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100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost

100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost

I consider composting a sacred act. A person who composts thoughtfully is a shepherd over the transformation from death into life. Without the holy cycle of decay and rebirth that the composter harnesses for her garden, life on this planet could not exist.

For your soil, there is no better ingredient than compost, whether you till it into your garden beds or use it as mulch around shrubs and trees, it is considered essential to organic and sustainable food production. Once it’s in the soil, finished compost—or humus—increases fertility, adds both micro- and macronutrients, buffers pH, prevents diseases, and improves soil structure.

Without compost, soil is just dead, inert mineral dust.Composting is not only essential for healthy plants and soil, but it can also remove 20-50% from your household waste stream, reducing the burden on landfills while replenishing your lawn, trees, houseplants, or garden for free. And if you pay for trash pick-up, composting can save you a lot of money, too.

Getting Started

things you can compost
This is the compost tumbler I use. Click to read about it on Amazon.com.

A compost pile can be as easy as starting a heap of veggie scraps, dead leaves, and grass clippings in the far corner of your yard, but most people like to contain their compost in a compost bin.

Related: 10 Things You Should Not Put In Your Compost Pile

There are many different kinds of compost bins to fit every living situation: simple pallet bins, tumblers that make turning the compost easy, towers for urban yards and small spaces, and even worm composters that will make fast, odorless work of all your table scraps in the space under your kitchen sink. Select the bin style that works for you, and install it near the garden, away from your house.

Once you have reached a critical mass of scraps in your bin (usually about a cubic yard of material or a 3’x3’x3′ pile), it will begin to noticeably break down. After everything has decomposed and transformed into dark, rich-smelling, crumbly humus (see picture above), you can sprinkle it around your trees, lawn, garden or houseplants to help them grow.

Considered “black gold” by most gardeners, even if you don’t garden yourself, you could easily give your compost away to your neighborhood green thumb! She’d be so grateful. Avid gardeners never seem to have enough compost.

100 Things You Can Compost

The basics of composting are simple. Almost anything natural or plant-based can be composted; just don’t add meat or a lot of fat, because as they decompose, they will create a smell that will bring every critter for miles to your yard!

Always remember that an effective compost pile is a careful balance of dry or brown things that contain carbon (like leaves or paper) and wet or green things that contain nitrogen (like food scraps or rabbit droppings). So, for example, if you add a lot of shredded paper or cardboard to the pile, you will need to balance it with a nice heap of fresh grass clippings or horse manure, and probably some water from the hose so things don’t get too dry.

And, don’t forget that the smaller you can shred or chop your compostable items before you put them into the pile, the faster and more evenly they will decompose. It’s really worth the extra effort to chop and shred if you plan to use your compost for vegetable gardening, or, simply compost tough, slow things like tree branches and old rope in a separate pile.

The following list is meant to get you thinking about your compost possibilities. Imagine how much trash we could prevent from going into the landfills if each of us just decided to compost a few more things!

From the Kitchen

  1. Fruit and vegetable scraps
  2. Egg shells (crushed)
  3. Coffee grounds
  4. Coffee filters
  5. Tea bags (Make sure they are made of natural materials like hemp or cotton, and not rayon or other synthetics. If in doubt, just open it and compost the tea leaves alone.)
  6. Loose leaf tea
  7. Spoiled soy/rice/almond/coconut milk
  8. Used paper napkins and paper towels
  9. Unwaxed cardboard pizza boxes (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  10. Paper bags (shredded)
  11. The crumbs you sweep off of the counters and floors
  12. Cooked pasta
  13. Cooked rice
  14. Stale bread, pitas, or tortillas
  15. Stale tortilla chips or potato chips
  16. Spoiled pasta sauce or tomato paste
  17. Crumbs from the bottom of snack food packaging
  18. Paper towel rolls (shredded)
  19. Stale crackers
  20. Stale cereal
  21. Cardboard boxes from cereal, pasta, etc. (Remove any plastic windows and shred)
  22. Used paper plates (as long as they don’t have a waxy coating)
  23. Nut shells (except for walnut shells, which are toxic to plants)
  24. Tofu and tempeh
  25. Seaweed, kelp or nori
  26. Unpopped, burnt popcorn kernels
  27. Old herbs and spices
  28. Stale pretzels
  29. Stale candy (crushed or chopped)
  30. Stale protein or “energy” bars
  31. Pizza crusts
  32. Old oatmeal
  33. Peanut shells
  34. Cardboard egg cartons (cut them up)
  35. Stale pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds (chopped up so they can’t sprout)
  36. Avocado pits (chopped up so they don’t sprout)
  37. Wine corks (chop up so they decompose faster)
  38. Moldy cheese (in moderation)
  39. Melted ice cream (in moderation)
  40. Old jelly, jam, or preserves
  41. Stale beer and wine
  42. Toothpicks
  43. Bamboo skewers (break them into pieces)
  44. Paper cupcake or muffin cups

