100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost

man removing compost from compost bin

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Composting is 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.

Composting is far more than just free fertilizer for the garden. It’s a vital and necessary sustainability strategy for reducing waste, closing the nutrient cycle, and preventing air pollution that causes climate change.

Composting can 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 money there, too.)

When organic matter like food waste goes to the landfill, it ends up decomposing anaerobically—or without oxygen. This process creates methane, a greenhouse gas 20-35 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming our planet. Landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions, according to the EPA.

If we composted food and other organic waste instead of throwing it away, we’d need fewer landfills, and they wouldn’t emit methane. Food does not belong in landfills.

Compost = Life

For your soil, there is no more powerful 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, breaks down toxins, and improves soil structure.

But even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still a vitally important practice. We humans take far more carbon, minerals and organic matter from the soil than we put back. But without organic matter, soil becomes dead, inert mineral dust that won’t grow anything but weeds.

Returning as much of our organic waste as we can to the soil will begin to rebalance the nutrient cycle we depend on for our very survival.

Composting Basics

The basics of composting are simple. Pretty much anything that once lived or was made from a living thing can be composted. As long as an item contains all natural components, it will decay, decompose and break down, returning it’s nutrients to the soil.

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 neat-looking compost bin.

black dual-chamber compost tumbler
This is the compost tumbler I use. Click to read about it on Amazon.com.

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 if it is an outdoor model, 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.

Speeding Up Your Compost

Compost happens.

If you leave an apple on a table, it will eventually decay and break down into a little pile of dirt. There’s really nothing you need to do to get compost to happen except make a pile of things to rot outside. But if you want to get your compost pile to break down quickly and evenly so you can use it regularly in your garden, here are a few things to keep in mind:

The Right Balance

An efficient compost pile is a careful balance of dry or brown things that contain carbon (like leaves, straw, 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 leaves or cardboard to the pile, you will need to balance and mix 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.

I like to keep a small stockpile of horse manure (green) and straw (brown) or dry grass clippings on hand nearby as fodder to keep my pile in balance so it decomposes quickly.

Small Surface Area

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.

Put slow-composting things like tree branches, nut shells, hair, latex, and old cotton or hemp rope into a separate pile at the back of your lot, while keeping your faster compost pile closer to the garden.

Air and Water

Turn your compost pile weekly to mix and aerate it, which will help everything to decompose much faster. You can do this with a pitchfork, but a compost tumbler bin can make this incredibly easy.

Make sure your compost pile stays moist, like a damp sponge. Hose it down if it’s too dry; turn it more often if it’s too wet. The balanced combination of air and moisture in the pile ensures that the microorganisms breaking down your compost have everything they need to thrive and reproduce themselves.

Know Your Limits

While you technically can compost any food, animal-based or plant-based item, some things are better left out of the average home compost pile. For example, if you add fish, meat or a lot of fat to your compost pile, as they decompose, they will create a strong smell that will annoy your neighbors and bring every critter for miles to your yard! When in doubt, leave it out.

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

Also consider how much space you have to compost. For example, if you live in an apartment, you will be limited to vermicomposting just your kitchen scraps. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compost other things. Does your city have a municipal composting program or a community garden that composts? Do you have a friend who gardens, who might like to have your coffee grounds or birdcage papers?

Everything we can do to keep compostable materials out of the landfill will help prevent pollution and restore our depleted soils.

100 Things You Can Compost

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!

(G) refers to items that are mostly “green” or nitrogenous, or that decompose very quickly; (B) refers to items that are mostly “brown” or carbonaceous, or that take much longer to decompose.

