier for the microorganisms to generate heat, which accelerates deterioration

Turning compost is helpful whether you’re composting with or without a bin. To turn or mix the compost, remove the top layer of browns and mix it with a pitchfork.

Otherwise, if you have a rotating composter, give it a whirl. Add a fresh layer of browns to the top and continue layering. 

Not turning or aerating your compost can cause rotting and foul smells. In addition, the materials might become compact, reducing the decomposition speed.  

How Often Should Compost Be Turned?

Compost should be turned depending on the size of the pile.

Here are some guidelines you can refer to:

  • Larger in-ground compost or compost piles: Once or twice a year
  • Smaller compost piles: Every two to three months
  • Compost bins: Every two to four weeks
  • Indoor containers: Every two weeks

Check for Common Problems

Keep an eye on your composting unit for any common problems that might crop up, like white powder in your compost pile, bad smells, a lack of heat and decomposition, and overall sogginess. 

All of these will halt the decomposition process or lead to anaerobic decomposition, or attract the attention of animals and other organisms. 

Bad Smells

Bad smells are one of the most common problems associated with composting. Compost is sweet-smelling, so if you set everything up nicely and your composting unit’s conditions are ideal, the compost produced should smell fine. 

If you’re smelling the compost as it decomposes, it could be because of a lack of air, resulting in anaerobic decomposition. Another reason why your compost might smell bad is that the greens are not covered sufficiently. Breathing in these odors can cause people to get sick. 

For both these conditions, it is helpful to turn the compost to mix it up, then add a fresh, thick layer of browns on top of the compost. This rotation and relayering should improve the overall aeration of your compost and seal away the odors as the organic matter decomposes. 

Not Breaking Down

If you’ve balanced your greens and browns in the feedstock and it is still not breaking down, you might have insufficient moisture

Moisture enables the breakdown of organic materials by microorganisms. If you find that your greens and browns are not decomposing, water your compost till it’s wet, mix it well, and cover it up. Check on it after about a week to see if it has started decomposing. 

Not Heating Up

If your compost is not heating up, there aren’t enough microorganisms working to break the organics down, or there isn’t enough nitrogen in the feedstock. 

If your greens and browns are balanced, you might want to add some soil or old compost to introduce microorganisms into your composting unit and kickstart the process. 

If you have insufficient greens, add more to your composting unit. Fresh manure and grass clippings are good options for adding nitrogen and moisture back into the compost feedstock. 

Too Damp

If your compost is soggy and slimy, it probably has too much moisture. The causes of slimy compost are poor airflow or insufficient greens. If you lack either of these components, your compost will not be able to sustain the microorganisms and raise the compost temperatures. 

Turning to aerate the compost, adding a layer of greens, and topping it off with a final thick layer of browns to absorb the excess moisture and break up the clumps of decomposed greens should solve the problem. 

Time Required for Compost to Be Ready

Household composting takes anything between 90 to 120 days to be ready. Your units may take more or less time, depending on the size of your composting unit. Larger units like outdoor composting piles and in-ground composting can take up to two years to break down. 

Signs Your Compost Is Ready

Compost should look dark brown, smell sweet, and feel crumbly and fluffy to the touch. The color is dark enough to be black, so compost is also called ‘black gold.’

How Do You Speed Up Unfinished Compost?

The best way to speed up unfinished compost is to turn it regularly to improve aeration and supply oxygen to the microorganisms decomposing the organic waste. Move the finished compost out of the bin to create more space in the composter so the remaining organic waste can decompose faster. 


Whether you’re composting with or without a bin, the steps to compost are essentially the same.

You need to:

  • Set up a composting unit
  • Gather your materials
  • Put your compost together, and finally
  • Tend to your compost

Be sure to monitor your compost’s progress and turn it every once in a while, and you’ll have plenty of black gold and fertile soil in your yard in no time!

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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