The World's Ultimate
by Doug Remington (email address?)
As a Composting Trainer for the Columbia Public Works Volunteer Program,
I am always amused by the modern pursuit of a single device that will
work perfectly for everyone, everywhere, under every possible set of conditions.
One of my favorite sayings is, "If it says one size fits all, it
won't fit anyone." So the world's ultimate compost bin is one that
meets the following criteria:
1. A bin that
you can afford.
You may not be able to afford a $3,000 solar powered,
motor driven composting facility. A simple, cheap, but effective
compost bin can be made of newspaper, heavy string, and small
sticks. (See the diagram and instructions for how to construct
one.) A newspaper bin is especially good for batch composting
things like leaves. A farmer can tell you how fast hay rots
when the bales are turned on end.
If appearances are not a main concern for you, either because you can
screen off the bin or because you have a large enough property to keep
the bin out of sight, a free, biodegradable bin is as close as a store
that sells appliances. Collecting a shipping box from a washing machine
or dishwasher and punching some aeration holes in the bottom and sides
gives you an instant compost bin that will eventually turn into compost
itself. The shipping box and newspaper bins are both static pile composters
which means they are not to be turned or stirred. This results in a slower
process but is a perfectly acceptable method of composting.
You can also build a very attractive and highly efficient unit very cheaply
out of wooden pallets. (See the diagram and instructions for how to construct
one.) Wood is an ideal material for compost bins for several reasons.
It is biodegradable, strong, a fairly good insulator, makes an attractive
compost bin, and when coupled with screen provides protection from insects
and vermin. It also protects the compost from the drying rays of the sun
and wind, and it is available everywhere.
Wooden pallets are often discarded after a single use or when broken.
You can usually get them for free or very cheap. If you don't know of
a source through your employment or friends you can purchase pallets very
inexpensively from Civic Recycling on Brown Station Road.
2. A bin that
is made out of recycled, biodegradable materials.
One of the main reasons for composting is to lessen
the flow of materials into landfills. If bins are made of
non-recyclable plastics, for instances, they will wear out
and need disposal. In the future landfills could be filling
up with old, worn out, plastic compost bins.
3. A design
that provides an ideal growth environment for the hundreds of organisms
that form a community of waste degraders and that works for your lifestyle.
How well your compost bin controls the environmental
parameters of moisture, humidity, aeration, and temperature,
determines how fast your wastes will break down.
A commonly suggested design is the woven wire bin. The biggest problem
with this design is excessive wetting and drying. This means the bin provides
ideal conditions only a small fraction of the time in our Missouri climate.
The wastes are held up for the sun and wind to do the maximum drying.
Dry wastes do not compost. Then, when it finally does rain the pile either
gets too wet or the excessively dry material sheds the rain and stays
dry. If it should get too wet, anaerobic digestion takes place which causes
foul odors. If it sheds the rain _ have you ever noticed how much harder
it is to get a completely dry sponge to soak up a spill_ it stays too
dry and nothing happens. These problems can be overcome by wetting the
pile as you build it and then covering the pile with white plastic if
your compost pile is in the direct sun or black plastic it is in the shade.
Be sure to cut some aeration holes in the plastic to allow the pile to
breathe. Don't cut the holes in the top because it will allow unwanted
water to enter the system. You can use rocks, bricks, soil, or boards
around the base of the compost pile to hold the plastic in place. But
the pallet bin is really a better option.
There are dozens of designs for compost bins to fit into almost any lifestyle.
The first step is to decide what you want the compost bin to do for you.
Many people have sedentary jobs and need some physical exercise. Having
a composting system that requires regular turning with a shovel can be
the best choice. Regular turning also speeds up the composting process.
The Columbia Volunteer Program, University Extension, or the public library
all have information on compost bin designs. You can also visit the Compost
Bin Demonstration Sites at Oakland Middle School and the Community Garden
on 9th Street to see a number of different types of bins.
Other people are so busy and overworked they don't have the time or energy
to turn the compost pile. Most modern commercial composting companies
use a composting system called Aerated Static Piles. Instead of regularly
turning the piles to expose all parts of the pile to the fresh air, they
run slotted flexible pipe throughout the pile to allow the air to flow
through the pile. The same technique can be used in a small scale unit.
Slotted flexible pipe is used underground to drain water away from buildings
and is available at most building supply stores. Simply cover each end
with screen or old pantyhose to prevent vermin from living in the pipe,
and bury it in the pile with both ends exposed. If the pile is fairly
large, bury one or two pieces of pipe in a U-shape with both ends poking
up out of the top of the waste material. See below for suggested use of
The design of a compost bin is limited only by the imagination, but the
best bin is one that fits the needs and lifestyle of the composter who
a compost bin that is legal.
Where you live determines what waste disposal regulations
you have to follow. If you live in Columbia, composting is
legal unless it becomes a nuisance because of odor or is
attracting or providing a breeding site for flies or rats.
If one of your neighbors calls in a complaint about your
compost pile to the Health Department it will be investigated.
If it is determined there is a problem you will be given
seven days to fix the problem and you will be referred to
the Columbia Volunteer Program for help in solving the problem
and maintaining the pile correctly. If you are a renter you
will need your landlord's permission to start a compost pile.
Even if you own your home, you may be restricted by neighborhood
Many rural people can legally have a simple, open pile in the backyard
under the old oak tree. Open piles are cheap, but the drawback is that
they are slow, prone to excessive wetting and drying, offer poor insect
and vermin control, and can be very unsightly.
Newspaper Compost Bin
Assemble newspaper, heavy string, small, fairly straight
sticks and compostable materials (A).
Cut several small matching holes along the edge of several thicknesses
of newspaper. If you fold the edge and cut a >, it will form a diamond
as pictured (B). Add a few holes scattered throughout the face of the
paper to provide aeration. Don't make too many aeration holes.
Lay the newspaper down with ends overlapping and diamond cuts matching.
Weave a stick in and out through the diamond cuts to hold the newspaper
When you have enough sheets to form the diameter you want, overlap the
two ends and weave them together. Three sheets should be a manageable
size, but it can be bigger if you like. You will wind up with a cylinder
of newspaper (D).
Fill the cylinder with compostable materials like leaves and grass clippings.
Tie a few bands of stout biodegradable string around the bin during the
filling to provide extra support (E).
You will end up with a bale covered on the outside with newspaper. You
can even remove the support sticks once the bale is made and use them
over and over if you have done a good job of tying the string.
The Baffled Compost BinA moderately priced compost
bin that is very efficient A moderately priced compost bin
that is very efficient is the baffled bin. It works so well
because of moisture, humidity, and air control. Hot dry wind
can dry out any material it comes in direct contact with.
The baffles (see illustration) prevent hot dry air from coming
in direct contact with the composting materials. As the air
is drawn into the bin it swirls around and slowly picks up
moisture before being drawn into the interior of the pile
where composting is taking place. Having moisture laden air
drawn into the center of the pile is very beneficial because
compost piles dry out from the inside out. The moisture laden
air also stimulates many microorganisms because they can
draw their moisture from the air. The baffles provide excellent
control of large vermin like rats and mice and if screen
is used to cover the openings there is excellent insect control.
The baffled bin will compost as efficiently as any high priced
system and is very attractive if built with quality materials.
Construct five baffled panels for your bin. This will give you four sides
and a top. A top is very important on a baffled bin to moderate the air
flow. Construction is similar to the pallet bin. In fact, pallets can
be turned into baffled panels by nailing boards and spacers onto them.
For ease in turning the pile or getting at the finished compost, have
one side open out or detach. The top panel can either be hinged so it
can be raised or just rest on the top edges of the four sides.
Assemble four wooden pallets, six fence posts, some
boards, nails, and wire.
Try to get pallets the same size as it will make construction easier,
but they don't have to be exactly the same size. You can join the pallets
together using six steel fence posts, some 1" x 4" boards, galvanized
wire or coated heavy copper wire, or galvanized nails. But be creative.
If you have materials at hand like untreated wooden posts or nylon rope
instead of wire, use them.
Choose the largest of your pallets to be the roof and measure it's length
and width. This will be the maximum outside dimension of the walls of
your compost bin. Draw a square or rectangle that size on the ground where
you will be placing your bin. Next measure the other three pallets and
lay out a C-shaped design smaller than the roof (see top view).
Drive two fence posts for each wall spaced about a foot from each end.
Drive them in so the top of the fence post is lower than the top edge
of the pallet. This will keep them from sticking up over the top edges
of the sides and interfering with the roof. Wire or tie the pallets to
The pallet you have chosen for the roof needs to be modified for maximum
effectiveness. What you want is a roof that doesn't leak too badly. Use
the 1" x 4" boards to cover the open spaces between the boards
that make up the top surface of the pallet (see the roof).
Then put the roof on and wire it to the pallets used for the walls. Some
kind of front door would improve effectiveness, even one as simple as
a heavy canvas flap with a board stapled to the bottom. Or purchase five
pallets instead of four and wire or tie the fifth to the front as a door.
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