Choosing a Compost System

Choosing the right method, or, better yet, a combination of compost methods, is important.

There are a lot of different ways to compost organic waste. Some methods don’t require any special tools or even a compost bin. Other methods rely on the design of a compost bin to speed up the process. Some cost a lot of money and some don’t cost very much at all. Some methods are only suitable for small quantities of waste and others can handle large volumes. Some require more work than others and some require that you have a higher level of technical knowledge about the composting process. Not all composting methods are suitable for all types of organic wastes.

The best thing you can do is to pick and choose a combination of the methods and tools available to create a compost system that will suit your budget, the type and volume of waste you have, your technical knowledge and your enthusiasm.

Ask yourself some questions

  • What materials would you like to compost?

    Food scraps, Grass clippings, Yard and garden waste, Leaves, Livestock manure

  • How much waste do you have?

    Kitchen scraps from a two person household?

    Or do you have a dozen kids, a half acre lawn and six horses?

  • How much space do you have?

    Allow room for your compost bin, room for storage of raw materials like wood chips and other bulking agents and you will probably need some room for a compost curing pile

  • Why are you composting?

    Are you highly motivated? Some people really want the compost for their garden, and they really want to keep all those valuable nutrients out of the landfill and they really like the idea that they are not only saving money but they are also saving the planet.

    Other folks think all of the above are nice ideas but they really just want some place to put the grass clippings and would really just rather go fishing.

Types of Compost Methods

Show all Closed
Soil Incorporation

Composting: Soil Incorporation

Dig a Hole and Bury It


  • Low cost
  • Low maintenance (at least it is after you get the hold dug)


  • Not suitable for large volumes of waste
  • Requires dedicated space for a year or more
  • Ground may freeze solid in winter
  • Recommended for a limited range of waste types, primarily food scraps

Composting - MulchingMulching


  • Conserves moisture in the soil
  • Suppresses weed growth and seed germination
  • Moderate’s soil temperature year round
  • Prevents soil erosion and compacting
  • Also can be used for soft paving of paths and play areas


  • Woody mulch competes with plants for nitrogen if deep in soil
  • Can spread weeds through seeds or spores
  • Grass clippings treated with weed killers may poison other plants if used as mulch



  • Eliminates the need to bag grass clippings
  • Adds nutrients to your lawn
  • Reduces the number of grass clippings going to the landfill


  • May require more frequent mowing
  • Works best with equipment designed for the purpose of mulching

Composting HeapHeap


  • Inexpensive
  • Low maintenance


  • Compost pile tends to spread out
  • Heat loss reduces microbe activity
  • Slow rate of composting
Pallet Holding System

Composting Pallet Holding SystemPallet Holding System


  • Pallets are available free
  • Diverts pallets from landfilling and open burning
  • Large capacity


  • Pallets are irregularly sized and sometimes broken
  • Used pallets can look unattractive
  • Heavy and bulky to move
  • In static holding system expect slower composting rate
Wire Mesh Holding Bin

Composting - Wire Mesh Holding BinWire Mesh Holding Bin


  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to build
  • Light weight
  • Can be made from vinyl coated mesh or galvanized wire


  • Bin is easily crushed or bent
  • Tendency for materials to dry out
Plastic Holdig Bins

Composting - Plastic Holding BinPlastic Holding Bins


  • Compact size
  • Resistant to pests
  • Lid sheds rain
  • Plastic bin reduces moisture loss


  • Some have limited holding capacity
  • Relatively expensive
  • Door may not open easily, especially if compost has compacted at bottom of bin
Two-bin Turning System

Composting - 2-bin turning system2-bin Turning System


  • Can produce high-quality compost in a shorter amount of time
  • Allows composting of large volumes of yard debris
  • Concrete block system is durable and long-lasting


  • Labor intensive
  • Moderately expensive to build using new blocks
  • Requires careful attention to composting guidelines in order to achieve rapid composting
3-bin Turning System

Composting - 3-bin turning system3-bin Turning System


  • Can produce compost in a shorter amount of time
  • Allows composting of large volumes of yard debris
  • Concrete block system is durable and long-lasting


  • Can be expensive to build
  • Requires careful attention to composting guidelines in order to achieve rapid composting
  • Labor intensive
  • Requires fairly large amount of space
Barrel Turning System

Composting - Barrel Turning SystemBarrel Turning System


  • High degree of pest resistance
  • Makes turning of materials easier
  • Finished compost in short period of time


  • Requires careful attention to composting details in order to achieve rapid composting
  • Relatively expensive
  • Full barrel is heavy
  • Must compost in batches, so you may have to stockpile fresh materials
Worm Bin

Composting - Worm BinWorm Bin


  • Can compost food and paper waste year round
  • Produces high quality worm castings
  • Can be scaled to match volume of food waste
  • Rapid composting rate with minimal effort


  • Must protect worms from hot sun and freezing weather
  • Requires timely attention to maintenance
  • Moderately expensive to get started
  • Too much moisture or over feeding can kill worms

Comparing the Types of Compost Methods

You can divide the composting methods into two groups: Passive and Turning.

Passive Systems tend to cost less and require less work. They are called passive systems because you take a passive role in the compost process, that is, you pretty much don’t intervene once the process is set in motion. The trade off is that the rate of composting tends to be fairly slow.

Turning Systems are designed to accommodate your intervention into the process. Theoretically your intervention, mostly turning the composting materials and maintaining moisture levels, will accelerate the rate of decomposition.

There are two tables for each of the Passive and Turning compost method groups. One of the tables shows which waste types are suitable for the methods that can be employed. The other table gives relative values for

  • Volume: of waste the method is capable of processing
  • Cost: of equipment needed to employ the method
  • Work: physical labor required to keep the system working
  • Complexity: the level of technical knowledge required
  • Space: the amount of space the method requires

Passive Systems

Passive Composting Systems Passive Composting Systems

Turning Compost Systems

Passive Composting Systems Passive Composting Systems

Our appreciation to Klickitat County Solid Waste in cooperation with Underwood Conservation District
and the Washington State Department of Ecology Sustainability Group for giving us permission to use this valuable information.

Date of Source Material: 12/19/2005
Source: Klickitat County Solid Waste
Link to Source: Klickitat County Solid Waste: