Wood, wire or plastic? Here are the different types of composting bins, and their pros and cons.
Traditional wooden bin
The classic compost bin is a wood-framed box, homemade and typically three feet cubed, though some compost gurus prefer a four-foot cube, which will handle exponentially more material.
Variations abound: One option is a hinged lid, another is a system of front slats that can be removed for easier turning. Some have lids, and others have front sections with stacked slats. Two such bins placed a few feet apart essentially make a third, perfect for a three-bin array to receive compost at different stages of preparation.
Pros: Relatively inexpensive as a do-it-yourself project and can be made rodent-proof.
Cons: Needs a flat site and may be too large for small yards. Wire-sided versions will dry out quickly in summer. Requires carpentry skills and tools.
This can be as basic as a ring of poultry wire supported by metal fence stakes, or a commercial wire bin.
Pros: Easy to install, low-cost.
Cons: Pile will need watering more often. No barrier to rodents.
These are floppy circles of black recycled plastic available from some area governments free or for a small fee.
Pros: Low cost. Pile turning is easily achieved by lifting the bin, placing it to the side and forking the compost into a new location.
Cons: Fast-drying and unattractive.
Enclosed plastic bins
These polypropylene containers range in size and shape but typically require mixed compost to be added through the lid. Finished compost is retrieved from a door at the bottom.
Pros: Rodent-resistant, attractive, small footprint. Good for kitchen scraps.
Cons: Can be expensive and take months to produce finished compost.
Tumblers and barrels
These plastic containers are designed to spin or turn to ease mixing.
Pros: Makes mixing easier, and the materials are critter-proof. Good for kitchen scraps.
Cons: Expensive, sometimes mechanically irksome, and may not have sufficient volume to assure hot, active composting.
More on compost bins
DIY bins: Find plans to make your own bin at the Web sites of the University of Missouri Extension, Cornell Waste Management Institute and Pierce County, Wash. The District Department of the Environment explains how to convert a metal trash can into a rodent-proof compost bin at its site, green.dc.gov .