Cardboard Compost Bins

A cardboard bulk box makes a perfect compost bin!

 

“Get composting quick, easy and free with a cardboard compost bin!”

Cardboard bulk boxes are used by people dealing with bulk fruits and vegetables. They are made of extra thick cardboard, and are a perfect size for composting in. They can withstand weather, and eventually can be composted themselves.

Benefits:

  • Instant compost bin
  • Withstands weather
  • Can be composted
  • Free!

Materials:

  • 1 x Cardboard bulk box
  • All food scraps
  • Weeds and yard prunings
  • Leaves
  • Newspapers and plain cardboard
  • A bit of soil

Jump to:

Sourcing Cardboard Bulk Boxes
Setting up a Cardboard Compost Bin
Composting in a Cardboard Compost Bin
Composting an Old Bin
How I’ve Used Cardboard Compost Bins
FAQ
Why compost?
Where can I get a cardboard bulk box?
How long will a cardboard compost bin last?
What else can I use to make a simple compost bin?
Can I compost on a sealed surface?
What is thermophilic composting?
Will I have to turn the pile?
What about rats?
Related Projects
Tumbler Composting
Human Waste Composting
Bokashi

Sourcing Cardboard Bulk Boxes

Go to your local fruit & veg market and ask around. There is always empty cardboard bulk boxes out the back at my local market. They usually store watermelons and pumpkins, and are intended for single-use. They are usually stapled to pallets, and with a yank the boxes pop off, leaving behind the staples. You can then collapse and fold the box down to fit in a car or carry home.

A cardboard bulk box makes for a perfect compost bin!

Setting up a Cardboard Compost Bin

Choose a location for your cardboard compost bin. Ideally, it should be somewhere shaded, as composting doesn’t require sunlight. You can compost out in the open but you will have to monitor the moisture level more closely.

Cardboard compost bins do best on flat, level ground. If they are set up on uneven ground, they will warp in strange ways and may become difficult to work with.

Cardboard bulk boxes usually have lips. I recommend setting up your bin so that the lips are up. You can then fold the lips in so that rain cannot get in between the layers of cardboard. I fashioned some pegs out of scrap metal to hold the flaps in.

Set up your cardboard compost bin neatly, using bricks if you must, to hold it in shape. As you fill your bin, the contents will settle and hold the bin in whatever shape you arrange, and then you can take the bricks away.

Composting in a Cardboard Compost Bin

There are different methods and ‘recipes’ for composting, many of which will work fine in a cardboard compost bin. I’ve tried a few, and have found the following method the easiest:

  • Collect all kitchen scraps, weeds, prunings, newspaper and plain cardboard over the course of one week.
  • To the centre of your cardboard compost bin, add a bit of each material at a time so they are mixing together. Wet and shred your newspapers and cardboard, and add them to the mix.
  • When you’re finished, cover the pile with something to block out sunlight and prevent evaporation. Cardboard, hessian bags, old sheets or newspapers are all good choices.
  • Continue collecting materials the following week. When you’re ready to add to your pile, first pull aside your covering, and dig a hole in the centre of the pile, where the previous material is breaking down. It should feel warm, and if you’ve got a good mix, it might even be hot. Deposit your fresh materials in the hole, shredding and mixing as you go, then cover the pile again.
  • Once the bin is full, leave it to finish breaking down, checking once per week that it is still moist. The compost should be ready in about 3 months, so get yourself another cardboard bulk box and start a second bin while you wait.

When your compost is ready, you will have about 1 cubic meter of rich compost, which is enough to cover a 5m x 5m area of garden a generous 5cm deep. If you’re composting all your kitchen scraps, newspapers and cardboard, weeds and prunings, you will have enough compost year-round to grow all your vegetables, and even improve your soil fertility as you go.

If you’ve only got room for one cardboard compost bin, consider cutting a flap at the bottom, so that while you’re still adding fresh material to the top, you can access the finished compost at the bottom. As you take finished compost, the pile will drop and you’ll have enough room to add more material to the top.

Composting an Old Bin

Cardboard compost bins have a lifespan of about a year, depending on the weather and how they’re set up. When your bin as starting to fail, get yourself a new one, and chuck the old one in and compost it! Tear it up into pieces and lay it as a base layer in your new bin.

How I Use Cardboard Compost Bins

I use cardboard compost bins together with my compost tumblers to create lots of compost easily. I fill all my fresh materials into my compost tumbler, and let it cook for about 2 weeks, tumbling once or twice, then empty the material into a cardboard compost bin. The tumblers make the thermophilic (hot) phase of composting easy, and the cardboard compost bins hold the material while it finishes breaking down (mesophilic phase). Check out my article on Compost Tumblers for further detail.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why compost?

Composting is a valuable way of managing waste on your property, and creating your own organic fertiliser. Learning how to compost is as important as learning how to grow your own vegetables. Hand-in-hand, these skills enable a gardner to grow food sustainably.

Where can I get a cardboard bulk box?

Ask around at your local fruit & veg market. Cardboard bulk boxes are most often used for storing watermelons and pumpkins, so anywhere selling these is a good place to ask.

How long will a cardboard compost bin last?

Cardboard compost bins can last up to a year, depending on the weather and what measures you take to prevent them falling apart. Even a poorly treated cardboard compost bin should still last 6 months – long enough to fill and age one batch of compost.

What else can I use to make a simple compost bin?

Wire mesh compost bins are the next best thing to cardboard compost bins. Form a cylinder shape with some wire fencing, set it in place and fill it with your materials. When the bin is full, simply remove the wire and set it up somewhere else. The catch with this method is the material will dry out around the edges, so you’ll have to water it regularly.

Pallets make excellent, sturdy compost bins that can last many years. Simply nail four pallets together to form a compost bin, or check out my article on Humanure Composting to see how to make a really good one.

Can I compost on a sealed surface?

Yes. Some people advocate this – others advocate building compost piles on loose soil. The truth is both work fine. It’s easier to monitor moisture leaching on a sealed surface, and you can scrape up all of your compost when it’s finished. However, you may miss out on attracting worms and other larger decomposers into your pile.

What is thermophilic composting?

Thermophilic/hot composting is a phase of composting when certain bacteria (known as thermophiles) become active and work very fast to break down the material in the compost pile. Temperatures above 50degC are considered thermophilic. It’s a desirable because at these temperatures, weed seeds, grass, plant diseases and even human diseases are destroyed. If you’ve added a nice mix of materials to your compost pile, and air can get in, you should notice the pile getting very hot in the first week.

Will I have to turn the pile?

No. Traditional methods of composting usually require that a pile be rotated/turned to remix the materials and redistribute moisture and bacteria. It’s a back-breaking task! If you follow the method described above, you won’t need to rotate/turn your piles.

What about rats?

Rats can be a problem for composters, as they are drawn to the kitchen scraps in a pile. If you find your cardboard compost bin is attracting rats, consider using a compost tumbler, like I do, to contain all your fresh material until it has partially decomposed. At this stage rats will no longer be attracted to it, and you can add it to your cardboard compost bin.

Related Articles

How to Compost

“Turn waste into fertiliser and save the planet, by composting!”

Tumbler Composting

“Make composting waterwise, quick, and easy, with a compost tumbler!”

Human Waste Composting

“Turn your turds into tomatoes, with a human waste composting operation!”

Bokashi

“Eliminate bad smells from your kitchen scraps, and turn them into fertiliser, using EM Bokashi!”

4 comments on “Cardboard Compost Bins

  1. I have always thought about using a box to compost but didn’t know if it would work. After reading your posts I went to the local grocery store and got a nice bulk box like this. I hope I can finally get the heat needed to compost with this volume. My biggest problems with a wire mesh composter were the skunks. I tried plastic bins but they broke after a season and it took 9 months to compost due to their limited size. I’m hoping the bin I set up yesterday will serve my needs! Thank you for the informative posts!

    Roland W
    Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • Hi Roland, thanks for your comments. I forgot to mention, its good to add a dusting of soil as you add your materials. It doesn’t have to be great soil, any will do to introduce bacteria into the pile. Don’t be disheartened if you dont achieve high temperatures on your first attempt. Even warm temperature indicates lots of activity. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  2. This is the best series of articles on composting I have read. Thank you so much for the great information and detailed explanations.

    • Thank you Kathy, I’m glad you got something out of it. Good luck with your composting – I wish you high temperatures!

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