How to Use a Kitchen Compost Bin

So you’re ready to start composting, but how on earth does it actually work? In this post, I’ll break down how to use a kitchen compost bin to get you on your way!

Trying to go zero waste? Composting is a great way to work towards setting up a zero waste kitchen. See my favorite easy zero waste swaps for beginners to get started today.

how to use a kitchen compost bin

I first started composting to create food for my vegetable garden and to reduce my landfill waste.

Like many others, I bought myself a fancy little kitchen compost bin and started tucking my vegetable scraps into my compostable bags. When the bags filled up, I’d take them to my compost tumbler to turn my kitchen waste into garden gold.

It sounds easy, right?

Although composting is easy in general, there are a few learning curves that throw beginners off their composting game. I want to make sure you’re set up for success so you can turn this new composting habit into a daily routine!

What is a kitchen compost bin?

A kitchen compost bin is a container you usually store on your kitchen counter, usually next to your kitchen sink, to collect kitchen scraps like banana peels, onion skins, and eggshells.

Instead of running to an outdoor compost pile or green waste bin after every meal, you collect the scraps in a special container.

Compost bins usually has an activated charcoal filter in the lid to absorb any stinky smells and keep the fruit flies out until you can run it out to the bin.

Kitchen compost bins vs kitchen composters

A countertop compost bin is different from indoor composting bins, which allow you to actually compost your waste products indoors. If you want an indoor kitchen composter, you’re probably looking for a worm farm, bokashi bin, or electric composter.

Learn more about indoor composting here.

best countertop compost bin

How to Use a Kitchen Compost Bin

  1. Purchase a high-quality, rust-proof metal compost bin or BPA-free plastic compost pail.
  2. Insert a compostable bag (optional).
  3. Add appropriate food scraps.
  4. Close the bin to absorb odors and prevent flies from gathering.
  5. When full, empty the compost bin in a compost tumbler, worm bin, or green bin.
  6. Replace the compostable bag and continue the process.
what can go in kitchen compost bin

What can I add to my kitchen compost?

The answer depends on how you plan to dispose of your food waste. Technically, most food waste from your kitchen can be composted, but not always in a home composting bin. Learn more about the different techniques for composting to find the right one for you.

Backyard composting

If you are making your own compost in your backyard, focus on scraps that break down quickly and easily without attracting rodents.

  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper towels
  • Egg shells
  • Fruit & veggie peels and scraps
  • Stale bread
  • Tea leaves
  • Dead flowers

You’ll want to supplement those with green items like grass clippings and brown waste like cardboard, shredded paper, dead leaves, etc. for a healthy compost.

Composting services

If you send scraps to a green bin from your local waste management company, you can send a lot more options. There are different programs out there so make sure you understand the service available. For example, my local trash service allows me to compost almost anything except glass and plastic.

  • Pizza boxes
  • Egg cartons
  • Bones
  • Meat scraps
  • Leftover cooked food
  • Fats and oils
  • Dairy products
  • Twigs, branches, dry leaves, and yard waste

Most backyard composting set-ups are aerobic composting, which doesn’t reach a high enough heat to safely process bones, meat scraps. fats and oils, or dairy.

Those items either need to be disposed of in a regular trash can, using the bokashi method, or sent somewhere that uses high-heat anaerobic composting.

Kitchen composting

There are some indoor kitchen composting systems that allow you to break down organic materials without a backyard. They’re great for apartment homesteading or people without access to outdoor space.

Many people add meat, dairy, and fats to their worm bins, bokashi bins, and electric composters with no problems.

Each of these composting systems work differently, but they all produce a type of soil that can be planted or further composted.

Personally, we have both a green bin and a rotating compost tumbler. Since the compost tumbler fills up quickly and takes months before it can be used, we need a composting option we can use at all times. We produce more compostable waste than we can process ourselves in our little suburban backyard.

Plus, it’s important to use to divert food waste from landfills since it doesn’t biodegrade there. There are so many items that can’t be sent to our composter and if we didn’t have this second option, they’d have to go in the regular trash.

how to use a kitchen compost bin

Troubleshooting your kitchen compost bin

Who would have thought these small veggie scrap trash cans could be complicated? Although they seem like they should be easy, there are a few things that can slow your progress quickly.

Why is my kitchen compost bin stinky?

Compost is just a fancy name for allowing organic matter to decompose. Decomposing stinks, but your compost bin shouldn’t usually have a bad odor since the food scraps are just in your house for a couple of days.

If it is, then consider these factors:

  • How long has it been since you emptied it?
  • When was the last time you washed it?
  • If it has a filter, when was that replaced?

During the summer, it’s normal for compost to get a little stinkier than normal. Try emptying it more often and keep it clean.

How do I get rid of fruit flies in my compost?

This is easily the most annoying part of composting: fruit flies. Most of us deal with them in the summer anyway, but having a container full of partially decomposed organic waste definitely makes them worse.

I find that the best cure for fruit flies is to use a tight-fitting lid, empty my bin often and keep it clean, but that’s not always good enough. I’ve definitely stopped composting in the summer before just because I was so exhausted by the constant flies.

Store your compost in the fridge or freezer. The cold temperature will slow down the decay process and the flies will have a hard time breaking into your refrigerator. Simply fill a bowl in the fridge and dump it in your composter when full.

What is the best type of kitchen compost bin?

Short answer: one you will use.

