Compost Tumbler vs. Bin – Which Composter Is Best For You?

New and prospective composters often go through the phase of selecting the perfect container for compositing. If you look closer, you will realize that there are mainly two variants out there; Composting bins and composting tumblers. These two composters are distinct in design, but they are designed to accomplish the same task; converting your garbage into black gold! When I was composting for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the plethora of options out there. It is easy to get lost in the choices and buy something which is not suited for your needs. Here, we will compare composting bins and tumblers so you can decide which is best for you.

What is a compost bin?

A composting bin is a container in which you add your organic waste, which in time turns into compost. Some bins are continuous, where you keep adding waste and collecting compost, while in others, you add the entire mixture all at once and wait for the process to finish.

These are available in various capacities ranging from tiny ones to giant bins designed for farms. They are usually made of plastic, and that’s why they are pretty cheap.

What is a compost tumbler?

A compost tumbler is also used to convert organic waste into compost. However, these are made differently. These contain a sophisticated mechanism that makes the process of turning the compost easy.

Turning is an integral part of composting. It helps speed up the process by evenly distributing the microbes and introducing the fresh air into the compost.

Compost Tumbler Vs. Bin

Let’s put these side by side and see who emerges as a winner in various features.

Feature  Composting Tumbler Composting Bin
Capacity
Time to Compost
Durablity
Functionality 
Pest and Animal Control
Cost 

Even though the compost tumbler might appear like a clear winner, it might not be the right option for you. Let’s talk a little more about these features.

Capacity

Compost bins are empty containers, while tumblers contain multiple parts which take space. That’s why for the same footprint size, composting bins can hold two to three times more material than a tumbler. Composting tumblers are usually available in a smaller volume than bin because when a large volume of scraps is added to the tumbler, it’s hard to rotate them.

So in capacity, composting bins are the clear winners.

Time to compost

The primary purpose of designing the compost tumbler was to increase convenience and accelerate the composting. Multiple tests have shown that tumblers can finish the process in half the time compared to the bin. This is mainly due to enhanced aeration and improved heating ability of the tumbler.

This difference in composting time is more pronounced in cold climates. The users often report that often they notice that composting process in their bins is halted while they can still feel the heat in their tumblers; however, when you add fresh scraps into the tumbler and mix it up, that can slow down the process. A good way of optimizing it is by using a dual bin composter in which one chamber is employed in adding fresh materials while the other finishes the process undisturbed.

Another factor that affects speed is the moisture level in the container. Most bins come with open bottoms from which you can drain out excess water. This option is not available in tumblers, though some do have drainage holes.

So with twice the speed of composting, the tumbler wins this round.

Durability

The composting bins are made of thin plastic as they only need to carry the weight of the scraps. This plastic can become brittle and easily break off in winters. After years of exposure to sunlight and harsh weather, the bins can wither off quickly, and it’s normal to have a broken door while collecting the compost.

However, the compost tumblers are made sturdy as they need to carry the weight of the compost and the entire mechanism. Good compost tumblers can work for years without any problems.

While buying these, make sure that legs are strong and can easily bear heavy loads. Also, check if the handle is not fragile and will not break off easily. Some models come with indentations for the hand grips instead of handles; these are fine too.

So, compost tumblers are more durable than compost bins.

Functionality

When we talk about functionality, the compost bins seriously lag; their design does not make it easy to turn the compost. Putting a shovel or pitchfork in the container and turning it takes a lot of time and effort. It’s a task not suited for the faint of heart or low arm strength. Additionally, you can also damage the plastic insides while using a shovel. Most users eventually give up turning and let the composting proceed as is. This makes the process significantly long and might also produce foul odors.

Another issue with the bins is it’s hard to access the finished compost at the bottom, especially if you are using a shovel for this task. The finished compost carries a lot of weight because of the unfinished scraps sitting on top of it. You can use a small hand space to do it, but it takes a lot of time. Most users turn the bin upside down, take out the contents, separate and remove the finished compost, and put the unfinished bits back into the bin.

Compost tumblers, on the other hand, make the process of turning a breeze. They are equipped with handles that are easy to work with. They just want you to dedicate a few minutes a week to rotate it, and the tumbler will take care of the rest. The sealed nature of the container makes things even better as it helps retain the heat better, thus speeding up the process.

However, the process of spinning is not always fun, especially if you are using a vertical axis tumbler. The spinning also becomes more challenging with the increasing weight of the waste. You will notice the change in effort when the bin is over 2/3rds full.

The process of emptying is also more straightforward in the case of a tumbler. You just need to bring in a wheelbarrow and empty the containers into it, given that the entire batch is finished in one go.

