Composting is a great way to increase the eco-friendliness of your kitchen. It turns food scraps into fertilizer rather than sending them off to the landfill. There are several methods of home composting, but they all require special equipment, extra effort, and advance planning—and they generate more finished compost than you might need, especially if you’re in an apartment and don’t have a yard to fertilize.
But in the last few years, many local governments have stepped up and set up municipal composting programs. In cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Portland, Oregon, residents can simply place food waste in a bin to be collected and composted on a large scale. Many other locations (including New York City) have pilot programs rolling out or private collection options that pick up compostable waste for an extra fee.
Los Angeles, where I live, rolled out citywide compost pickup at the beginning of 2023, and it’s cut way down on the amount of landfill trash I throw away. Food scraps go in the green bin that used to be just for yard waste, and now I'm only throwing out about one kitchen-sized trash bag of non-compostable, non-recyclable landfill waste per week.
The problem is that when you commit to composting, you have to separate your waste into three groups instead of just the trash and recycling most of us have become used to. You could get a separate compost bin, but there are also all-in-one trash containers with three sections. These make working composting into your routine simple. We researched the many options out there to pick out our favorites. Here are the best three-compartment trash bins to separate compost, recycling, and garbage for the landfill.
Step N Sort 16-Gallon 3-Compartment Stainless Steel Trash and Recycling Bin
The step-to-open trash can is a classic design that keeps your hands free and the lid clean. This model from Step N Sort simply combines three of them into a single unit. Each compartment has a removable inner can that you can take directly out to the collection bins, or you can load them up with standard kitchen-sized trash bags. The sections are on the smaller side at just over 5 gallons each, but that contributes to the overall compact size. As an added bonus, there are convenient handles on the side to move the whole thing around easily.
Price at time of publish: $120
Dimensions: 24 x 24 x 13 inches | Empty Weight: 26.5 pounds | Capacity: 5.3 gallons per compartment
Kaser Metal Garbage Cabinet - 2 Drawer
If you have a small kitchen space, this clever wall-mounted unit can make efficient use of any bare wall. At just 10 inches deep, two slim drawers tilt out to reveal four different garbage cans. They're small, at just 4 gallons each, but they hide away into a sleek white metal cabinet that keeps your trash out of view. You can use the extra fourth bin to separate different materials for recycling or as storage for garbage bags and other kitchen cleaning supplies. (The Kaser also doesn't have to be mounted to a wall; it can simply sit on the floor if you prefer.)
Price at time of publish: $170
Dimensions: 23.5 x 36.5 x 10 inches | Empty Weight: 36 pounds | Capacity: 4 gallons per compartment
Bloomingburg Step On Multi-Compartment Trash & Recycling Bin
With a similar design to our best overall choice, this Bloomingburg model is a bit smaller in capacity—and in price. The color-coded foot pedals make it easy to keep track of which section is which, and each of the three has a lift-out inner bin for ease of emptying. At just 4 gallons per bin, however, this is probably best for a smaller household.
Price at time of publish: $116
Dimensions: 13.5 x 19 x 27.8 inches | Capacity: 4 gallons per bin
Rev-A-Shelf 53TM Series Top Mount Triple Bin Trash Can
Many kitchens have a built-in trash can that slides out from under the sink or behind another cabinet door, but there aren't very many that include separate bins for compost, recycling, and landfill. Built to fit a standard 18-inch cabinet, this Rev-A-Shelf set is a high-quality option, with one medium and two small bins. There's a soft-close slider system that keeps it from slamming shut as well as a metal lid inside the cabinet that the bins slide under and doubles as a little extra storage space. This model mounts to the top of the cabinet, but Rev-A-Shelf also makes a bottom-mount version with clever triangular bins.
Price at time of publish: $281
Dimensions: 16.3 x 21.6 x 19 inches | Empty Weight: 22 pounds | Capacity: 8.8, 2, and 2 gallons
TheLovemadeHome Tilt-Out Triple Trash Bin
It's certainly pricey, but if you invest in this piece of custom furniture, you'll get a place to hide away your trash bins, plus tons of added storage space. Its three tilt-out cabinets hold a standard kitchen-sized trash bin (you'll need to buy your own, but cheap plastic ones are all you need), and the top can add extra kitchen counter space or hold dishes (or really anything else). The maker offers several other configurations, as well, including units in different finishes and with an added drawer for even more storage.
Price at time of publish: $626
Dimensions: 39 x 16.8 x 28.5 inches | Capacity: 8.8 gallons per bin
Brabantia 3-Bucket Bo Step Can
Most trash cans aren't meant to attract attention, but this steel model will stand out in one of its seven available colors. It's extra-wide so that the can doesn't stick out as far from the wall, and its non-slip base ensures it won't scratch your floor. The step mechanism opens easily and closes slowly so you don't end up getting your fingers caught. The individual bins are fairly small, however, which means you might need to empty the Bo Step more often.
