Your Guide to Compost Containers

Using the guidelines below, we are going to demystify compost containers and help you find the best one for your needs.

Is your current container an eye-sore?

Do you have to hide your compost pail whenever guests come over?

Don't fret...we've been there. Before we owned a proper compost pail, there were days when we would walk in our front door, and be blown over by the "festive" odors coming from under our sink.

Thankfully, those days are gone, and now we're greeted each day by our beautiful, odor-trapping, stainless-steel container.

Enough about us...let's start figuring out which container is right for you.



stainless steel compost container

What are Compost Containers?

They are small portable containers you use for the short term storage of your food scraps (e.g. vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds), and other compostable materials (e.g. paper towels and tissue paper). Typically these containers are stored in your kitchen, either on your countertop or underneath your sink. Once full, we hope these containers get emptied into your backyard compost bin; however, some people choose to transfer the contents into a larger container, which will eventually picked up by their municipal waste collectors.

These containers are also known by several other names, including compost pails, compost crocks, and compost keepers. Throughout this site we frequently interchange these terms to ensure we appeal to everyone's interests.

Why Use a Container for Your Compost?

  • They add an aesthetic touch to your composting experiences. Did you know some containers come in red?
  • They act as a conversation starter with guests. We're amazed how often our friends ask about "that little steel container" on our counter.
  • They make it easy for you to do something good for the environment, and help reduce your carbon footprint. Going green slowly can make a difference. Did you know that as much as 30% of household waste can be composted? Think of all the extra room we would have in our landfills if every household started composting.
  • They bring you one step closer to having free fertilizer for your garden. There is no explanation needed here...we'll just repeat one word - FREE.

14 Things to Consider Before You Buy

1. Appearance

    This is a big issue, if you plan to keep your pail on your kitchen countertop or in view. If so, you'll want to try and match it to your kitchen's decor or appliances.

2. Capacity

    You'll want to figure out how much compostable waste your household generates on a daily basis. For instance, if your household generates half a gallon of food scraps each day, you'll want to ensure your container can handle 1-2 gallons. This will reduce the need to empty your container, and save you time. If you're not sure how much compostable waste your household generates, we suggest you track it for a week or two before buying a compost crock.

    Note - According to a 2004 Waste Management Industry Survey, the average American household generates approximately 500lbs of kitchen waste per year.

3. Cleanability

    It's a fact - No matter how hard you try to keep your compost pail clean, it will eventually get dirty. When it does, you want to make sure it's easy to clean. Try to avoid containers that have 90 degree angles. Instead, look for containers that have smooth, rounded edges.

    Some containers are dishwasher safe. This is a great feature and saves a lot of extra hassle.

ceramic composting container 4. Weight
    How much does your container weigh? Remember, you're going to be adding a lot of waste to this container and it will get heavy. A common observation from our fellow compost junkies is that the ceramic compost crocks can be quite heavy when they're full.

5. Handle

    Does your container have a handle? This is tied into our last point. It's much easier to carry a full container by a handle, than it is to carry it without one. Also, make sure the handle is securely reinforced and attaches well to the pail itself. The last thing you want is to spill a bunch of partial rotted food scraps all over your floor.

6. Lid

    Does your container have a tight-fitting lid? If not, you may have some odor issues. There have also been accounts of the loose-fitting lids allowing fruit flies to get into your container. If you're anything like us, you'd like to avoid those little buggers in your house.

7. Filter

    Most models now contain some sort of filter. These are usually just simple carbon/charcoal filters, but they do cut down on any unwanted odors.

8. Ventilation

    This criteria is usually met by the filter, however, we wanted to restate it. Avoid units that are 100% sealed. If no air is allowed to enter your compost keeper, you will create anaerobic conditions and some nasty odors. This is important to avoid, because you'll create problems in your compost pile outside if you add this anaerobic mess to it.

    If your container doesn't have a filter, please be sure it has some sort of ventilation for air circulation.

plastic compost container 9. Size of Opening
    This is often one of the things you don't think about until after you've bought the container. How big is the opening? Can you hold a large plate over top of it, and not have to worry about spilling food scraps everywhere? The wider the opening on the container, the better.

10. Composition

    What's your container made of? There are several types of materials to choose from, including plastic, stainless steel, ceramic, and even bamboo. Some people like to stick with the eco-friendly theme of composting by purchasing a pail that is also made from recycled, or renewable, materials.

11. Durability

    Which do you think will last longer - plastic, ceramic, stainless steel, or wood/bamboo? Aside from the odd occasion, we find that most people outgrow their kitchen compost container before the container, itself, breaks down. People like to stay in fashion, and that's no different when it comes to their composting containers.

12. Hanging Capability

    Some suppliers offer the option of hanging their containers on cupboard walls or over the top of cupboard doors. We don't think you should let this criteria make or break your decision.

    As we said before, kitchen wastes can weigh a lot and we don't like the idea of all that weight hanging from our cupboard wall. There is always the fear that the contents will weigh too much, fall, and rip a chunk out of our cupboard walls. However, the models that hang directly over your cupboard door reduce the likelihood of the above scenario from taking place.

13. Instructions and Support

    Most suppliers offer a guarantee that their containers are free from manufacturer defects, but what if you order offline, and your container is damaged during shipping? If this is a possibility for you, than you'll want to make sure you buy your container from a reputable source.

    What if you have a question about your composting container, can you call anyone for help? As long as you buy from a reputable supplier than this should not be an issue for you.

    Does your compost crock come with an instructions manual? Most crocks do come with instructions. If not, just ask us. We're always here to help.

14. Price

    Last but not least, you must consider the price of your compost container. This is a personal decision, however, don't forget to factor in the cost of compost bags and filters. How often are the filters supposed to be changed? Do the compost bags start to leak after a couple days?

Hopefully, the above list of criteria shines some light on the things you need to consider before buying a compost container. If you have any additional criteria that you think we should include, please contact us and we'll add them to our list.

FREE Compost Containers

Of course, the easiest and cheapest thing to do is to make your own homemade composting container. This can be as simple as a small plastic garbage bin, or as complex as the handmade miniature compost container seen below. No matter which container you choose, you would be wise to try and meet as many of the above criteria as possible. For instance, if you can find a container with a lid, handle, and ventilation...you're on the right track.

mini wood compost container

If you're at a loss, or want some further directions on creating your own compost pail, please see our section on homemade compost containers for more information.

We've also got a great tips section for getting the most out of your composting container. For instance, add 1 cup of garden soil to your kitchen compost container each morning, or night, to help eliminate odors. This habit will also help to speed up the composting process.

Compost Container Reviews

This section contains a variety of our reviews, and opinions, of the various composting containers on the market. We are constantly in search of the ideal compost container, so if you have any experience with them please post your comments below.

We have divided our reviews according to the materials used to make the various compost containers, including:

Stainless Steel

These containers offer wonderful aesthetics, however, some of the bolts in a couple models may have a tendency to rust.

kitchen compost container

Ceramic

How strong are you feeling? These crocks contain odors really well, however, you must be feeling strong in order to move them from your kitchen to your compost pile.

Our Review of the Norpro Compost Keeper

Plastic

If you're an eco-nut, then recycled plastic may be just the type of container for you. Plastic compost pails are quite affordable, but sometimes lack aesthetics.

Our Review of the Exaco Kitchen Compost Collector

Wood/Bamboo

Wood and bamboo containers are gaining in popularity because of their more natural appearance. This may be why some compost junkies use these containers out by their BBQ or on their decks. Sadly, these containers do tend to break down more quickly than some of the other types.



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