How to Build a Sustainable Compost Bin from Pallets: A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on September 25th, 2023 by Brett Knighton

Every dedicated gardener knows healthy soil is the secret to lush, thriving plants. While commercial fertilizers have their place, nothing beats the richness of homemade compost.

However, finding an affordable and efficient way to compost can be challenging for many. This article is your ticket to unlocking the secret weapon to elevate your gardening game.

Whether you're a seasoned green thumb seeking to enhance your garden's productivity or a newbie eager to learn, building a compost bin from wooden pallets is the answer.

If you missed it, check out our beginner-friendly guide on composting at home, where we walk you through each step of the composting process to ensure your garden flourishes while reducing your environmental impact, making you the envy of your gardening community.

Now, let's get to making a compost bin from pallets!

Why Choose Pallets for Your Compost Bin?

When starting a compost bin, the materials you choose are crucial. Pallets are a top choice for many, and here's why:

Easy to Find

Pallets are everywhere! You can often find them behind grocery stores, at construction sites, or even advertised for free by people in your community. This makes starting your compost bin project easy and affordable, as you don't have to spend much money on materials.

Safe for Composting

Most pallets are made of untreated wood, meaning they don't have harmful chemicals that could get into your compost. This is important because you want your compost to be organic and safe, especially if you use it to fertilize a vegetable garden.

Helps Reduce Waste

Many pallets end up in landfills after they are used for shipping goods. Using them to build your compost bin gives them a second life and reduces waste. It's a win-win situation—you get free material for your project and help the environment by recycling!

Adds a Rustic Charm

Pallet compost bins have a simple, rustic look that can blend well with your garden. They can add a touch of country charm to your outdoor space, making your composting corner look cozy and inviting.

A pallet compost bin showing food scraps and yard waste in it.

Environmentally Friendly

Using pallets is a form of upcycling where you take something old and turn it into something new and useful. Upcycling is great for the planet because it reduces the need to make new things from raw materials, which saves energy and resources.

Sturdy and Durable

Pallets are built to hold heavy loads, making them solid and durable. This means your compost bin will be able to withstand the weight of the composting material and last for a long time.

How Many Pallets Do You Need for Your Compost Bin?

When building a compost bin from pallets, figuring out how many pallets you need is the first step. Figuring that out mainly depends on how big you want your compost bin to be and whether you want a simple single bin or a more advanced system. Here's some tips to help you decide:

Single-Bin Compost Container

If you're new to composting or have limited space, a single-bin compost container might be your best choice. For this, you typically need four pallets: one for each side of the bin.

This creates a simple, open box where you can start composting. It's a great option if you're just starting and want to keep things simple and easy.

3-Bin Compost System

If you want something more advanced, consider building a 3-bin compost system. This requires at least ten pallets. With this system, you have three separate bins side by side. Here's how it works:

  • First Bin: This is where you put your fresh waste, like kitchen scraps and yard waste. It's the starting point of the composting process.
  • Second Bin: This bin is for compost that is in the process of breaking down or 'maturing'. It's where you move the material from the first bin once it's started to decompose.
  • Third Bin: This is for finished compost. It's where you move the material from the second bin once it's fully decomposed and ready to use in your garden.

This 3-bin system allows for continuous composting, meaning you can keep adding fresh waste to the first bin while the other bins work. It's a great option if you have a larger garden or want to make a lot of compost.

Consider the Size

The number of pallets mentioned is a general guide, but you might need more or fewer depending on the size of the pallets and how big you want your bins to be. Larger bins will require more pallets, so consider how much compost you plan to make and how much space you have available.

Extra Pallets for Dividers and Lids

If you want to add dividers between the bins or lids to cover them, you'll need extra pallets for these parts. Lids can help keep your compost moist and protect it from heavy rain, while dividers can help keep the different stages of compost separate.

Add Wood Posts for Extra Stability

For extra stability, add four - 4x4 wood posts in between each section to create a frame for your pallets. This will give you a sturdy place to nail or screw your pallets.