From the Bathroom

  1. Used facial tissues
  2. Hair from your hairbrush
  3. Trimmings from an electric razor
  4. Toilet paper rolls (shredded)
  5. Old loofahs (cut up, natural only)
  6. Nail clippings
  7. Latex condoms
  8. 100% cotton cotton balls
  9. Cotton swabs made from 100% cotton and cardboard (not plastic) sticks
  10. 100% cotton tampons and sanitary pads (including used)
  11. Cardboard tampon applicators
  12. Menstrual blood
  13. Urine

From the Laundry Room

  1. Dryer lint (from natural fabrics only!)
  2. Old/stained cotton clothing and jeans (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  3. Cotton fabric scraps (shredded)
  4. Old wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  5. Very old cotton towels and sheets (shredded)

From the Office

  1. Bills and other plain paper documents (shredded)
  2. Envelopes (shredded, minus the plastic window)
  3. Pencil shavings
  4. Sticky notes (shredded)
  5. Old business cards (shredded, as long as they’re not glossy)

Around the House

  1. “Dust bunnies”
  2. Contents of your vacuum cleaner bag or canister (pick out any inorganic stuff, like pennies or legos 🙂 )
  3. Contents of your dustpan (again, pick out any inorganic stuff)
  4. Newspapers (shredded or torn into smaller pieces)
  5. Junk mail (shredded, remove coated paper and plastic windows)
  6. Subscription cards from magazines (shredded)
  7. Burlap sacks (cut or torn into small pieces)
  8. Old rope and twine (chopped, natural, unwaxed only)
  9. Leaves trimmed from houseplants
  10. Dead houseplants and their soil
  11. Flowers from floral arrangements
  12. Natural potpourri
  13. Used matches
  14. Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pits (in moderation)
  15. Grass clippings
  16. Dead autumn leaves
  17. Sawdust (from plain wood that has NOT been pressure-treated, stained or painted)

Party and Holiday Supplies

  1. Wrapping paper rolls (cut into smaller pieces)
  2. Paper table cloths (shredded or torn into smaller pieces)
  3. Crepe paper streamers (shredded)
  4. Latex balloons
  5. Jack O’lanterns (smashed)
  6. Those hay bales you used as part of your outdoor fall decor (broken apart)
  7. Natural holiday wreaths (chop up with pruners first)
  8. Christmas trees (chop up with pruners first, or use a wood chipper, if you have one…)
  9. Evergreen garlands (chop up with pruners first)

Pet-Related

  1. Fur from the dog or cat brush
  2. Droppings and bedding from your rabbit, gerbil, hamster, etc.
  3. Newspaper/droppings from the bottom of the bird or snake cage
  4. Feathers
  5. Horse, cow or goat manure
  6. Alfalfa hay or pellets (usually fed to rabbits, gerbils, etc.)
  7. Dry dog or cat food, fish pellets

Related: 10 Things You Should Not Put In Your Compost Pile

Just imagine if all of us kept so many things out of the landfills and returned their nutrients to the earth?

For a truly sustainable future that our great-grandchildren can thrive in, this is what we will need to do, or we will deplete our precious soils into dust. Good thing it is such an easy and frugal thing to do!