Both bins and tumblers make it hard for the users to predict when to stop adding new materials to the container as convenient removal demands that all the composter ingredients are successfully composted. People opt for dual compartment composters with two compartments; when one is full, you can switch to the other one.

So in terms of functionality, the clear winner is the compost tumblers with their built-in turning mechanism and sturdy built.

Pest and Animal control

Both compost bin and tumbler are pretty good at keeping large animals like skunks away from your compost. Though, a compost tumbler is better at keeping rodents at bay. Its design prohibits smaller animals from burrowing in and take shelter in your compost. In the case of a compost bin, people often find rodents living in their compost.

So we give this one to the compost bin, though the compost tumbler is not that far either.

Cost

Now we will talk about the cost, the most critical factor which can be the ultimate deciding factor for most people.

Since compost tumblers are built well and contain a turning system, they cost higher. For a similar capacity, you can expect to pay 30% more for a compost tumbler.

It would be wise to pick a model that does not have many complex and moving parts as they are easy to break while you use a shovel. A good tumbler should easily stay with you for years to come.

The winner of this round is composting bin. Even though a tumbler is better, it still costs more, which may not be feasible. Some people are only looking for casual composting and want the biggest bang for their buck. In that scenario, a composting bin works just fine.

What is the best container for composting?

Well, it depends on your needs and budget. Honestly, you don’t even need to spend anything to start composting. I know people who are successfully doing it for years with their DIY units and dug up piles.

Regular users who are planning to compost constantly and don’t have a lot of time dedicated to composting and mastering the art are well off with a tumbler.

People who have patience and are willing to put in time for composting without spending much can use a composting bin.

I know people who are using composting bins and tumblers and are happy with both. It all depends on your preferences and personality.

Pros of a composting bin

  • Simple assembly – In a bin, you just need to align all the walls and cover the top, and it’s good to go
  • Close contact with the earth – A bottomless bin remains in connection with the ground, which allows it to reap the benefits of beneficial microbes and worms
  • Low cost – compost bins are containers made of plastic and therefore are cheap
  • Long-lasting – With time, certain parts of plastic may chip off in a composting bin, but that doesn’t affect its functioning much
  • Large capacity – Bins take a small space, but they provide a large capacity in return
  • No foul smell – If you are following all the instructions correctly, your compost bin should not smell bad

Cons of a composting bin

  • Long time – Since the process is primarily natural, composting takes longer in a bin
  • Edges are prone to damage – As it is made of plastic, the edges can chip off easily after prolonged use
  • Stirring is laborious – stirring a composting bin requires a lot of effort and can put off a lot of people

Pros of a compost tumbler

  • Easy turning – Since a compost tumbler is equipped with a turning handle, it’s pretty easy and effortless to turn it compared to a bin
  • Complete pest and animal control – The compost tumbler is fully sealed, and therefore, it protects the container from pest and animal attacks
  • Lesser time – As compost tumbler is turned frequently, it provides required aeration and generated sufficient heat to complete composting in a shorter period

Cons of a compost tumbler

  • Difficult moisture control – There are no openings at the bottom, so it becomes hard to drain out excess moisture from a tumbler
  • Hard Assembly – it is not as simple to assemble as a bin. You will need various tools and carefully read the instructions to finish the assembly.
  • Some models are difficult to turn – The models with the vertical axis models are usually hard to turn and require a lot of work.

Faqs

What should you not put in a compost tumbler?

While you can put most organic waste in your composter, you should avoid a few things for a healthy compost

  • Meat and meat products – These can cause foul odors and will get unnecessary attention from animals
  • Diary Products – these can attract pests and flies
  • Diseased Plants – If you add diseased plants, the pathogens can carry on in the compost and infect the plants you add it to
  • Coal and Charcoal Ash – it contains harmful toxins
  • Pet feces – feces from pets like dogs and cats, can contain disease-causing pathogens and might infect consumable plants

How long does it take for compost to break down in a tumbler?

In ideal conditions, you can expect to get finished compost in 3 weeks. However, to achieve these conditions, you need the correct temperature, moisture, green to brown ratio, etc.

Do compost tumblers attract rats?

Compost tumblers are sealed containers, and it’s almost impossible for rats to burrow in. Still, you should avoid adding things like meat products and dairy that attract rats.

How often should you turn your compost?

It would be best if you can turn your compost tumbler twice or thrice a week. If you extend the intervals or do it too often, it can slow down the composting process.

Where is the best place to put a compost tumbler?

It is preferable to set a compost tumbler In a corner in your garden. Someplace which is easily accessible and yet a little far in case it smells. Put the tumbler on elevated ground that remains dry. If you live in a cold area, you can place it where there is occasional sunlight. On the other hand, if you live in a dry area, put it in the shade.

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