Price at time of publish: $185-$246, depending on color
Dimensions: 14.3 x 21.3 x 17.3 inches | Empty Weight: 22 pounds | Capacity: 2.9 gallons per bin
SimpleHuman 4-Liter Compost Caddy
We're big fans of SimpleHuman's kitchen-cleaning and -organizing products. They're stylish and, well, simple. If you already have one of the brand's trash cans, this compact caddy sticks to the side with a built-in magnet, making it easy to take to the countertop to collect scraps and then store them back with the rest of the trash. (We're unsure if the magnet is compatible with other metal trash cans, but SimpleHuman does sell a wall mount you can use to attach it to a wall or cabinet door.)
The brushed-stainless-steel caddy has a fingerprint-proof coating that's also been infused with an antimicrobial agent to resist mold, mildew, and smells. The lid lets air circulate, which also keeps odors at bay and keeps bugs out, as well. There's a removable inner bucket you can take directly out to the large bin (and rinse out in the sink if necessary), but this caddy also comes with 30 custom-fit liners that are also compostable. It's a bit pricy but looks great and is super convenient.
Price at time of publish: $50
Dimensions: 8.5 x 9.6 x 5.7 inches | Empty Weight: 2.9 pounds | Capacity: 1.1 gallons
Best for the Office
Rubbermaid Slim Jim Recycling Station
It's tough to keep a whole office break room's worth of people responsible for properly separating their trash, but this set of cans might help. They're clearly labeled and color-coded with what goes where, with a flat insert that keeps the compost bin covered. They're by far the largest-capacity cans on this list, holding 23 gallons each, and they offer several useful features like bag cinches that securely hold any size bag, snap-in-place lids and connectors that hold all three cans together, and a narrow design that saves space. It's a pricey but very durable set: This is from Rubbermaid's extra-strong commercial product line.
Price at time of publish: $545
Dimensions: 36 x 21.5 x40.3 inches | Empty Weight: 12.4 pounds | Capacity: 23 gallons per can
Our top choice for keeping your compost, recycling, and landfill trash separate is the Step N Sort 3-Compartment Trash and Recycling Bin. If you already own a dual-compartment SimpleHuman model, we recommend adding the brand's 4-Liter Compost Caddy.
What to Look for in a 3-Compartment Trash Can for the Kitchen
There’s a lot of variation in trash can size. The small trash cans you’d typically find in a bathroom can hold around 4 gallons, while ones for the kitchen can range anywhere from 4 to about 16 gallons. Standard bathroom trash bags have a 4-gallon capacity, while kitchen-sized bags are 13 gallons. The individual cans in multi-compartment setups like the ones above tend to be a little smaller than single cans, but you only need one to handle all three garbage streams. The smaller the capacity (and the larger your household), the more often the can will need to be emptied. The product listings for most multi-compartment trash cans include the total capacity, so read carefully to figure out the capacity of each individual bin.
Shape and Layout
There are lots of ways for a trash can to make use of space efficiently: Some slide under a counter or into a cabinet, while others can mount to the wall. Free-standing garbage cans tend to be larger in capacity, but they also take up floor space in the kitchen and can’t tuck away out of sight. You can also get a trash-can setup disguised as its own piece of furniture—these are larger and more expensive than a simple plastic bin but also keep the trash hidden and can be custom-designed to fit in with your decor.
How does composting work?
Composting basically recreates the natural process of rotting. Bacteria, fungi, and insects work together to break down organic material into nutrient-rich soil. There are several different methods of composting, but all involve controlling the temperature, humidity, and amount of oxygen in the environment to ensure the waste breaks down evenly and fully. Depending on the method and the materials being composted, the process can take anywhere from about four weeks to a full year.
What items can and can't be composted?
Only organic materials can be composted, which means no plastic, metal, or glass—those should go in the recycling bin. Paper and cardboard are generally OK, as long as they’re not coated with something non-compostable like metal foil or plastic. Almost all scraps and waste from vegetarian ingredients are compostable, too, including peels, stems, seeds, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Meat, bones, and dairy products might or might not be acceptable, depending on how and where you compost: You usually can’t use them for outdoor composting at home, and only some locations’ municipal compost collection will accept them. (The same also applies to large amounts of used cooking oil.) Check your local collection agency website for its specific rules.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This roundup was written by The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn, who's been writing about food and drinks for almost 20 years. He had no interest in dealing with compost at home, but now that his home in Los Angeles has municipal compost pickup, he's wholly on board.