Discover What You Can and Can't Compost in a Home Compost Bin or Pile

What you Can Compost - Any plant or material made from plantsCompost is a dark, nutrient-rich organic material that is the result of decomposed garden and kitchen waste. The two main benefits of composting are responsibly disposing of your kitchen scraps and using free materials to create “black gold” to improve the quality of your soil and help you grow healthy plants. This article will teach you what you can compost and what NOT to compost.

There are two main reasons why people compost:

1. Responsibly dispose of our organic waste (food scraps, grass clippings, leaves, etc). Taking responsibility for your own organic waste positively impacts the environment in several ways: it keeps food scraps out of the landfill where it creates harmful methane gas and it saves the gas and pollution needed to run garbage trucks. Imagine how few garbage pickups would be needed if no one put food scraps in the trash can or bagged leaves out at the curb for pickup.

2. Compost is valuable! Adding compost to any plant will make it healthier. Compost is especially useful for vegetable or flower gardeners but it can also be used by anyone that wants to make their house plants healthier or even their lawn grow thicker and greener.

Compost HappensHow Composting Works

The most important thing to remember when starting to compost is: Compost Happens! Composting is a natural process. It is going to happen on its own. You are simply trying to manage the process so that you get the most out of it. Compost is organic matter (stuff that used to be alive) decomposing or breaking down. Without human intervention, compost happens all over the place. One example is the leaves on a forest floor. Every fall many trees drop their leaves which slowly compost on the forest floor nourishing the tree. Don’t worry, compost happens!

What you Can Compost - Any plant or material made from plants
  • All pre-cooked vegetable food scraps
  • Coffee grounds (and paper coffee filters too!)
  • Egg Shells - they will take a very long time but even if they don’t decompose, the bits of eggshell are still good for your soil.
  • Garden plant residue - like the tomato plant that has finished producing
  • Cut flowers after they have faded
  • Yard Waste - sticks, leaves, etc
  • Grass clippings - Be careful with these, make sure to mix them in well
  • Animal manure - You can compost chicken, horse, cow, hamster, gerbil, and indoor pet bird droppings
  • Wood shaving bedding from a pet rodent or bird like a hamster, guinea pig, or parakeet
  • Bread - in small quantities
  • Dryer lint
  • Paper Towels, as long as you have only used them to clean drink spills, etc. Do not compost paper towels that have chemical cleaners on them.
  • Shredded paper - office paper or newspaperShredded Paper Composting
  • Pet Hair, you will want to be careful with this one. In small quantities I have found that it works well but it can easily clump together so mix it in well.
  • Tea bags - Go ahead and throw them in with the string and tag attached.
  • Cotton clothing or towels - These take a long time to break down. Speed up the process by cutting them into strips.
  • The contents of the dust pan - usually just dust and dirt anyway
  • Rabbit food pellets - some people suggest adding rabbit food to “kickstart” a hot compost pile. This is not needed. Rabbit food acts as a Nitrogen source in a compost pile. It does help a compost pile heat up and break down but no more than food scraps or any other Nitrogen source.
  • Used beer brewing grains - Breweries will often give this away free
  • Used coffee chaff - this is the outside paper like shell of the coffee bean that comes off during the roasting process. Many coffee roasting companies will give it away free. It also makes great bedding in a backyard chicken coop.
What NOT to Compost
  • Meat - will attract pests and rodents
  • Dairy
  • Oil - cooking or motor!Functions of Engine Oil
  • Bread - in large quantities
  • Cooked food - Cooked food often has increased seasonings, especially salt, which is not good for a compost pile. To responsibly dispose of your cooked food scraps, get some backyard laying hens! They are omnivores and eat anything we eat, except chicken, that is gross.
  • Weeds - Weed seeds may not die in the composting process. If they don’t then they will be in your finished compost which you will add back into your garden, not good. NOTE: you can compost weed seeds but you need to be sure your compost pile heats up to at least 130 degrees fahrenheit for at least 3 consecutive days to be sure the weed seeds are dead.
  • Any diseased garden plant - Plant diseases can spread in your compost pile. It is best to pull out a diseased plant, put it in a plastic bag, tie it up, and throw it away.
  • Dog or cat waste - waste from these pets can carry diseases. It is best to keep them out of your compost pile. If you want to compost dog poop check out this article: Make your Own Dog Poop Composter
  • Glossy magazines
  • Anything plastic
TIP: Keep your food scraps in the freezer: Keep your veggie food scraps and other compostables in a plastic shoebox sized tub in the freezer until it is full. That way you Keep your food scraps in the freezerwon’t have to take food scraps out to your compost pile every day and they won’t start to decompose on your counter stinking up your kitchen!

Do you compost something not on my list? Please leave a comment!
Do you regularly add something to your compost pile that is not on my “what you can compost” list? If so, I want to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments below. Thanks.
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