From the Kitchen

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

From the Bathroom

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

From the Laundry Room

  1. Dryer lint (from 100% natural fabrics only!) (B)
  2. Old cotton clothing and jeans (ripped or cut into small pieces) (B)
  3. Cotton fabric scraps (shredded) (B)
  4. Old wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces) (B)
  5. Old cotton towels and sheets (shredded) (B)

From the Office

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

Around the House

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

Party and Holiday Supplies

  1. Wrapping paper rolls (cut into small pieces) (B)
  2. Paper table cloths (shredded or torn into smaller pieces) (B)
  3. Crepe paper streamers (shredded) (B)
  4. Latex balloons (Make sure they are latex!) (B)
  5. Jack O’lanterns (smashed) (G)
  6. Those hay bales you used as part of your outdoor fall decor (broken apart) (B)
  7. Natural holiday wreaths (chop up with pruners first) (B)
  8. Christmas trees (chop up with pruners first, or use a wood chipper, if you have one…) (B)
  9. Evergreen garlands (chop up with pruners first) (B)
  1. Fur from the dog or cat brush (B)
  2. Droppings and bedding from your herbivorous pet rabbit, gerbil, hamster, etc. (Do NOT use dog or cat poop.) (G)
  3. Newspaper/droppings from the bottom of the bird or snake cage (G)
  4. Feathers (B)
  5. Horse, cow or goat manure (G)
  6. Alfalfa hay or pellets (usually fed to rabbits, gerbils, etc.) (B)
  7. Dry dog or cat food, fish pellets (B)

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, closing the nutrient cycle by composting is essential, 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.


199 thoughts on “100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost”

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  1. I’m just going to suggest that a lot of items you described contain chemicals like cereal boxes (ink) or clothing (again, ink and dyes). I wouldn’t put that in my compost.

    1. Most inks used on cardboard these days are plant-based, usually made from soy. But most cardboard would do better as a base layer for sheet mulching, which is a form of composting.

  2. Can hemp box liners (used for shipping cold materials) be torn into small bit and put into household compost pile to eventually be used in vegetable garden?

    1. No you didn’t do anything wrong! Any fruit or vegetable waste is compostable, but thicker, chunkier things will take longer to decompose.

  3. Excellent list…. I have been thinking of composting for a long time. And your list gave me some great ideas and confidence. Thanks a lot for sharing such a valuable content.

  4. Thank you for the great information. Can I compost fruit? Not just rinds but strawberries that are mushy or old bananas, rotten tomatoes, etc? I appreciate hearing your perspective.

  5. Hi Dawn,

    Thank you so much for providing such an extensive list of what can be put into a composter and also for your clear explanation of brown vs green items. My question is that I have two bunnies who create A LOT of great bunny poops for composting. I use natural paper bedding that is advertised as “Made From Pure Unbleached Never Been Printed Paper” – can this go into the composter with the bunny poops or should I separate them out?

    Thank you!

    1. Absolutely, all of it can go into the composter. Make sure the bedding is well-shredded before you put it in. The bedding is a Brown (B), so make sure you have enough Green to balance the pile. Good luck!

  6. Wow. I had no idea. Thanks for this article! Question: You mentioned that kitchen scraps should be chopped finely so they break down faster. Would it make sense to just throw them in the blender for a few seconds before putting them in the compost? Or is that too much?

    1. If you want to go to that much trouble, it will only decompose that much faster. It’s really not necessary though. Quickly tearing things like big kale leaves into somewhat smaller pieces is enough.

  7. Hi Dawn/SFF team

    Thanks for all the good info regarding composting.

    Just a couple of comments though about what’s been provided.

    You seemed to have missed Microwave Popcorn bags, which I personally find indispensable to”street side” composting, Agreed we shouldn’t be promoting more wasteful ways of preparing popcorn (compared to DIY) but with so many “convenience snackers” still out there, I think its worth a mention. This in addition to paper bags in general, which (doubled and tripled-up if need-be) can allow transfer of even semi-sloppy materials to one’s streetside green bin- or make for decent kitchen bin liners especially on or just-before garbage day, when seepage will be minimal.

    Sorry to dwell on popcorn bags but these things are also great for containing congealed fats and oils while putting out to the green bin- and also permit freezing of meats, bones and other potentially-smelly spoiled food items, right up until garbage day. Spent cooking oils can be caused to congeal by adding to/mixing with a minimal amount of melted fat. An empty tin can will greatly facilitate this, as it too will be recycled (and thus need not be diligently washed).

