Most people know there are a lot of items that can be composted. Vegetable trimmings, for example—things like outer lettuce leaves, tomato cores and sweet pepper seeds are no-brainers. But for those who are ready to get really serious about reducing waste and building up a nice mix in the compost pile or container, here are a few more ideas for stuff you might not have known you could include along with a few other things you should leave out.
First, bear in mind that anything which is plant-based can usually be composted—and don’t forget that paper is made from plants. Some plants have a higher carbon-to-nitrogen ratio than others, but all plant-based materials contain both. And that is a good thing, because your compost needs both. Here’s a partial list of high-carbon materials:
- Woody plants like corn stalks and brassica stems
- Egg shells
And for comparison, some examples of low-carbon materials:
- Kitchen scraps
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
You can consider ratios if you want to, but don’t get too stuck on them. And if you forget which plant-based materials are higher nitrogen ratios and which lean more towards the carbon end, just remember this general rule of thumb: carbon is the brown stuff, and nitrogen is the green stuff. (It isn’t a hard and fast rule, I know, since egg shells are not all brown and coffee grounds and manure are not green. But it’s mostly true.) If it gets soupy and stinky, add more brown stuff. And if it isn’t decomposing well, add more green stuff. Meanwhile, just throw it all in and amend later if you need to.
The materials visitors at my place are most surprised to see designated for compost are usually paper products—and not the ones they had ever considered separating out of the regular trash. Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls, for example, get composted. So do used paper towels, used facial tissues, gum wrappers, paper bags and some paper and boxboard. Even the little paper packages that my individuallywrapped dental floss comes in gets saved for the compost.
If I used paper plates and paper napkins, I’d definitely compost those, as well. I do use paper coffee filters and pre-bagged tea (as opposed to metal filters and loose tea leaves) and just toss it all in, filters and strings and tabs and all.
The reasons I say “some paper and boxboard” are twofold. First, crisp glossy products don’t compost as well as soft dull paper does. And second, even households like mine which are diligent about not acquiring unnecessary paper still end up amassing a lot of it—probably too much for most compost ratios.
Other possible ingredients for home composting include the results of refrigerator and cabinet clean-outs. Consider stuff like this when it’s no longer edible:
- Cream cheese
- Jellies and jams
- Anything at all that doesn’t contain meat
The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to cleaning out the kitchen, garden, barn, henhouse or backyard. Composting is super easy and takes very little time, once you make a habit of it. Before we open a trash can at my house, we first consider whether it can be eaten by livestock, burned, recycled or composted—we’ve done it that way for so long that it has become routine.
The one thing I would caution casual backyard composters against is including meat. Meat, either cooked or raw, can develop potentially dangerous pathogens if the compost pile does not get hot enough for long enough. Experienced composters can and do place animal carcasses into compost piles with good results, but that’s nothing you or I should try at home.
Feces from omnivorous mammals such as pigs, cats, and dogs should be left out of the compost, as well. Many people successfully compost human waste, but that is a whole art and science unto itself and should not be added to regular compost.
Another thing to remember when composting is before offering anything to the microscopic organisms in the compost which might want to consume it, make sure there are no bigger mouths around the homestead that want dibs on it. In other words, offer home and garden scraps to cattle, goats, chickens and other animals first, and toss it into the compost only after everyone else has said no thanks.
Composting all you possibly can is an excellent way to reduce household waste and create a pile of free nutrients for your garden—a win for all involved.
What would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below: