Compost Pail Buying Guide

“It’s just a damn compost pail! Do I really need to read a review?"

Since compost pails range in price from $5. to $60., it would be good to know what to look for so you know if the expensive ones give any clear benefit, other than aesthetics.

What to Look for in a Compost Pail

Here are the things that are really important (and not!) when choosing a good pail for compost.

1) A Good Compost Pail is Made of Stainless Steel

When I first started composting I used a little white frosting bucket from Safeway for kitchen scraps. It took a few weeks to realize that plastic takes on smells, even if it is lined with a bag. That is, of course, unless you take it out frequently (which you ought to do anyway, as explained below). And while ceramic ones can look beautiful on the counter and won't pick up odors, they are heavy to carry out when they're full of scraps and are easy to chip when dumping.

2) A Good Compost Pail has a Bail Handle That Makes Carrying It Out Easier

My pail for the last few years has been a lidded, stainless steel flour canister that I bought at the Goodwill for $5. It’s great - it's unbreakable, easy to clean and never takes on odors - but I sure wish it had a handle, because taking the compost out requires two hands, which means having to set the pail down to open the back door.

3) Consider Using Biobags for Your Compost Pail

I don’t mind washing out the pail after I dump it, but if you do, you might consider buying “Biobags” to line the pail with, which are compostable and so can be tossed right into the compost bin along with the compost that's in them. Supposedly.

(But Voice of Experience says: "these don't break down as quickly as your compost does. And please don't put them in your worm bin. The worms really don't like them and it kinda clogs the works.")

If you just dump the compost every couple of days it’s easy to just rinse out the pail and then you won’t have to buy Biobags.

A lot of grocery stores (like Trader Joe's) now use compostable produce bags which you can use to line your compost pail (if they fit).

4) A Good Compost Pail Has A Lid

It is important in the summer to have a tight-fitting lid to prevent fruit flies from taking over your kitchen.

5) A Good Compost Pail Has Odor-Control Filters (Or Not)

It's really best to take your compost scraps out to the compost bin every couple of days and mix them with some dried fall leaves, which when mixed together will make the best compost (see How to Make Compost).

If scraps stay in a closed container very long, they will start to decay anaerobically (without oxygen), smell really bad, and contain organisms that aren't good for the soil. Even with an odor-control filter in the lid, if this happens you're going to smell it when you open it. But having a lid with holes that are covered by a filter allows air flow but keeps fruit flies out.

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