    Hope this was helpful and leads to more (happier?) composters!


    Ray Charron
    Barrie, Ontario (Canada)

  8. Regarding composting dust: how do you know that the dust only contains organic materials? So many materials in the average home are made from synthetic materials & studies have found that house dust contains harmful chemicals and microplastics (https://www.nrdc.org/resources/not-just-dirt-toxic-chemicals-indoor-dust).

    I’ve been hesitant to compost dust from sweeping/vacuuming for this reason. Isn’t it better to put the dust/sweepings in the trash to avoid contaminating the compost?

    1. If you are not comfortable with the uncertain microplastic content in your household dust, by all means keep it out of your compost pile. Household dust is mostly made up of dead skin cells, hair, and dander, which are very biodegradable. Every household will be different.

    1. All plants are compostable, the question is how long will it take. Thick stems should be chopped fine or put on brush piles for most effective composting.

      1. We have citrus trees in our yard. I know it’s not recommended to compost citrus fruits in your vegetable garden, but, can I compost the leaves from the citrus trees in my vegetable garden?

        1. Yes you can, but take care to make sure your compost gets hot enough to kill any disease that might be on the leaves. Given citrus leaves are a bit waxy, they will take longer to break down, so be sure your pile is well balanced and large enough to get good and hot.

    1. If you don’t mind temporary smell, you can place dry beans and peas and the like into the microwave for a few minutes. The combined heat and radiation will kill the germ, preventing it from growing.

  9. I have a 6lb. box of Orange Pekoe tea, that has been sitting past it’s usable date (32-3 ounce bags). Can I open the bags and dump the tea in the compost pile, or does the tea have to be cooked first?

  10. Dear Dawn Gifford,
    This is an exceptional article. May I use snippets of FAQS and break down your list into achievable items to display and educate my childcare community. I will properly acknowledge and reference your site so members and families of our childcare may be able to source the original article in it’s entirety here.
    Kind Regards,

  11. Avatar photo
    Anne Bottiglieri

    hi, I am older and not familiar with the way you have said to compost. I understand all about from the earth back to the earth etc. but here’s my problem. All the years growing up on the small farm with my family we never and I mean never put anything cooked into the compost. My parents the farmers said it was because it would draw rats. Also no meat, or dairy. What has changed?

  12. Avatar photo
    marlene harkcom

    Wendy’s had a drink carrier that looks like it should be compostable, but I can’t find anything saying if it is. Do you know?

  13. Avatar photo
    Barbara Burgess

    I have barn swallow nesting around my house can I use their poop mixed with dirt as a starter for my composter?

  14. May I have permission to use this article as part of a project I am pursuing? I am attempting to get my High school to pursue composting and recycling. Naturally, it will all be cited properly in MLA format.

    1. You may quote from the article with proper citation, but you may not reprint or republish the article in its entirety.

  15. Really nice article, composting is the way to go not only for those who have gardens but for those who live in apartments and confined places, Bokashi composting can help. Students from the University of Mauritius suggested the use of Bokashi on a national level to reduce the waste problem on the island, here, https://www.yonature.com/bokashi-compost-decreasing-stress-landfill/.At the end of the day, it’s all those small steps that will make our planet more sustainable.
    Cheers, Elna

  16. Hi, my name is Vickie and I would like to use some facts from your post in a neighbor newsletter (for 10 houses on my block). would it be okay to cite your work and print my newsletter?

    Thanks, vickie w

  17. I’m fairly new to composting, but decided it was a good idea since I just got 4 chickens this summer. I ferment their feed (it’s organic and non-GMO) and sometimes at the end of the day there is a couple of tablespoons left of their feed that I have been throwing in the trash. I am wondering if I can compost their leftovers? Will fermented feed spout in the compost bin? I am hoping I can toss it in. Your assistance would be appreciated. Thank you!

    1. You can certainly compost it. Some seeds might sprout, but just keep the compost turned and aerated and it will be no big deal.