This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, check out the book by clicking below.

78 Comments

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  • Can I compost the paper bags that my flour comes in? It’s generally colored on the outside but I figured it must all be food-grade since it’s right up next to the flour, and so must be OK. Thanks!

  • Great list! I’m just starting my venture in composting and hoping to learn enough to start a community service and organization on food waste in the future. Thank you for the information, I’m excited to receive your posts and learn some awesomeness.

  • I work for a grocer here in California and we are beginning a composting program. I have read through your list and there are a couple of questions that I have:
    1) We are instructed to compost the whole egg (cracked)
    2) We are instructed to compost waxed boxes
    3) We are leaving the stickers on our produce
    4) We are including citrus
    Are any of these things a reason for concern or because this is such a large endeavor this is acceptable.

    • Composting on such a scale is a bit more complicated than throwing everything in a pile. If you have a knowledgeable compost expert or Master Composter on staff who knows how to compost on an industrial scale in a way that avoids both putrefaction and fire (yes, fire), then you can safely compost anything that is actually biodegradable.

      However, the stickers on produce are almost always made from plastic and are NOT biodegradable. They are one of the worst things you can put into a compost pile, and, in fact, are the bane of municipal compost operations nationwide. (See here for what NOT to put into a compost pile.) Also, you will need to determine whether the wax on your produce boxes is made from natural, biodegradable soy or beeswax or if it’s paraffin or petroleum derived. Both are food grade, but the latter is NOT biodegradable.

  • The small compost bin that you have on your website has been discontinued by the manufacturer. It doesn’t explain way it was discontinued, perhaps because of the BPA MATERIAL.
    I live in a condo, so I have a small garden. I wish that I found out about your site before I started my compost pile, because I have citrus in it, but no worms. I do cut up everything first before I put it in the pile. Thanks for your help and support with this website.

    • Sandpaper is made with tiny shards of aluminum oxide, iron, or other metal abrasive bits adhered to paper or rayon with glues and resins. With so many inorganic materials, I would not keep it out of the compost.

  • I have a black plastic composer that I use for my flower garden and vegetable garden. A friend brought to my attention the other day that it’s black and when it heats up doesn’t it replease bpa . I told her I never thought of it before. I’ve been looking on the Internet since our conversation and cannot seem to find the answer. Dose anyone know the answer!? Please and thank you!

    Kimberly

  • If composting is an exothermic reaction, can this be used to produce a small amount of heat in a greenhouse to avoid freezing on cold days? Certainly, one must have an alternative method of heating a greenhouse, but is there a way to calculate the approximate thermal output of a composting bin? And does it vary significantly by the type of products in the composting milieu?

  • I would advise against using any kind of collected dust atleast in the average home today since are so many syntetic fibers in clothing and whatnot alot of this dust is made by it and is very hard to tell apart from organic dust so picking it out is not that easy…

  • You mean you can put food like jam and jelly in a composter and its only 2015, 25 years after people on mass/ mainstream started composting. Why not just say most food products. Then add the few that people aren’t too sure of like egg shells.

    • I’m so glad you’ve been doing this a while, but composting is far from mainstream, and most people don’t do it. Having been a gardening and horticulture teacher for most of my career, I can tell you the number one myth most people new to composting believe is that you can only compost limited items, like veggie scraps, coffee grinds, egg shells, leaves and grass clippings. A big, long list is a fun way of showing just how much you really can compost, practically eliminating food waste from your trash can.

  • Thank you for one of the best advice sites l have found. I am about to start a compost & mulch company here in Colombia and the research l found on your site was very good indeed.
    Mike Bowley
    Nature’s Way
    Colombia

  • Thanks so much for all of this info. Just got a composter that someone was giving away free on craigslist! Score! Being new to it, this list is fantastic. I was also wondering: do you have a list separated somewhere of which things balance other things? For example, I have read that you have to balance wet and dry, green and brown, but with so many items listed above I am not sure what would balance them, and I don’t want to overfill with too many like items. All of your knowledge is so appreciated!!! Thanks again!!

