How to Compost Using Only What You Find in Dumpsters

How to Compost Using Only What You Find in Dumpsters

Composting is a great way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for plants. With a little effort, you can actually compost using only materials found in dumpsters. This guide will walk you through the entire process, from collecting compostable materials to maintaining your compost pile.

Gathering Compostable Materials from Dumpsters

The key to successful dumpster composting is collecting the right ingredients. Here are some of the best things to look for:

Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

Fruits and veggies make excellent compost material. Focus on dumpsters behind grocery stores, restaurants, smoothie shops, and produce markets. Scrape peels, pits, rinds, tops, and any spoiled or rotten produce into a bucket to collect. Fruit and veggie scraps provide important nitrogen and moisture for compost.

Coffee Grounds and Tea Leaves

The grounds and leaves from coffee and tea are rich sources of nitrogen and carbon. Check dumpsters at coffee shops, cafes, and tea houses. You may even find pre-used coffee filters to add. Coffee grounds activate helpful microorganisms and heat up compost piles.


Crushed eggshells add valuable calcium to compost. Look for cartons of cracked eggs thrown out by grocery stores and bakeries. Rinse off any egg residue before adding shells to your compost bucket.

Shredded Paper and Cardboard

Paper products make great “brown” material for compost. Seek out discarded newspapers, napkins, paper towels, computer paper, cardboard boxes, and egg cartons around dumpsters. Shred or tear paper and cardboard into small pieces before adding to your pile.

Wood Chips and Sawdust

Wood materials provide carbon and air pockets for compost. Construction sites often throw out unused wood chips and sawdust. Collect bags or buckets full whenever possible. Avoid treated, painted, or stained wood.

Building and Maintaining a Compost Pile

Once you’ve gathered enough compostable material, it’s time to build and maintain your compost pile:

Selecting a Compost Site

Find a dry, shaded spot near a water source to set up your pile. The site should have direct access to the ground and should be protected from strong winds. An enclosed compost bin is ideal, but you can also use wooden pallets or a wire mesh cylinder.

Layering Materials

Build your pile in thin, alternating layers of greens (nitrogen-rich) and browns (carbon-rich). Start with a base layer of twigs or wood chips for aeration. Top with nitrogen-rich food scraps, then a brown layer like shredded paper or sawdust. Repeat layers.

Monitoring Moisture and Airflow

The compost pile should have 40-60% moisture, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Add water if the pile becomes too dry. Turning or aerating the pile weekly will improve airflow. Use a pitchfork or compost tumbler if available.

Managing Temperature

An active compost pile reaches 140-160°F internally. This heat sterilizes the pile and speeds decomposition. Monitor temperature using a compost thermometer. If the pile doesn’t heat up, remix it and add more nitrogen-rich greens.

Finishing the Compost

After 2-3 months, your compost should look dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling. Allow it to fully mature for 3-6 more months before using. Then sift out any uncomposted bits and mix the fertile finished compost into garden beds or container plants.

Troubleshooting Common Compost Problems

Even when using dumpster materials, a well-maintained compost pile should decompose efficiently. But issues can arise:

Problem: Rotten Egg Smell

Cause: Excessive moisture without enough air.

Solution: Turn the pile to dry it out and improve airflow. Add more brown material like sawdust or wood chips.

Problem: Ammonia Smell

Cause: Too much green, nitrogen-rich material.

Solution: Add more carbon-rich browns like shredded cardboard. Turn the pile to release gases.

Problem: Failure to Heat Up

Cause: Lack of nitrogen, moisture, or air.

Solution: Remix the pile with additional greens and water. Make sure airflow is adequate by turning.

Problem: Pests like Flies, Rats, or Raccoon

Cause: Exposed food scraps.

Solution: Bury fruit and vegetable scraps under 10 inches of compost. Avoid meat, oils, and animal products. Cover the open pile securely with a tarp or lid.

The Benefits of Dumpster Composting

Composting with dumpster materials takes a bit more work than a conventional backyard pile. But it offers many advantages:

  • Diverts waste from landfills
  • Turns trash into a useful soil amendment
  • Costs nothing if using only salvaged ingredients
  • Makes use of nutrients in discarded food scraps
  • Helps gardens and houseplants grow

With the right materials, maintenance, and troubleshooting, you can successfully compost using just the organic waste found in dumpsters. Give dumpster composting a try – it’s free, eco-friendly, and deeply satisfying!