Composting is becoming more and more popular and home owners associations across the nation are loosening their rules on compost bins. And it makes sense. Composting is good for the environment – it reduces landfill waste and puts nutrients back into the soil.
With all that popularity comes the question: what can I compost?Even the newest composter knows they can compost things like leaves, grass clippings, vegetable and fruit peels and things like that. But wait! There’s more. If done correctly, you can compost almost anything of organic origin. Certain items, like meats and dairy products, may not be worth the effort – they attract too many pests, take too long to break down and throw off the balance of your pile.
Check out this list of things you can compost. Some of them may surprise you. Of course, be sure that anything you do put in your compost bin is not made from plastic and is free from toxic chemicals and other stuff you don’t want in your dirt. When it comes to composting, if you’re not sure, ask yourself: Is it biodegradable? Will it help make high-quality, nutrient-rich compost? Did it come from a chemical-free yard? Is it free of disease, toxins and other contaminants? If you are still not sure, contact a local master gardener who should be able to point you in the right direction. Compost is all about balance, and letting nature take its course, and it’s surprisingly easy!
To make composting even easier, keep a handy counter-top compost bin in the kitchen to handle day-to-day duties.
- Coffee – grounds (used or those flavored ones you didn’t like) and filter
- Tea – bags and loose leaf
- Soy, rice, almond milk, cheese, etc – almost any non-dairy substitute (not coffee creamer)
- Liquid from canned fruits and vegetables
- Seeds and pits – put seeds or pits through a chopper first so they won’t sprout
- Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee
- Stale starches – potato or tortilla chips, crackers, bread, cold cereal
- Meal – corn meal, oatmeal, grits, polenta, any hot cereal
- Bran – oat, wheat, whatever
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Expired jam or jelly
- Egg shells
- Popcorn kernels – the “old maids” that didn’t pop, or the stuff you didn’t eat if it’s not covered in butter
- Old herbs and spices
- Cooked starch – rice, pasta, quinoa, etc
- Peanut shells
- Beer and wine – yes, beer!
- Fruit and vegetable trimmings
- Spoiled fruits and vegetable – use in small quantities
- Leftovers – so long as they are free from meat products, animal-based fats, or too much oil/grease
Non-food kitchen items
- Wine corks – natural ones only!
- Egg cartons – of the paper variety, not the styrofoam
- Bamboo skewers
- Used matches
- Paper products – towels, napkins, table cloths, plates (uncoated), muffin cups (not foil or wax coated)
The usual yard suspects
- Yard and houseplant trimmings – leaves, grass, dead plants, etc.
- Dried flowers
- Fresh flowers
- Small branches and twigs – best if chopped into small bits
- Jack-o-Lanterns – make sure there are no remaining seeds
The not-so usual suspects
- Sawdust – in small amounts
- Wood ash – make sure it’s fully extinguished and cool, and be careful to not use too much. Never compost charcoal or coal ash
- Pencil shavings
- Bills – shred the papers and make sure there is no plastic, or coated paper
- Burlap sacks
- Holiday wreaths
- Latex balloons – not mylar
- Raffia fibers
- Old potpourri
- Horse, sheep and goat manure – you’re pretty safe using most herbivore manure. Though the jury is still out on cow manure.
- Pet hair
- Domestic bird droppings and bunny, gerbil and hamster (any rodent) droppings along with their wood or paper bedding
- Feathers – these take a long time to break down and should be chopped or shredded first
- Fish food
- Aquatic plants
- Aquarium water – from cleaning the tank
- Ratty old rope – if it’s natural fiber like jute, sisal, cotton or hemp
- The dead flies on the windowsill – or any dead bug, so long as you know they weren’t sprayed with pesticide first
- Cellophane bags (real cellophane, not regular clear plastic) – real cellophane is a wood product
- Old business cards (not the glossy ones)
- Old masking tape
- White glue/plain paste
- Weeds – just be sure to remove any seeds first and don’t compost weeds that spread via root or rhizome
From the bathroom
- Toenail clippings
- Trimmings from an electric razor
- Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls – shred them first
- Kleenex (including used)
- Condoms (natural latex only)
- Old loofas (real, not synthetic)
- Cotton balls
- Q-tips – not the plastic ones
The controversial things
- Pizza boxes – many feel the grease content on a pizza box is too much for a compost bin. Others say just make sure to remove any waxy parts, then shred the box and it’s ok
- Cereal boxes – some don’t want the dyes in their compost. If you’re ok with that, just be sure to remove the waxy liner
- Rawhide dog chews – some don’t like putting animal products in their compost, but these are compostable
- Junk mail – again, the dyes make them questionable. But what better use for the annoying stuff? Don’t compost the glossy stuff
- Crepe paper streamers – if you don’t mind the dye, of course!
- Nut shells – careful, walnut shells can be toxic to plants
- Stale Halloween candy and old nutrition/protein bars – some don’t like to add the sugars, corn syrups and other junk to their compost
- Newspaper – black and white is generally considered safe if it’s shredded first. Color print is questionable
- Dryer lint – if it’s natural fiber, you’re ok. If it’s synthetic, it’s not. But it really adds no benefit.
- Cotton or wool clothes, cut into strips – it’s usable but adds no nutrients to your compost
- Human or animal hair – in small amount it’s ok, but it does take a long time to compost and may mat up.
- Tampon applicators (cardboard, not plastic) and tampons (including used) – some folks argue against human waste products, others feel it’s perfectly ok
- Wood chips – in small amounts are ok to compost but you’re better off using them as mulch
- The insides of a vacuum bag – if you have natural-fiber carpets. But be careful – a vacuum bag may also contain non-compostable items
- The contents of your dustpan – do be careful about this one, it’s the same as your vacuum cleaner bag, there may be non-compostables in there
- Dust bunnies – are usually safe, but may contain non-compostable items and lots of human or animal hair
- Pet food – dog and cat food may be ok, but should be well buried to avoid attracting local wildlife. Rabbit, gerbil or hamster food is perfectly fine to compost
- Potpourri – if it’s all natural, without dyes, then compost away! Otherwise, use caution
- Old Christmas trees – pine needles take a long time to break down, as does the trunk. Make sure your tree is chopped small and you have a healthy compost pile first
If something isn’t adding to the nutritional value of your compost, look at other ways to dispose of it – is it recyclable? Can it be reused or repurposed? If not, and it’s safe to compost, then by all means, add it to the pile!