  18. Avatar photo
    Rosita Rogotzke

    Hi, I am new to compost. I would like to start with foods that are scrap or turning bad.
    And what about foods that are cooked? The raw scraps I can handle but not sure about cooked. I understand breads and rice can be compost as well?

    1. You can compost any food, but meat, dairy and oils will smell bad and draw animals. Make sure you balance any food you add with enough carbonaceous or brown items, like dead leaves or dried grass.

  19. The squirrel s keep hiding black walnuts for winter in my pile I throw them out when I see them. Will it harm it if I miss some?

  20. I’m new to composting but have a huge garden and thought what the heck, I’ll give it a shot to help not only my garden but to reduce waste. That being said I did not read a complete list like you have given and the very first thing I dumped into the compost bin was a bag of grass clippings from under a walnut tree ( and about 10 mulched walnuts). Should I remove everything from the bin and start over? It’s only been a week of material added. Loved the list and all of your questions/comments. Super helpful (should’ve read it first).

    1. I would definitely remove the walnuts! The grass clippings are not ideal since they were under the walnut tree, so it’s up to you.

  21. Avatar photo
    Rose-Marie Barba

    Hi! My compost project on my NYCity Balcony-Garden consists of Eggshells, Coffee grounds, Tea leaves from bags, and Debris from flowering potted plants, as well as spent blossoms, leaves and small bits from aged cut flowers, A little Worm fell into it just the other day! Can I add baking soda & epsom salts to it–? Is this recommended–? Thanxx!

    1. I would not add baking soda or epsom salts to your compost. They will shift the balance and possibly harm your worms. There is no need to add anything to compost except organic matter, and a little air and water.

  22. Excellent post!! We are just starting to compost so this gave me some more great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Avatar photo
    Stanley Kapral

    i have never had any luck with paper towels or coffee filters breaking down, Neither has any of the paper from the shredder. And i leave this stuff in the pile forever.

      1. Do they have color/ designs? I’ve read that the color dye can be the biggest road block of recycling bc the dye makes it harder to process. Hope this helps a little.

  24. I compost cat litter (just the scooped urine “balls). I flush the solid waste. It’s incredible for the compost— and I believe it may keep critters away as I haven’t seen any since starting with the litter. It has to be the corn, or wheat litter. Not the clay.

    1. Yes, but because they are woody, they will take longer to break down. So break them up as small as possible first, and don’t put in a lot of pine needles because too many will imbalance both the pH and the carbon/nitrogen ratio of your pile. Pine needles actually make a great mulch for azaleas, blueberries, hydrangeas and other acid loving plants. Since you tend to have a lot of pine needles at once, it’s better to use them for mulch than compost, if you can.

  25. Can you recycle the new Amazon tape?
    The black and brown one, reinforced with string. It’s very thin and feels more like paper than plastic (it’s strong yet very easy to tear apart).

  26. Am I correct in assuming that plain ol’ facial tissue is fine, but those that contain lotion aren’t kosher? The box I have sitting near me specifically says “with pure aloe & (vitamin) E.”

  27. Can I compost used (urinated on) disposable baby diapers? I know the substance inside them (sodium polyacrylate) can be mixed into the garden to hold moisture (which is great in Denver!) in the soil, but can I just stick the whole thing in my new composting tumbler or should I tear it apart and just compost the outer paper layer?

  28. Okay so here is my thinking after reading this article. I want to do two separate compost piles. One for organic material and the things on your list for my veggie garden and another one with materials that will break down but aren’t good to use on food gardens. Like bones and things of that nature from dinner and other food waste we can’t use in the garden. If I compost this stuff and then spread it out in areas away from the garden just to keep it out of the landfills. Will it hurt my yard to have this stuff around. My other idea was to bury the non usable biodegradable materials.


    Would love to get way down in the amount I am throwing away each month.