    • Good on you for starting to compost! To clarify, wet and green need to be balanced against dry and brown. If the item is dry and/or brown, like paper products, dead leaves, or stale boxed cereal, it is primarily a source of carbon. If the item is green and/or wet, like veggie scraps or coffee grounds or chicken manure, it is primarily a source of nitrogen. If your pile gets too wet, heavy and stinky, add more dry stuff. If it’s really dry and not breaking down, add more wet stuff or water the pile a bit. That’s all you really need to know! 🙂 Best to you!

  • This list says tea bags are okay, but your 10 things you should not put in your compost pile says no tea bags. Is this list referring to natural, biodegradable tea bags?

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ve clarified/updated teabag composting in the post. If the bag is made from cotton or hemp or other biodegradable fabric, it can be composted. But many teabags are made from rayon or other synthetics and cannot be composted.

  • I’ve been composting for little over a year now and am always looking at things and thinking “can i compost that??” the main one being after a Sunday roast I have lots of left over gravy and gravy soaked vegetables left over d I never know what to do with them, could you clear this up for me?

  • Why can’t you compost meat? I’ve read some do but as “master composter” you say no…. why? Sorry if i”ve missed that part… also can you or can not compost cooked fish?

    • You can compost meat like you can technically compost any natural substance, but it will draw animals quickly. Most home composters do not want rats, raccoons or other critters in their compost piles. Also rotting meat will have to be carefully balanced with dry roughage so as not to putrify and stink up the yard.

  • This is an awesome list! As a new composter, I have a couple questions.

    How does latex break down? Do I need to chop it up? Can I compost the latex gloves I dye my hair with if I rinse them off really well?

    Does any ash I add to the pile need to be from wood or can it be from bbq charcoal briquettes?

    What about flat soda, spoiled juice, or leftover juice from pickled or canned items?

    Thanks a bunch!!

    • It’s best to break anything down into tiny pieces before you compost it, that goes for latex too. Make sure it’s natural latex. Synthetic is not biodegradable. Charcoal briquettes are usually treated with petrochemicals, but if you have the natural ones, you can compost the ash from that, just don’t add a whole lot as it can create mineral imbalances in excess. Soda, juice, etc. are fine, but they will make your pile wet so make sure you have enough dry stuff like dead leaves to balance the moisture in the pile. Best to you!

  • GREAT list! I have pinned it… composting is the bomb – it is free fertiliser and means you can realistically strive for close to zero waste from your home to landfill.
    Our compost bin is incredible; every time we think it’s full, the level drops and we can fill it up again. A couple of tips: if you have a bin that you can’t turn, speed things up by poking holes in the compost, all the way to the bottom. We use a thin metal pole that we salvaged from somewhere. And if you have chickens, give any bones to the chooks first; they will remove all the meat and then you can put the bones on the compost without attracting rodents.

    • Yes, however, most dry dog food is made of mostly grain, not meat, and it is dry and processed, so even with a relatively small percentage of meat in it, it doesn’t have the putrefication factor that whole meat might have. That said, you can compost any type of organic matter, including meat, if you are attentive to aeration and animal invasion.

  • As far as composting cereals, does it matter the sugar level in it or any other sugary item. I’ve always refrained from putting sugary items not of an organic nature into the compost and as you’ve said kept it to the very basics of composting.

    • Once they’ve been through the machine, dryer sheets contain little chemical residue, but they are usually not compostable because they are made from synthetic fabric! (However, Seventh Generation dryer sheets are definitely compostable.) This is why the list includes dryer lint, but not dryer sheets. The lint from your jeans or linens loads (which are made from cotton) is definitely compostable!

    • No, it’s not large enough to get the critical mass of compost you need to get the break-down process going, with is a cubic yard (3x3x3 feet). Regular compost needs to be outdoors and in a receptacle where air and water can get in there easily and naturally.

      You can WORM compost in a tub container, but that is a totally different process. A good search on “vermiculture” or “worm composting” will give you tons of information on how to set up a tub, but please note, worms will only eat veggie and fruit scraps, not other compostables like shredded paper or grass clippings.

