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Put Your Can to Work

by Yvette Cain
July 2, 2019

Before you consider tossing that old trash barrel—and, by the way, we can not bring ours to Holliston’s recycling center--why not consider using it to join the composting craze, reducing your trash output, and creating valuable compost for your gardens and potted plants? 

Why Compost?

“Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.  Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up about 30% of what we throw away, and should be composted instead.  Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” (EPA)

With the arrival of the new 35-gallon trash barrels, the idea of saving 30% of our trash space may be very attractive!  Our former trash hauler was a bit lenient with the size of residents’ barrels, despite the fact Republic, too, had a 35-gallon limit.

How to Begin

Putting your old trash bin to a new use is a way of 'upcycling':  modifying an unwanted item for a new purpose. 

Although there are several inexpensive ways to create a composter for your yard, including machinations of the ever-popular—and oftentimes free--wooden pallets, chicken wire and wood scraps, and the free-form “pile,” I’d like to suggest you “upcycle” your unwanted trash barrel, turning it into a composter you’ll proudly display in your backyard.

Here is the modification process:

1.      Drill holes in the bottom and the top of the barrel.  A half dozen to a dozen should do.

2.      Drill holes in the sides of the barrel.  (Microorganisms need oxygen to produce energy, grow quickly, and consume more materials.)

It’s as easy as that.  Now you’re ready to begin composting!

Compost Essentials I: Kitchen Scraps

Back in the spring, Chris and I began composting to create “black gold” (the enriched soil produced through the process of composting) for use in our vegetable and flower gardens.  As coffee aficionados, we purchase our ground coffee in large tins, one of which we now keep covered to retrieve from under the sink for our meal prep scraps.

These are items easily composted:

  • Any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags (without staples)
  • Old wine
  • Dry cat or dog food
  • Old herbs and spices
  • Nut shells
  • Old, dry pasta
  • Pits from stone fruit
  • Corn cobs
  • Egg shells
  • Toothpicks
  • Wine corks

But no:

  • Pet droppings
  • Animal products: meat, bones, butter, milk, fish skins

As I peel potatoes, fruits, and other vegetables, I use a paper towel that I throw into the can with the scraps.  (If you’ve ever watched Rachel Ray on television, she keeps her scraps in a designated bowl on her counter.  I’m a bit more discrete about my food scraps.)

Compost Essentials II:  Trash and Yard Scraps

To complete the composting cycle, other items must be added to the compost bin as well.  These items may include:

  • Shredded newspaper (torn in strips), receipts, paper bags
  • Tissues, paper toweling, cotton balls
  • Saw dust
  • Human hair
  • Dryer lint
  • Cardboard, egg cartons, paper towel rolls
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Vacuum cleaner dust

And definitely:

  • Grass clippings:  Clippings are very important, however, to avoid their becoming a slimy mess (they contain a high percentage of water), add dry clippings that you’ve mixed with the other ingredients of the bin.

Benefits of Composting

The process of composting:

  • Enriches the soil and helps it to retain moisture while suppressing plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich, nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

Are you beginning to see that between Compost Essentials I and II, a lot of what we generate as trash can now be diverted from our H. L. Harvey 35-gallon bin to make a valuable product for our gardens?

The Transformation of Trash to Treasure (“Black Gold”)

The EPA tells us that all composting requires three basic ingredients:

Greens:  grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds provide nitrogen, (Compost Essentials I above),

Browns:  dead leaves, branches, and twigs provide carbon for the compost, (Compost Essentials II above) and

Water:  the right amount of water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.

Helpful tools include a pitchfork or shovel, a pair of gloves, and a watering hose.  On a regular basis, you’ll need to mix or turn the “ingredients” of your container with some water to help maintain the compost.

Follow these steps:

1.      Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost bin.

2.      Add brown and green materials as you collect them, making sure to shred or rip your newspapers as they are added. 

3.      Moisten the dry materials as they are added.  Do not saturate, just sprinkle or drip water in.

4.      Once compost is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile with your pitchfork. 

5.      The compost is ready to use when the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color.  It can take 2 or more months for this to be ready.

As you dig, turn, layer, and water your compost, you may feel as if you are doing the composting, but the bulk of the work is actually done by numerous types of decomposer organisms.

Some people will find it easier to use two bins at a time: one that is “stewing” the compost, and one to which you are adding and mixing ingredients.


We hope that composting in your 'upcycled' bin is a helpful suggestion for you:  no useless bin in the basement or garage, 30% less trash in your new barrel, and, given time and some effort, a rich, dark, nutrient-laden compost for your gardens.

Care to see a video of the process? Watch this:

For more in depth information on composting, consult:


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Comments (1)

Thank you Yvette Cain! This is a great suggestion, and the instructions about composting are the clearest I've seen. I've been looking at those expensive retail composters for a while, but it seems the line of trash barrels in my yard can be put to use right away. I like thinking my trash is turning to good black earth instead of being shipped somewhere to be burned or buried, at Town expense.

- Susan Woodrow | 7/2/19 9:04 AM



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