    1. That is a great idea! You actually can use bones, etc. on food gardens, but there are two issues: 1) things like branches, rope, bones, etc. take a long time to break down, and 2) bones and animal products can smell and draw scavengers that will dig through your piles.

      Having a second pile to decompose things that take a long time, or that are not suitable for vegetable gardening is a very smart idea that will greatly reduce your trash; just be sure to protect your pile from scavengers, or place it far enough away from the house that you won’t mind them creeping about.

    2. Avatar photo
      Chelsea Winterfelt

      I was thinking and planning to do my 2nd compost pit as well! And I heard Red Wigglers are best use for the meat and meat by products as they try to decompose this stuff faster than burying in soil. Haven’t tried but will try. Happy composting!

    1. I use a menstrual cup, and pour out and dilute the blood in my watering can when I am at home and can do that. That’s farther than many people will go, but it is not dangerous or harmful to anyone, and it’s really good for the plants. It was minerals from the soil that grew the food I ate that enabled me to menstruate, so I’m just returning some of what I have been taking out. 🙂

  29. Hi – do you have any suggestions for composting over the winter months? I live in northern Arizona where the lows are well below freezing for 4-5 months.

    1. I usually just let my pile lie fallow over the winter, especially if it’s frozen. I have an enclosed tumbler, so I just add stuff to the top, then make sure it’s turned and balanced when spring comes. If you finish a compost pile that is big enough in the fall (at least 3x3x3 cubic feet), it will likely heat up enough to steam during the winter, and be ready for spring. Then, you can start a new pile next to it anytime, even if it freezes over winter before it is complete.

      1. I always love to recycle my waste (organic) because I know that is very useful to grow flowers and veggies.
        I remember that I bought my first digester in 2016 and at the beginning I thought that I can throw there everything, and I mean everything, even newspapers, but after a while I realized that throwing there all the waste produced by my four dogs, all the organic waste from the household, some grass and leaves, is more than enough to produce compost.

        1. I’m so glad you are composting, but dog poop can contain parasites and bacteria, and compost made with dog or cat waste is not recommended for use on edible crops. Save the compost with pet waste in it for your flowers, shrubs and trees. 🙂

          1. I’m not sure I understand. I thought dog and cat urine and poop killed flower plants,as well as house plants. So is it safe to dump a cat’s liter box or dog poop (from your yard), in your compost bin or not ? I had flower plants on my back porch over the summer and the cat decided to use them as a liter box, unfortunately they all died. I assumed it was because of the cat’s waste products.

          2. No, you cannot compost cat or dog waste for food crops unless you use a special composter. However chicken, horse, bird and hamster manure are fine. More info on what to keep out of your pile here.

  30. Hi Dawn. I am an avid composter and I have a question about composting. I am applying Comfrey poultices to my horse for a muscle sprain. I know that the comfrey is fabulous for the pile, but are the sterile gauze pads that I apply the herbs with compostable?Look forward to your response. I’ve tried to find this information online and can’t seem to find an answer to this one.

    1. It depends on what they are made from. Many bandages contain some nylon or other synthetic fibers, so make sure yours are made from 100% cotton/linen if you compost them.

  31. Avatar photo
    Elizabeth Baruffi

    Thanks you for this list. I’m new to composting and found it very helpful. Are you able to compost charcoal briquettes and natural wood briquettes from the grill ?

    1. I would leave that out as lighter fluid and other additives can contaminate your pile. Also, too much ash of any kind will throw the nutrient balance of the pile out of whack. If you use any ash in the pile, it should be added very sparingly, only come from untreated firewood, and be mixed well into the pile.

  32. Avatar photo
    Nicole Iezzi-Blessing

    Your list was super helpful as I’m new to the composting community. I have a small water garden fish tank which is supposed to self clean, however, from time to time I empty it out replacing the old water with clean water. My question being can I pour the old fish tank water onto my compost pile for moisture? Or is this a bad idea?

    1. You don’t want to soak your pile and get it too wet. Optimal moisture for a compost pile is like a wrung out sponge. However, the fish water itself would be very nutritious for growing plants. Maybe use it to irrigate fruit trees?