    • From an environmental standpoint, they are good. They help decompose your compost. From a “too many flies in my house” standpoint, not so good! 🙂 Mix your compost well, and bury any fresh stuff under old leaves or grass clippings and you’ll reduce their numbers.

  • I have 2 off the ground spinning composters. I add meat scraps and shrimp shells but no bones because I have dogs and they would tear up the garden if there was still bone in the compost. Also have worms in my spare bedroom. They get scraps when I am too lazy to take them outside. They eat well 🙂

  • Looking for suggesions on how you easily transfer some of the messier items (like pasta sauce) from your house to the compost pile without making lots of trips outside with individual containers. I love my stainless steel countertop compost bucket with the carbon filters to control the smell. I just fill that up and empty, but it would be really messy to put too much liquid material in there. Is there some secret that I haven’t thought of??

      • I use one of the “party pail” ice cream buckets – it has a lid, and usually, a handle! Then, easily wash it out or replace (yum! ice cream!) if it gets stained or stinky.

  • Just be VERY VERY careful when composting ashes. Make sure they are completely free of coals and cinders. Take it from the gal who almost burned up the house…:P. Long story short, I was able to fight the fire with the hose (but, boy…it was scary and NOT easy to put out) and no damage to anything but the actual bin (which was adjacent to fence which touches house). Anyway, be careful with ashes.

  • Thank you for the list! I am new to composting (started yesterday). My kids are totally on board and I wanted a list for us to have handy to help us know what could/should and couldn’t/shouldn’t go in our compost pile. This is an excellent resource! Again, thank you!!

  • Your list is great. I do compost some meat products, for example, the small amount of scrapings from a plate. When I make bone broth and the bones are all crumbly, they go into my compost, too.

  • Please, please, please, give the backyard birdies first choice when it comes to any string, fibers, shredded paper, crushed egg shells, and dryer lint. Stuff a suet feeder full of this stuff in nest building season, and offer them egg shells if you have feeders. Then, whatever they didn’t use can go into the compost pile.

    Be kind to our fine feathered friends!

  • Wow, you really did list 100 things! Thanks for this list! We do compost our scraps through the city-run program. It really does reduce A LOT of waste! I’ve been thinking of just starting our own pile in the yard, and think I might actually start one this year. Thanks for this great list and for sharing at Tiny Tip Tuesday! I’m pinning this and sharing on my FB page 🙂

  • If I compost a cotton ball that was used with facial toner or hydrogen peroxide will that matter? I know hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria so that’s why I ask. Once it’s dry does it matter? Thanks so much.

    Marci

    • It does not matter, especially once dry. You’d have to dump several gallons of facial toner straight onto your compost to even begin to harm the teeming hordes of soil creatures in there. No worries, and thank you for keeping those cotton balls out of the landfill. 🙂

  • Concerned about list no pasta or rice, starch, no paper with ink toxic, no mice home, keep it organic be careful why would you even want to put meat in??? Saw dust from treated wood? This is not an extension of your garbage you are not meant to turn your compost into toxic soil, you can have a separate compost for your trees or landscaping but why not go healthy for that I would again not want to eat veggies grown in unhealthy items your describing. People are told not to handle grocery store receipts because of how toxic the ink is. I live in Canada we have never said meat or cooked food in compost, yes rats can be a problem health and safety first this list throws all common sense out the door, not what I have been taught check out City of Vancouver B.C. recycling or compost information.

    • Hi! I am a certified Master Composter and have been teaching composting for over 20 years, including in a university setting. I’m sorry you missed the part of the article where I specifically state that you should AVOID meat and sawdust from treated wood, as well as paper coated with plastic, like store receipts. Most newspapers and food containers in the U.S. are printed with soy-based inks, and present no problem for composting.

      Technically, for a skilled composter, you can compost virtually anything that contains organic materials, including animal products and human waste. There is nothing on this list that I haven’t successfully composted myself many times, without problem. I’ve also composted animal products and human waste successfully too, but it takes some special techniques that most backyard composters will not be able to do, so I don’t recommend it.