Preparing the Pallets for Your Compost Bin

Before you start building your compost bin, it's very important to get the pallets ready. Here's how to prepare your pallets properly:

How to Choose the Right Pallets for Composting

  • Good Condition: Look for pallets that are strong and not broken. If the wood is cracked or has holes, it might not hold the compost well.
  • Same Size: Try to find pallets that are all the same size. This will make your compost bin look neat, and it will be more stable.
  • Pick Untreated Wood: You must use pallets made from untreated wood. Some pallets are treated with chemicals to make them last longer, but these chemicals can be harmful to your compost.

A Quick Guide on Identifying Treated Wood

Treated pallets have harmful chemicals that can seep into your compost, making them unsafe to use. Here are some tips for determining if the wood used in the pallet is treated or not:

  • Look for IPPC Logo: Pallets with an IPPC logo stamped on them are usually treated. The logo also contains codes indicating the type of treatment used.
  • Treatment Codes: HT means Heat Treated, which is suitable for composting; avoid MB (Methyl Bromide) treated pallets as they contain harmful chemicals.
  • Greenish Hue: Treated wood often has a greenish tint due to the presence of copper-based preservatives.
  • Dark or Unusual Colors: Wood that appears unnaturally dark or has unusual colors may have been treated with chemicals.
  • Surface Residue: Treated wood may have a residue on the surface, which can feel oily or appear shiny.

If you are unsure, ask the supplier or manufacturer about the treatment of the wood. They should provide accurate information regarding any chemical treatments applied to the pallets.

Clean the Pallets

  • Remove Dirt: Give the pallets a good clean to remove dirt or mud. This will help keep your compost clean.
  • Take Out Nails: Check the pallets for any nails or screws and remove them. You don't want to get hurt while building your compost bin.
  • Check for Splinters: Look over the pallets for any splinters or rough spots and sand them down if needed. This will make handling the pallets safer and easier.
Stacks of Pallets to Choose from While Making a Compost Bin from Pallets.

Inspect for Contaminants

  • Look for Stains: Check the pallets for any stains or spills. If a pallet has stains, it might be contaminated with something that could harm your compost.
  • Smell the Pallets: Give the pallets a sniff. It's best not to use them for composting if they have a strong chemical smell.

Organize Your Pallets

Once you have cleaned and checked your pallets, organize them by size and type. This will make the building process smoother and quicker.

Safety First

When preparing the pallets, remember to wear gloves to protect your hands from splinters and nails. Safety should always be your first priority.

Building Your Pallet Compost Bin: Step by Step Guide

Building a compost bin from pallets is relatively easy and doesn't require a lot of tools or special skills. Here's a detailed but easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide to help you build your compost bin:

Step #1 - Gather Your Tools and Materials

Before you start, ensure you have all the necessary tools and materials ready. Here’s a table listing what you will need:

Materials Purpose Quantity
Pallets To form the walls of the compost bin 4 (For a standard single-bin)
10 (For a 3-bin system)
Wood Screws or Nails To secure the pallets together Approximately 24 (6 per pallet junction)
L Brackets To reinforce the corners and provide additional stability 4 Total (Two for each corner - one on top and one on bottom) - Per Bin
Door Hinges (optional) To close in your compost bin and to gain access if necessary 2
Hammer or Cordless Drill To drive in the screws or nails 1
Saw (Optional) To adjust the size of the pallets if needed 1
Level To ensure the pallets are positioned straight and level 1
Lining (Optional) To line the bin if desired Enough to line the bin. Individual pallets are typically 48"(L) x 40"(W).
Gloves To protect your hands during construction 1 pair
Measuring Tape To measure and align the pallets correctly 1

Step #2 - Prepare the Location for Your Compost Bin

Before you begin, choose the right location for your compost bin and clear the area of any debris or weeds. The site should be convenient for adding compost materials and harvesting finished compost. Here are some tips to help you find the best spot:

  • Sunlight: Choose a location that receives a good amount of sunlight. The heat from the sun helps speed up the composting process.
  • Drainage: The spot should have good drainage to prevent the compost from becoming too soggy.
  • Accessibility: Place the bin in a location that is easy to access, preferably close to your kitchen waste source and garden.
  • Flat Ground: Look for level ground to add stability to the bin. You may also need to level it out with a shovel.
  • Aesthetic Integration: Consider how the bin will blend into your garden design.