  33. Wow, your list was exactly what I was looking for! I recently took over as the third generation of living in the family home, which includes a rather substantial garden. No vegetables have been planted in many years, & its been quite a while since I was a part of our family garden team. I purchased seeds, & many starts, only to find after planting that the soil has zero nutrients. I purchased 10-12 bags of compost to try to add some nutrients. It was rotor tilled twice, but prior to adding the compost. Water immediately pools up on the surface, turns to mud, then dries out completely. I live in Washington State, & the recent heatwave has not helped!
    I just started a compost pile, & after seeing the price of organic compost, not to mention how many things I can be adding to the heap/reducing items tossed into the landfill, I couldn’t be happier. Now I’m just hoping that my plants will produce something, actually anything will make me feel as if I did succeed. Thanks so much!

  34. Great, I like the effort put here for listing all of them. I’ve seen people put all kinds of organic waste in their compost bins, including bones and stuff…

  35. Hi Dawn, ive been composting for awhile now, but it doesn’t seem like enough, I have a large composter that you turn everyday and I make compost every month, my soil is clay in Illinois, I have added cow manure from Walmart, and topsoil from the same, peat moss also, soil does not seem to have what it needs, I added 10/10/10 fertilizer and it doesn’t seem to produce, what am I missing any ideas?

    1. The best thing you can do is get a professional soil test from your local Cooperative Extension and find out exactly what is going on. 🙂

  36. Avatar photo
    Holistic Hut Fl

    What an awesome post! I am currently starting a city wide compost project… I collect food scraps and compost them down for local community gardens. The gardens then use the organic compost to grow and donate overstock produce to local charities for Sunday Dinners. Our project is new and our website is being constructed. I would love to use this list in one of my articles. I am trying to do an MLA 8 format cite format to cite your website but I cant see a publish date for the article. Can you email me and let me know if you mind if i site it and give me a publish date if possible? Feel free to email me back

  37. Hi Dawn,

    I have started composting and after reading more and more articles about what and what not to compost, I realised i may have added some paper that has been treated with plastic-like coatings, (i am not 100% sure) should i just empty out my compost and start again?

  38. I know a lot of that is compostable. I have a separate compost pile that I use for a lot of it. One pile for my (edible) garden and also a ‘junk’ compost pile. What chemicals are used in making cardboard and paper? Are the old sheets and towels made from GMO cotton? Is your alfalfa hay genetically modified? I am very cautious as to what I compost for use in my edible garden. I grow my own because I do NOT want chemicals and GMO’s! So some people may want to consider what they will be using the compost for, and perhaps have two piles like I do. 🙂

    1. A hot composting process has been proven to break down many toxins, including pesticides and possibly GMOs, too. If folks are worried, keep two piles; one for “questionable” items. Please just stop landfilling things that could be composted. 🙂

    2. I have the same question. I have an edible garden. I say it isn’t “kosher” as we are at the bottom of th st, and who knows what my neighbors use on their property. And, on my property we use chemicals for tree health (nutrients) whose contents I get.), The grasses are not sprayed in the backyard, only in the front and outside the gates for broad leaf weeds. I also don;t know what’s put on the lawns though all our supplements are organic. Can I put those grass clippings on the compost pile?

      1. Use your discretion and common sense. If you are using pesticides on your lawn, I would avoid using those clippings in the compost pile used for the vegetable garden and instead compost those clippings in a pile meant for non-edible usage. Composting is NOT just about free fertilizer for your garden; it is also about landfill methane reduction and ecological nutrient cycling, which we all desperately need.

    1. NO! Poops from dogs, cats and other carnivorous pets should never go into your compost pile, as it can spread disease. You can compost dog poop separately in a composter made for dog poop, but the resulting compost should never be used on food crops.

        1. Snakes, because they are reptiles, not mammals, have waste more like birds, and do not typically have parasites, worms and other toxic bacteria in their feces that cats and dogs can.

