Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

What Can I Compost?

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What can I put in my compost pile? -Beth

If your compost pile is heating up properly, you can put all kinds of things in there. Be sure that everything you put in your compost pile is in pieces smaller than 1-2 inches. Shredded and chopped items break down must faster than whole pieces.

Here’s a list of compostable items, including a few that might surprise you.

Yard and Garden Debris

  • Dead plants
  • Extra potting soil
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Old cotton or leather gloves
  • Peat moss
  • Pine needles
  • Pruning debris, limbs, and branches
  • Rock dust
  • Sawdust
  • Seaweed
  • Straw and hay
  • Wood chips

Kitchen Scraps

  • Fresh or rotten produce including peelings, rinds, cores, stems, and leaves
  • Breads, grains, cereals, and flours
  • Canned fruits and veggies
  • Coffee grounds and paper filters
  • Corn cobs
  • Crackers and pasta
  • Egg shells
  • Fish bones and skins (if well buried)
  • Freezer-burned fruits and veggies
  • Ground-up animal bones
  • Herbs and spices
  • Gelatin
  • Jams and preserves
  • Milk, yogurt, and ice cream (although these may attract hungry animals)
  • Nut shells and husks
  • Paperboard (such as cereal and pasta boxes)
  • Popcorn
  • Rice
  • Seafood shells
  • Shredded paper towels and napkins
  • Soy products
  • Tea bags and loose tea
  • Toothpicks
  • Wine and beer
  • Cork wine corks
  • Wooden skewers

Household Waste

  • Compostable forks, cups, plates, etc (look for these in the store!)
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs (if made of paper)
  • Crumbs and dustpan contents
  • Crushed seashells
  • Dead bugs
  • Dried flowers and potpourri
  • Dryer lint
  • Dust bunnies
  • Felt
  • Fireplace ashes (in small amounts)
  • Floral arrangements
  • Hair clippings (also good in the garden as critter repellent)
  • Houseplant trimmings and old potting soil
  • Tissue
  • Leather
  • Loofah sponges
  • Matches
  • Nail clippings
  • Rope (natural fiber)
  • Shavings from your pencil sharpener
  • Vacuum bag dust
  • White glue and paste
  • Wool, linen and cotton
  • Wreaths, garland, and Christmas trees (real, not artificial)

Paper

Shred these paper items and add to your compost pile or recycle bin.

  • Business cards
  • Cardboard
  • Egg cartons
  • Envelopes (remove plastic windows)
  • Muffin cups
  • Newspaper
  • Office paper
  • Paper plates (unwaxed)
  • Paperboard (such as cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, etc.)
  • Post-It Notes
  • Ticket stubs

Pet and Animal Waste

  • Dry pet food
  • Feathers
  • Manure from herbivores (cows, horses, rabbits, etc)
  • Pet hair
  • Wood chips from pet cages

Compost Cautions

These items should NOT be added to your compost pile:

  • Aluminum foil, plastic bags, and other inorganic packaging
  • Chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, bleach, gasoline, and oils
  • Cooked foods*

  • Bread, yes – package, no.

  • Diapers
  • Diseased plants
  • Glossy or heavily dyed paper
  • Grease and fat*
  • Kitty litter*
  • Manure from meat-eating animals (dogs, cats, humans)*
  • Mayonnaise and peanut butter*
  • Meat scraps*
  • Particle board
  • Treated lumber
  • Whole bones*

*Meat and protein wastes are generally not recommended for home composting because they can smell, contain disease causing bacteria, and attract pests. However, with caution and the right composting system, you can compost almost any plant or animal waste. For more information, see How to Compost Cooked Foods, Meat, and Dairy.

Further Information

Julie



Please Leave a Comment

4 Comments on “What Can I Compost?”

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  1. Joyce Says:
    February 1st, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Explain about the leather.

    Thank you.

  2. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Leather is a natural material that can be composted, but because of the tanning process (which is meant to preserve it), it can take a long time to break down. Things like old gardening gloves, watch bands, and the occasional belt or wallet should do OK if chopped into small pieces. Large, thick pieces of leather (saddles, hats, etc) might need to be shredded and added to the pile in small amounts.

  3. Dinesh Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Can you explain more re: why “cooked foods” should not be composted?

    I run a Green Buying Co-op and we have a blog that often speaks to composting. I’m fairly well versed in what can and can’t be composted, but I’d never heard of “cooked foods” having to stay out of the compost before.

  4. Official Comment:

    Julie Day Says:
    April 16th, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Dinesh, you bring up a good point! The “no cooked foods” rule is a general guideline, mainly because 1) Vegetables are often cooked with oil, butter, or meat; and 2) Cooked foods are sometimes smellier and more attractive to scavengers. However, if your compost pile has enough heat and aeration, you can compost almost anything. More information can be found at How To Compost Cooked Foods, Meats, and Dairy, and a link has been added to the article.

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