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What Can and Cannot Be Composted (Guide & Tips)

Hey there! Ready to turn your kitchen scraps into garden gold? Composting is a fantastic way to reduce waste and enrich your soil, but it can be tricky figuring out what goes in the bin and what stays out. You might be surprised at some of the do’s and don’ts of composting.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding Composting: Composting involves turning organic waste into nutrient-rich soil by balancing nitrogen-rich green materials (like veggie scraps and grass clippings) with carbon-rich brown materials (like dead leaves and cardboard).
  • Benefits of Composting: Composting reduces landfill waste, provides free organic fertilizer, improves soil structure, and reduces your carbon footprint.
  • What Can Be Composted: Suitable materials include vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, dead leaves, cardboard, newspaper, twigs, sawdust, and straw.
  • What Cannot Be Composted: Avoid composting meat, dairy, oily foods, bones, fish scraps, sick plants, pet waste, compostable plastics, weeds, and glossy or coated paper.
  • Starting Composting at Home: Choose the right composting bin based on space (small bins or worm bins for indoor use, larger tumbler or stationary bins for backyards) and maintain your compost by mixing regularly, layering green and brown materials, and monitoring moisture levels.

Understanding Composting

The Basics of Composting

Hey, folks! So you’re thinking about diving into the world of composting? Fantastic! Composting is all about turning organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. You want to balance your greens and browns.

Greens include things like veggie scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings—they’re rich in nitrogen. Browns cover items like dead leaves, cardboard, and straw—they’re packed with carbon.

To get started, simply layer your greens and browns, keeping the ratio roughly 1:3. Add water to keep it moist but not soggy, and turn it every few weeks to aerate. Simple as that!

Benefits of Composting

Alright, now let’s talk perks. First off, reducing landfill waste is a biggie. By composting, you’re keeping a ton of organic material out of the trash. Next, you get free, organic fertilizer. That stuff in your compost bin will turn into black gold for your garden!

Plus, composting improves soil structure, helps retain moisture, and introduces beneficial microbes to your plants. Oh, and did I mention it’s earth-friendly? Composting reduces your carbon footprint, big time.

What Can Be Composted

Let’s dive right in and talk composting materials! We’ve got two main categories: green materials and brown materials. We’ll break them down to ensure you know what goes in your compost bin.

Green Materials for Composting

Green materials are packed with nitrogen and they’re often the fresh, moist items you toss out daily. Here’s a snapshot of what you can include:

  • Vegetable Scraps: That leftover carrot peel or the wilted lettuce can transform into nutrient-rich compost.
  • Fruit Scraps: Banana peels, apple cores, even that old watermelon rind work wonders.
  • Coffee Grounds: Don’t toss those grounds! They’re excellent for composting and even bring a bit of acidity for balance.
  • Grass Clippings: After mowing, grab those clippings. They break down fast and drive nitrogen levels up.
  • Tea Bags: Brewed a cup? Toss the tea bags into the pile. Make sure they’re biodegradable.
  • Eggshells: Rinse and crush them before tossing them in—they add calcium and help with aeration.

Brown Materials for Composting

Brown materials? They’re all about carbon and helping with bulk and structure in your compost pile. Check out what to include:

  • Dead Leaves: Those fall leaves? Yep, they’re perfect. They add vital carbon content.
  • Cardboard: Recycle that stuff! Tear up plain cardboard—avoid glossy or colored paper.
  • Newspaper: Only use the black-and-white pages. Shred them for best results.
  • Twigs and Small Branches: These help with aeration. Break branches into small pieces.
  • Sawdust: Woodworking enthusiast? Collect that sawdust but avoid treated wood.
  • Straw or Hay: Add these to keep your compost light and fluffy.

Remember, an ideal compost pile is a balanced mix. Get that ratio of greens to browns right, and you’re on your way to rich, fertile soil.

What Cannot Be Composted

Harmful Materials

Hey there, composting champs! Let’s talk about what definitely should not go into your compost bin—namely, harmful materials. If you’ve got meat scraps, dairy products, or oily foods lying around, resist the temptation to toss them in. These items can attract pests and create foul odors. And let’s not forget about bones and fish scraps. They simply take too long to break down and can also invite unwanted critters.

Sick plants are another no-go. It might seem logical to compost garden waste, but diseased plants can spread their illnesses to your healthy plants via the compost. So, leave those out.

Common Misconceptions

You might think certain biodegradable products are fair game, but not so fast! Items like compostable plastics often require industrial composting facilities to break down properly.

Thinking about adding pet waste to the mix? That’s a hard pass. While it may seem natural, pet waste can contain harmful pathogens. Always keep it separate from your compost pile.

Then there are those pesky weeds. Yes, they’re organic, but weed seeds can survive the composting process and turn your compost into a weed garden.

Finally, let’s talk about those shiny, pretty paper products. Don’t let their looks fool you—glossy paper, coated cardboard, and stickers can contain harmful chemicals. Always stick to plain, untreated paper and cardboard.

How to Start Composting at Home

Choosing a Composting Bin

First thing’s first, you gotta pick the right composting bin! Now, don’t worry, you’re not building a spaceship; it’s simpler than you think. If you’re tight on space, a small kitchen compost bin or a worm bin (vermicomposting) is your best bet. These can fit right under your sink or in a corner, no problem.

For those of you with a backyard, score! You can go for a larger tumbler bin or a stationary compost bin. The tumbler is great because you can rotate it to mix, which helps speed up the composting process. Stationary bins, on the other hand, are super simple and can often handle more waste. Either way, you’ll be turning your scraps into nutrient-rich gold for your garden in no time.

Maintaining Your Compost

Alright, bin secured! Now let’s dive into maintenance. Keeping that compost healthy is key. First off, mix it up every few days. This gets oxygen to all the bits and pieces, speeding up decomposition. It’s like giving your compost a good stretch!

Make sure you’re adding your materials in layers—alternate between green and brown materials. Greens (think veggie scraps, coffee grounds) provide nitrogen, while browns (like dead leaves, cardboard) deliver carbon. This combo keeps things balanced.

Also, keep an eye on moisture. Your compost should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Too wet, and it gets smelly and slimy; too dry, and things just won’t break down right. Sprinkle water if it’s dry, or add more browns if it’s too wet.


Composting is a fantastic way to reduce waste and enrich your soil. By understanding what can and can’t be composted and following a few simple guidelines you can easily start composting at home. Whether you have a small kitchen bin or a large backyard tumbler there’s an option that fits your space and needs. Remember to mix your compost regularly layer your materials properly and keep an eye on moisture levels. Happy composting!

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About Robert Gibson

Robert GibsonRobert Gibson is a skilled handyman and a trusted consultant in the home improvement realm, currently spearheading content creation for ToolsWeek. With a rich background in practical hands-on projects, spanning over two decades, Robert has mastered the art of troubleshooting and solving household challenges.

Known for his knack for breaking down intricate home improvement tasks into easy-to-follow steps, Robert is a vital asset to the ToolsWeek community. His well-researched guides and insightful articles have become a go-to resource for both seasoned professionals and eager DIYers looking to enhance their skills and tackle their projects with confidence.

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