best in class

The Very Best Compost Bins

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

“Composting is the human version of re-creating what mother nature does out in the wild: Mixing together various organic materials” to facilitate healthy decomposition, says Rebecca Louie, founder of the Compostess website and author of Compost City. Those materials are a combination of carbon-based “browns” (cardboard, paper, sawdust, dried leaves, et cetera), nitrogen-rich “greens” (food scraps like apple cores or banana peels), water, and air. Over time, bacteria break down the scraps to create compost, a soil additive rich in plant nutrients — plus, you end up creating about 50 percent less trash.

Composting programs vary widely by municipality, so the easiest approach is to figure out where your compost will end up and work back from there. If you can empty your compost into a curbside bin once or twice a week, you may want a compact countertop option; if you’ll need to travel to a drop-off site, you may want to buy yourself some time between trips by freezing your scraps.

What you can compost varies by site as well. In New York City, there is an underfunded city-run curbside composting system and a network of independent neighborhood drop-off sites. Curbside composting accepts a wider range of items, like bones, oily food, and BPI-approved compostable plastics, while drop-off sites have a narrower list. (You can find your closest spot on this DSNY map or on this spreadsheet.) Even if there isn’t a good drop-off option near you, we’ve included a couple of options for creating your own compost, start to finish, indoors.

Best overall | Best countertop | Best stylish | Best freezer | Best modular | Best worm composter | Best Bokashi composter | Best green bag | Best brown bag

What we’re looking for

Material: Compost bins should be low maintenance, and they don’t need to be made from expensive or specially engineered materials. Still, there are a few principles to follow: It’s useful if your bin is lightweight, durable, easy to clean, and doesn’t take on the odors of its contents. Stainless steel and heavy-duty plastic work well — they’re hardy enough to handle getting banged around but lightweight enough to carry a few blocks to a drop-off spot. Avoid materials that are flimsy or seem too precious to contain slimy compost or to get a heavier-duty cleaning.

Volume: “The first thing you should consider before you even look at the aesthetic — which I know is hard — is how much you produce on a given week and how often you’re going to drop it off,” says Anneliese Zausner-Mannes, the co-founder of Nurture BK. A standard countertop compost bin can fit around a gallon of scraps, but we’re favoring systems that come in a few sizes, for households that cook often, and also including indoor systems that can process up to five pounds of food a day. Consider how often you’ll empty a bin — whether it’s a quick trip to toss your scraps into a backyard compost heap or tumbler or a trek to a drop-off spot — and whether you have space to store full bags in the freezer between trips.

Lid style: If you’re keeping your compost on the countertop, a good lid will make the difference between a low-maintenance system and a hellscape of funky smells and summertime swarms of fruit flies. A compost bin should actually not be airtight — you want scraps to begin decomposing aerobically (with oxygen), not anaerobically, which takes longer and releases smelly gasses, like methane. Some countertop bins have holes to facilitate airflow or carbon filters to reduce odors; at the very least, a bin intended for the countertop should not create an airtight seal. If you freeze your compost, you don’t need to worry about decomposition, but a lid will help prevent veggie-scrap smell from permeating your freezer.

Best overall

Plastic | 0.75 gallons, 1.75 gallons | Removable flip-up lid

The OXO compost bin is a great, versatile bin. It checks all our boxes: It comes in two sizes, works as both a freezer and countertop bin, has a non-airtight, removable lid, and is made of easy-to-clean plastic. It was first recommended to us by Tonne Goodman, sustainability editor at Vogue, who keeps it in her fridge and uses it to tote scraps to New York’s Union Square compost center.

Best countertop compost bin

Stainless steel | 1.3 gallons | Vented lid and charcoal filter

I used this Epica stainless-steel compost bin for about three years, and it performed ably on the countertop through some hot New York summers — its vented lid allows for some airflow, and two layers of charcoal filters block compost smells effectively. (Another way to remediate smells is to add carbon-rich “browns,” like shredded cardboard or brown paper, to your compost.) Although the lid could get grimy, it’s easy to remove the charcoal filter and thoroughly clean it out, an essential quality in any compost bin.

Best stylish compost bin

Photo: Retailer

Plastic | 1.6 gallon, 4 gallon, 6.6 gallon | Removable lid

Brabantia’s streamlined Sort & Go bins were included in Strategist editor Maxine Builder’s roundup of stylish compost receptacles. It comes in three sizes, from 1.6 gallons (within the size range we think will suit most people) to a large 6.6 gallon bin, about half the volume of a kitchen trash can. It has a removable lid that can anchor bag-liners, is made from easy-to-clean plastic, and can be wall-mounted or hung inside a cabinet. It also comes in several colors, from basic black to sky blue. Brabantia is also a brand we trust: Strategist writer Ambar Pardilla confirms that its trash cans are “excellent.”

Best freezer compost bin

Plastic | 1 gallon | Pail lid

In the freezer, where vegetable scraps will not be actively decomposing, you don’t need to get complicated: Zausner-Mannes uses brown paper bags and leftover plastic containers, for example. I’ve used this Leaktite plastic bin for the past year and a half; it sits in the back of my freezer and gets emptied about once a month. I leave the lid sitting on top but don’t lock it into place, so it’s easy to toss a scrap in one-handed, and the pail’s handle makes it portable. If a handle is less important, an inexpensive restaurant-supply-store food-storage container would work as well — plus its square shape makes more efficient use of fridge real estate than a round pail.

Best modular compost bin