      Some people teach that you should restrict your compost pile to only organically-grown, raw vegetable scraps, dead leaves and organically-grown lawn clippings. This purist form of composting makes teaching composting to nervous newbies easier, but such simplistic education actually does everyone a grave disservice because it diminishes the enormous power composting has to offer the world. For example, did you know that the organisms in compost can neutralize toxins and even heavy metals from conventionally-grown produce?

      Composting SHOULD BE an extension of your household waste management system. We strip mine our soils to grow food and fiber, and then put the excess nutrients into landfills and sewage treatment plants where they are lost forever. This is about as unsustainable as you can get. A good composting system can and should reduce your garbage by as much as 50%. Reducing our garbage footprint is something we should all strive for. I really feel nutrient loss in our soils (and the subsequent loss of nutrition in our food!) is one of the biggest problems we face today.

  • I’ve been looking for an informational post on composting and by-golly I’ve arrived at it! As usual, you post is informative and enjoyable to read. I’m bookmarking this for future reference as I will be starting a compost soon at my own place! Thank you! 🙂

  • We try to consume as little as we can, I always feel guilty in the winter when I use so much wood to warm my house…honestly. But unfortunately for the time being we don’t have other options.
    The reuse idea is brilliant, I wish we could apply it here :(.

  • So far, my cotton futons have not composted, but they made good mulch! It’s very cozy to sit on futon bits while weeding. LOL

    I would not compost anything with blood, although it is a great soil amender, unless you can guarantee you have no wild canines about. We have coyotes and wolves and don’t want them anywhere near our pile!

  • Congratulations on a fabulously written post — it answers those questions about composting we all have. Thank you!

  • I love this post! My husband and I have been discussing the idea of composting for a while now, but since we are in the process of potentially moving soon we’ve been hesitant to start. Being inexperienced, it seemed like it was going to be a huge undertaking. The information on your site has made it seem much less overwhelming and seeing this list of 100 things to compost is awesome. Thank you for the great advice! Looking forward to greener days!

    Krysten in Ohio

  • Great list!!! I am a lazy composter who just dumps stuff into a couple of giant plastic flowerpots sitting on the ground; worms come in through the drainage holes and do a great job of breaking down our scraps. Although we recently had mice in our house, who were coming and going from outside until we blocked up all the holes, we never saw any evidence that they were interested in our compost. We do see squirrels and birds eating out of it sometimes, but they don’t do any harm. The only vermin-in-compost problem we ever had was when we dumped the entire paper-shredder bin in there and didn’t mix that large mass of paper with greens for a couple months; when we did mix it, it was full of termite larvae! But spreading it out in the sun killed them, and no termites started eating our house.

  • You are going get rats and mice instead of compost when you put cooked food or other things containing meat in your compost bucket. Everything that is inorganic is going to ruin your compost!

    • All 100 items on the list are organic materials containing carbon and nitrogen, and will decompose at varying rates, depending on how well you keep your compost. None of the items on the list are meat. (Although a highly skilled composter could compost meat safely too.)

      Any type of food can draw rodents to a compost pile, including raw veggies; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t compost food. Rather, savvy composters will either build or buy compost bins that prevent rodents from getting in, or if they have the land for it, place the compost pile where rodent visitors won’t matter, and will in fact help with the decomposition and aeration of the compost.

      I once stuck a pitchfork into my pile one early spring to find a mama mouse and her tiny nurslings enjoying a cozy winter in the heart of the steaming compost. Because they do such a good job of aerating and fertilizing a pile, I covered them back up and let them do the work for me until mama weaned her young. 🙂 Rats I would be less tolerant of, and now that I live in a more urban area, I compost in a rat-proof compost tumbler.

  • This is so fantastic! I am printing this out and keeping it near my indoor compost bucket so I can run down the list before I throw anything away. How exciting to be able to add more stuff to the compost bin- we’ve just been doing food scraps/kitchen waste, lawn clippings/leaves, sawdust, etc. I love being able to add the paper goods and so much more. Thanks for this comprehensive list!

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