Discover Free Sources of Brown Compost Materials


Leaf CompostingComposting is a natural process in which organic material breaks down. Many people compost at home or work to responsibly dispose of their food scraps and to create nutrient-rich compost that can make any plant healthier.

Composting requires 4 materials: Carbon (brown stuff), Nitrogen (green stuff), water, and air. When you are starting a new compost pile you will need an abundance of carbon sources for composting. This article describes several different brown compost materials that you can use.

Leaves - How to Compost Leaves

Leaf Composting is by far the most popular form of composting with a carbon source. In the fall, leaves are plentiful. You can keep your own leaves for composting and take bags from in front of your neighbors house (leaf thief!). If you are going to “Leaf Thief”, look for clear bags so that you can see that it is all leaves. You don’t want a bag that is half full of sticks. Also, avoid magnolia and other leaves that are very large and waxy. They do not break down very quickly. Look for small thin leaves. Pin oak leaves make great carbon sources for composting. Another “Leaf Thief” tip is to look for lawns that have different kids of weeds growing in them. This means that the homeowner is not using high-powered chemicals that could harm the compost you make.

One draw back to leaf composting is that they are only plentiful at one time of year. I always pile up a few bags or make a large loose pile behind my shed that I can use throughout the year in my hot compost pile or as mulch in my garden.

For more info on how to compost leaves check out How to Build a Hot Compost Pile.

Shredded Paper Composting

Shredded office paper or newspaper can also beShredded Paper Composting used as carbon sources for composting. The benefits are that they are easy to find and free. You can easily find an office building that will give you their shredded paper. Try to find one that is not too big other wise they will overwhelm you very quickly. Shredded paper is easier to find year round than leaves are. Newspaper makes a good brown compost material and the soy based dyes are not harmful. Be sure to only use the newsprint and not the glossy sections. 

A drawback to using shredded paper in your compost pile is that paper does not break down (decompose) as quickly as leaves do.

While shredded paper and shredded newsprint workVermicomposting (worm composting) bin well as carbon sources for composting they are even better for use as bedding in a worm composting (vermicomposting) bin. For more info on worm composting visit Getting Started With Worm Composting

Composting with Coffee Bean Chaff

Coffee bean chaff is the outside shell of the coffee bean that is removed during the roasting process. It is light brown, light in weight, and smells like delicious coffee! Coffee chaff makes an excellent brown compost material. The chaff is a waste product for most coffee roasters so they may be more than happy to give you some.

Coffee bean chaff is slightly more acidic than most leaves or shredded paper. This is not a big deal but simply something to be aware of.

Another great use of coffee chaff is as bedding in a backyard chicken coop.

Sawdust as a Brown Compost Material

Sawdust can also be used as a carbon source in your compost pile and can be found for free at many manufacturing businesses that use wood and at large hardware stores that offer a cutting service. Be careful using sawdust as it can easily stick and clump together which keeps air from being able to circulate and

Hot Compost Pilecauses the pile to become anaerobic (without air), which can stink. The best use of sawdust is to mix it with one of the other carbon sources listed above.


Sawdust works very well as the carbon source in composting toilets or in pet waste composters.

There are many different carbon sources for composting. The above list is only a few that are common and easy to find for cheap or free. If you know of another source of brown compost materials please share in the comments below. Thanks. Happy Composting.
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