When I first decided to start composting, I wanted a really attractive bin that would look nice on my kitchen counter. Since my husband and I cook from scratch a lot, we wanted a countertop bin that could hold quite a few scraps at once. The last thing I wanted to do was have to run out these tiny bags of compost every single day.

So, I dropped about $40 on a really nice enameled metal compost bin and hunted down biodegradable bags that fit just right.

It looked really good and I was composting all of the time.

However, I noticed a few issues.

Problems with indoor compost bins

  • Biodegradable bags often fall down in the bin or break, causing a mess.
  • Since the container gets messy, you have to wash and dry it before adding a new bag.
  • The leaked mess causes even high-quality metals to stain.
  • You have to replace the charcoal filters, which add up over time.

After a few months of this process, I decided this process didn’t make sense for several reasons.

problems with indoor compost bins

First, you’re having to buy bags. Although I chose compostable bags, they still require a lot of energy and resources to make them. Plus, they cost money. I felt the same about the charcoal filters. If I have to pay for two products to use my compost bin, it starts to get more and more expensive.

Second, if you’re already having to rinse out your compost bin after every trip to the compost pile, why bother with a liner? Couldn’t you just skip the fuss and add your kitchen scraps directly to the bin?

Third, even rust-resistant metal struggles to handle the liquids and acids in your food scraps. On the other hand, plastic can tolerate the gross mess of composting without showing signs of rust or damage.

We had a tough plastic container from IKEA that we initially used for cat food. It was the perfect size and shape for storing under my sink, so I could use just like an under sink trash can.

Since then, this bucket has been our go-to compost container, especially in the summer when the garden is producing a lot of food. It also costs about 1/8 as much as the fancy metal compost bin we now use for dirty kitchen rags.

IKEA bin for compost
The IKEA bin we use for compost now.

Best kitchen compost bins

There are so many countertop containers to consider! The best compost bins are durable, easy-to-clean, and can hold at least a gallon of food waste. The rest of the details (color, brand, material) are all up to you.

1. Repurpose a food grade plastic bucket

Visit your local grocery store or co-op and see if they have any 1-2 gallon food-grade buckets. These are the perfect size for holding your family’s compost and totally free. Skip the bags and fancy filters; just fill it up an dump it. Wash and dry your bucket. I’d recommend trying to find a bucket that would fit in your dishwasher for the easiest clean-up.

2. Simple Human Compost Bin

Simple Human makes such clever products. I love that this stainless steel unit attaches to Simple Human trash cans and has a convenient soft-seal lid. Even better, it has a plastic inner pail liner. Although I typically avoid plastic, I think it’s the best material for compost because it won’t rust. Plus, this system separates for easy cleaning

3. Bamboozle Kitchen Compost Bin

This plastic bin is made from bamboo fiber, which is more eco-friendly than conventional petroleum-based plastics. I love the simple, sleek look and that it’s dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup.

4. Natural Home Bins Ceramic Countertop Compost

Add a pop of cherry red to your kitchen counter with this ceramic compost bin. Since it’s ceramic, it won’t rust like metal yet is still durable and long-lasting.

5. LALASTAR Hanging Compost Bin

These BPA-free plastic hanging bins are the perfect size for people who cook a lot. The hanging feature makes this bin so incredibly convenient. Hang it under the sink or on any cabinet door for extremely easy clean-up.

Indoor composting systems

Bokashi Method

Set up a simple indoor composting system that can handle a variety of waste and turn it into pre-compost for your garden. Simply cut your organic waste into small pieces, pack it into the bin, core it with rice bran and let it cure.

The two-unit system from Bokashi Living makes it easy to have compost going at all times.

The final product is often thought of as “pre-compost,” as it still needs a little time to break down after it leaves the bokashi bin. However, it’s usually done in just a couple of weeks instead of months.

Worm Bins

Vermicomposting is one of the best ways to break down food waste. The worms produce worm castings, which are wonderful to add to your garden. The liquid they give off, the worm tea, is like free fertilizer, too!

This Vermihut 5-tray system has a spout for easy draining and is tall enough to take weeks’ worth of scraps.

Electric composters

Digital digesters heat and break down food scraps, paper products, and even compostable platics into something that looks like soil, but isn’t quite. The most popular electric composter is Lomi, which has several different settings including one that makes a product that can be mixed directly with your garden soil.

how to use kitchen compost bin

Which type of container do you like to use for kitchen compost? Share your comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. How did you reuse your enamel composter? I was given a larger plastic bin which I want to use, and am trying to figure out how to reuse my current 20 year old stainless ( ya right) steel one.

    1. Thanks for the question, Denise! I feel ya on the not-so-stainless. My enamel composter has a little bit of staining on the inside and as I talked about in this post, I ignored it for months since it was so much less practical than the larger plastic tub I was using. When I wrote this post, I decided to bring it back out and use it with compostable bags.

      It works, but it’s not my favorite. It has a small capacity and the bags always tear or leak, which means I have to wash it out and let it dry before I add a new one. Which means we have to figure out what to do with the waste until the bin is ready again.

      To make the most of your old container, you could definitely use compostable bags, but you might need to double bag them. Any chance this bin could be used for something else and you can repurpose an old ice cream tub or other container? Lots of grocery stores have leftover tubs used for holding frosting, etc. that are totally free, come with a lid, and are great for composting!

      Good luck! Let us know how it goes!

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