Step #3 - Position the Pallets

Start by placing three pallets on the ground to make a U-shape. The open side will be where you add and remove compost. Think of it like building three walls of a room.

Step #4 - Make Sure It's Level

Before securing the pallets together, check the angles with a level to make sure it's square. This means making sure they are straight and not tilted so your compost bin won't wobble or fall over.

Step #5 - Secure the Pallets Together

After positioning and leveling the pallets, use wood screws or nails, and the L brackets at the corners to secure the pallets together, providing additional stability and strength. Pre-drilling holes can prevent the wood from splitting. Ensure all connections are tight and secure.

Step #6 - Add a Front Panel or Door

If you want to close the open side of your compost bin, you can add a front panel or a door made from another pallet using door hinges. This can be helpful to keep animals out of your compost. If you add a door, make sure it's easy to open and close so you can get to your compost easily.

Step #7 - Line the Bin (Optional)

Lining the bin isn't necessary, but it can help your compost stay moist and warm, which makes it turn into compost faster. It also keeps larger bugs and rodents from accessing your compost pile. If you decide to line your bin, use a material that lets water and air through, like wire mesh. Avoid using plastic bags or tarps, as they can stop air and water from getting to your compost.

Step #8 - Check Stability

Once everything is assembled, give your compost bin a little shake to make sure it's stable. If it wobbles, you might need to add more screws or nails or adjust the position of the pallets.

Step #9 - Additions

If desired, create a lid using a piece of plywood or another pallet to cover the top. The lid will help retain moisture and heat and keep out rain and pests.


Building your compost bin using pallets can be fun and rewarding. By following the steps outlined above you can create a sturdy and functional compost bin that will last for a long time.

It's important to take your time, make sure everything is secure and level, and be willing to make changes if needed. Don't worry if you're not an expert - anyone can do it!

Why Line Your Compost Bin?

Lining your compost bin can help keep the composting process going smoothly. It can help keep the moisture and heat inside the bin, which helps turn your waste into compost faster. It also stops small bits of compost from falling out through the gaps in the pallets.

It's ultimately up to you whether you want to line your bin or not. If you decide to do so, here's a detailed and easy-to-understand guide guide to help you do it right:

Choosing the Right Material

When lining your pallet bin, it's best to use material that lets air and water through but keeps the compost inside. Here are some good options:

  1. Wire Mesh: This is another good option that I use. I used a wire mesh that has a 1mm gap in between, so air and water can still pass through. It keeps all of my compost inside the bin and keeps the unwanted bugs out. I chose to use this stainless steel mesh lining. Mainly because of the gap in between and the fact that it doesn't rust.
  2. Burlap: This type of fabric is very breathable, meaning it lets air and water through efficiently. It's a good choice for lining your compost bin.
  3. Landscape Fabric: This is a fabric used in gardening. It lets water and air through and is strong enough to hold the compost inside the bin.

Avoid Plastic Liners

Plastic bags or sheets aren't good for lining your compost bin. They don't let air and water through, which can stop the composting process and make bad smells. Always choose breathable materials like the ones mentioned above.

How to Line Your Bin

  1. Measure the Inside: Use a tape measure to find out the size of the inside of your bin. This will tell you how much material you need to line it.
  2. Cut the Material: Once you know the size, cut your lining material to fit the inside of your bin.
  3. Attach the Lining: Use staples or small nails to attach the lining to the inside walls of your bin. Make sure it's secure so it doesn't fall off when you add compost.

Lining your compost bin can help keep your compost in good condition and speed up the composting process. It's not necessary, but it can help maintain the right conditions inside your compost bin, promoting the activity of beneficial compost bugs and organisms essential for decomposition.

If you line your bin, choose a breathable material and make sure it's securely attached. This way, you'll have a well-functioning compost bin that will give you rich, nourishing compost for your garden!

Maintenance and Longevity

Taking good care of your compost bin is important if you want it to last a long time. Here's how to maintain your pallet compost bin and make it last longer:

Turn the Compost Regularly

Turning the compost means mixing it up every once in a while. This helps get air into the compost, which is important for breaking down the waste. Use a shovel or a compost aerator to mix the compost every few weeks.

Check the Pallets for Damage

Inspect the pallets regularly to see if they are getting weak or breaking. If you see any broken boards or loose nails, fix them right away to keep your bin strong and safe.

Look for Signs of Decay

Over time, the pallets might start to rot because they hold damp compost. If you see any signs of decay, like soft or discolored wood, it might be time to replace some pallets.

Keep the Compost Moist

Compost needs to be damp to break down, so check the moisture level regularly. If it's too dry, add some water. Add some dry, brown material like leaves or newspaper if it's too wet.

An image of a compost bin in action with food scraps on top.

Protect the Bin from Extreme Weather

If you live in a place with very hot or cold weather, consider placing your bin in a shaded area or covering it with a tarp to protect it from the elements. This can help the pallets last longer.

Be Prepared to Replace Pallets

Even with good care, pallets will eventually break down because they are made of wood. Have extra pallets stored so you can replace any that get too damaged or start showing signs of decay.

Keep it Clean

Keeping the area around your bin clean can also help it last longer. Sweep up any spilled compost and remove any weeds or plants that start growing around the bin.

Taking good care of your pallet compost bin will help it last several years. Regularly turning the compost, checking the pallets for damage, and keeping the bin clean and in good condition are key to ensuring its longevity. Remember, a well-maintained compost bin will provide you with plenty of rich, nourishing compost to help your garden thrive!

Composting Mistakes to Avoid

Composting is a great way to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. However, there are common mistakes that you should avoid to get the most out of the process.

Below are some tips to help you avoid these mistakes and create high-quality compost. Also, if you're new to composting, check out our beginner's guide to composting at home to start on the right foot!

  1. Putting too much kitchen waste, especially food scraps, in the compost bin all at once. Add kitchen waste in small amounts and mix it with ‘brown’ materials like leaves, cardboard, or newspaper. This helps balance the compost and stops bad smells.

  2. Forgetting to mix up the compost regularly. Turn the compost every few weeks using a shovel or a compost aerator. This gets air into the compost, which helps it break down faster and stops it from smelling bad.

  3. Using pallets or other wood that has been treated with chemicals or is contaminated with harmful substances. Only use untreated, clean wood for your compost bin. Check the pallets for stains, smells, or signs of treatment before using them.

  4. Letting the compost get too dry or too wet. Check the compost regularly and add water if it's too dry, or add dry materials if it's too wet. The compost should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

  5. Putting things in the compost bin that don't break down or harm the composting process. Avoid composting meat, dairy, diseased plants, and weeds with seeds. Stick to fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and yard waste.

  6. Not paying attention to the compost bin for long periods. Regularly check the compost bin for signs of problems like bad smells, pests, or material imbalances and fix them as soon as possible.

  7. Having too much ‘green’ material (like food scraps) or too much ‘brown’ material (like leaves) in the compost. Aim for a balance between green and brown materials. A good rule of thumb is to have about three parts brown to one part green.

How to Use Your Compost From Pallet Bins

After successfully creating nutrient-rich compost in your pallet bins, it’s time to put it to good use. Here’s how you can utilize the compost to enrich your garden and promote plant growth:

An infographic showing how to use compost from a compost bin made from pallets.

1. Enriching Soil

  • Mix Compost into Garden Beds: Mix the finished compost into your garden beds to improve soil structure, water retention, and nutrient content. This will provide your plants with the essential nutrients they need to grow.
  • Use as Topsoil: Spread a layer of compost over the soil surface as topsoil. This will protect the soil from erosion and help retain moisture, benefiting the growing plants.

2. Fertilizing Plants

  • Use as a Natural Fertilizer: Compost is a perfect organic fertilizer. Apply it around the base of plants to provide them with essential nutrients and improve soil health, promoting stronger and healthier growth.
  • Make Compost Tea: Steep compost in water to make compost tea, a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer that can be applied directly to plant leaves or roots, providing immediate nutrients to the plants.

3. Lawn Care

  • Lawn Top Dressing: Use compost as a top dressing for your lawn. Spread a thin layer of compost over the lawn to improve soil quality, enhance water retention, and provide nutrients, leading to a lush and healthy lawn.
  • Repairing Lawn Patches: Mix compost with grass seed to repair bare patches in your lawn. The compost will provide a fertile environment for the new grass to establish and grow.

4. Potting Mix

  • Create Your Own Potting Mix: Combine compost with other soil amendments such as perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, sand, lime, or worm castings to create a nutrient-rich potting mix for container plants. This will promote healthy root development and robust growth in potted plants.

5. Tree and Shrub Care:

  • Mulching Around Trees and Shrubs: Use compost as mulch around the base of trees and shrubs to conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and provide nutrients. This primarily benefits young trees and shrubs, aiding their growth and development.

    For more extensive insights on tree care, refer to our comprehensive guide to tree planting and care.

Using compost from pallet bins is a versatile and environmentally friendly way to enhance the health and productivity of your garden. By incorporating compost in various gardening and landscaping practices, you contribute to a more sustainable and vibrant living environment.

Final Thoughts

Building a compost bin from pallets is an easy and rewarding DIY project that enhances your garden’s sustainability and productivity. Following this guide, you can create a functional and eco-friendly composting system, turning waste into wealth and contributing to a healthier planet.

So roll up your sleeves and start building your pallet compost bin today, and don’t forget to share your experience and tips with fellow gardening enthusiasts!

For more ideas on sustainable gardening and landscaping, check out our article on creating an outdoor oasis with sustainable landscaping solutions.

FAQs

1. How to Build a Compost Bin out of Wood?

Building a compost bin out of wood, specifically using pallets, is a sustainable and efficient way to recycle organic waste. Start by selecting untreated, clean pallets and secure them together to form a three-sided box using screws or nails. Ensure the structure is stable and consider lining it with a breathable material like burlap or mesh to maintain optimal composting conditions. Regularly turn the compost and monitor moisture levels to produce nutrient-rich compost that enhances soil fertility and garden productivity.

2. Are Pallets Good for Compost?

Yes, pallets are an excellent choice for creating compost bins. They are typically readily available and provide ample ventilation, crucial for the composting process. When using pallets, it’s important to choose ones that are untreated and free of contaminants to avoid any adverse effects on the compost. Pallet compost bins are a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for garden waste recycling, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly garden design.

3. Do You Need to Line a Pallet Compost Bin?

Lining a pallet compost bin is optional but can be beneficial. A liner, preferably made from breathable materials like burlap or mesh, can help retain moisture and heat within the compost bin, accelerating the decomposition process. It also prevents the compost from spilling out while allowing adequate air circulation, essential for creating high-quality, nourishing compost. Avoid using plastic liners as they can inhibit airflow and lead to odor problems.

4. How to Link the Pallets Securely?

To link the pallets securely when building a compost bin, position them to form the desired structure and use screws or nails to join them together at the corners. Ensure that the pallets are level and the connections are tight to maintain stability. Regularly inspect the pallets for any signs of damage or loosening and reinforce the connections as needed. A securely linked pallet compost bin ensures safety and longevity, allowing for efficient composting and a seamless integration into your garden environment.

An image showcasing the ways to use compost from pallet bins.


About the Author

Brett Knighton, Owner of GreenLifeResource.com

Brett Knighton

I am the proud owner of GreenLifeResource.com, a platform dedicated to promoting sustainable living and environmental consciousness. My journey towards sustainability was inspired by my daughter's love for nature and being outdoors. Through her, I realized the importance of preserving the environment not just for her, but for all children. Today, I share my knowledge and experiences, hoping to inspire others to join me in making more environmentally-friendly choices. My goal is to bring families and friends closer together through shared respect and care for our planet.