  39. I have had trouble with:
    Dust bunnies, sweepings, vacuum dust-resist wetting and don’t break down

    Humans and animal hair- don’t break down

    1. I have found that they all break down quite well given enough time, as long as the sweepings and vacuum dust contains only organic materials.

        1. The amount of hair in a compost pile is usually very small, so I wouldn’t personally worry about it. However if you are concerned, leave it out.

    2. Ann – Where do you suggest that all of the hair from every living thing that has ever died goes, if it doesn’t break down? The suggestion was to put it in the slower pile, and that’s good advice.

    1. If you used them to soak up motor oil, or something else that isn’t biodegradable, I probably wouldn’t compost them. 😉

  40. Avatar photo
    Jessica Kleinschmit

    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!

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

    1. 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.

  43. 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.

    1. I’d love to hear about this as well, does it have to be ashes from burnt non processed wood or can it include pulp products such as burnt paper, cardboard, (leaves) burning these items certainly reduces the bulk or mass assuming wood by-products ash is acceptable. Todd Harris

      1. You want to compost cardboard, leaves, etc. directly, shredding them first for greater surface area and faster decomposition. Only a tiny amount of ash from untreated wood is OK in the home compost pile. Your microorganisms need the organic matter they are consuming in its unburnt form to thrive and do their work.

  44. That is indeed a great list. I have been thinking of composting for a long time and this list has given me a boost.

    1. 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 put it in the compost.

  45. You’ll have to contact the manufacturer to find out what type of plastic it is made from and whether or not it contains BPA. You can also get BPA and phthalates in your garden from most garden hoses too, so it’s a good idea to be cautious about what you buy.

  46. 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!


  47. 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?

  48. 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…

  49. 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.

    1. 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.

  50. 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

  51. 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!!

    1. 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!

      1. Please consider augmenting your excellent list by adding (G) or (B) after each item. I understand it should be obvious but this list seems directed at beginners (like me). For beginners, having the brown/dry and green/wet spelled out would be helpful.

  52. 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?

    1. 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.

  53. 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?

  54. 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?

    1. 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.

  55. 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!!

    1. 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!

      1. Here in California where it’s super dry I definitely add liquid kitchen waste like pickle juice, tea, coffee, juice etc. it feeds and waters at the same time. Sometimes I put dirty dish water ( because I use phosphate free fragrance free soap) on the pile. Or I catch cold water in a bucket from sinks and showers when I’m running faucet to warm water.
        The bonus with truly fermented pickles or other veggies is you are adding good microbes. Old yeast or sourdough starter are also great.

  56. Avatar photo
    Jo (down to eath mother)

    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.

    1. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. Avatar photo
    Loriel @ Healthy Roots, Happy Soul

    Hey Dawn,
    Does it matter if the dryer sheets are made from companies that use chemicals? My in-laws still use bounty dryer sheets and I’ve been nervous about putting them into the compost pile.


    1. 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!

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  59. 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 🙂

  60. 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??

    1. I’ve always just used an old jar (with a lid) to collect wet stuff. I keep it next to the compost bucket, and then take them out at the same time.

      1. Avatar photo
        Jessica Kleinschmit

        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.

  61. Avatar photo
    jennifer becker

    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.

  62. 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!!

  63. 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!

  64. 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.


    1. 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. 🙂

  65. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. (It helps to read a blog before one comments on it, lol) I’ve started experimenting with humanure (shhhhh!) and it seems to be working.

        1. I am going to begin composting this spring. I am saving for a compost bin since I live in an apartment. My question is,can I get a jump start on atleast saving kitchen compost items by putting them in a container in freezer until I purchase my compoat bin?

          1. Congratulations on beginning composting! You can surely freeze your compost, but you may find that this adds up fast!

  66. 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! 🙂

  67. 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 :(.

  68. 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!

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

  70. Avatar photo
    Kelly @ Blue Jeans & Coffee Beans

    Excellent post! We are just starting to compost so this gave me some more great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  71. Avatar photo
    Liesbet De Meester

    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!

    1. 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.



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