What You Can Compost, What You Can’t — and Why

what can you compost
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash -Lenka Dzurendova

Composting seems like a relatively straightforward concept, but that’s not always the case. We’ll take a look at what you can and can’t compost, along with some ways on how to get started. 

If you’ve decided to go down the route of doing your own composting, you probably have a lot of questions. After all, there is a lot of information regarding composting available. The process is not as simple as tossing leftover food into a bin and calling it a day — you have to be mindful of what you’re composting. The same goes for those using a municipal compost service; not all food is compostable, and not every natural product should be composted.

Composting is a eco-friendly alternative to throwing things in the trash. Plus, it has the added bonus of becoming a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your home garden.

What You Can Compost

what can you compost
Even if where you live is regional composting system in place, it’s worth thinking about starting your own compost pile. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - Gareth Willey)
  • Fruit scraps and peels. Even though you can compost them, you can still find other ways to use things like orange peels, lemon rinds and banana peels.
  • Vegetable scraps and peels, though consider putting those veggie scraps to use first!
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags can be used on their own as fertilizer or can easily be mixed into your compost bin.
  • Eggshells can be used as a fertilizer for your garden plants, meaning they’re also right at home in a compost pile.
  • Paper products like paper towels, napkins, newspapers and cardboard can all be composted. Skip heavily printed items like magazines or advertisements. Additionally, home composters may want to shred paper to help it decompose faster, and should definitely tear cardboard down into smaller pieces.
  • Garden and yard waste like grass clippings or stems from your kitchen herb garden. If you don’t want to press your leaves or preserve your garden flowers, they can also be added to your compost pile.

What Not to Compost

There is a lot of mixed information out there regarding what shouldn’t be added to the compost. However, we’ll share why the following items shouldn’t be composted.

Non-Compostable Foods

Grain products: bread, cakes, pasta, rice and cereal should not be added to your compost bin. The high sugar content breeds the wrong type of bacteria, which also attracts rodents. They can also soak up some of the necessary juices that help get the decomposition process flowing. Note: uncooked pasta and plain, stale bread can be composted in small quantities. 

Cooking oils and butter: they take on the smell of what was cooked in them meaning they also attract the kinds of creatures you don’t want hanging around your home. Additionally, cooking oils can add the wrong type of moisture to your compost pile. 

Meat products: chicken bones, raw meat and any other meat products are another thing to skip. Not only will they attract rodents and other neighbourhood animals, but also the bones don’t composts very well. Another reason is that meat is typically quite high in nitrogen so you’ll have to watch the balance of your pile. 

Dairy products: items like spoiled milk, moldy cheese and leftover yogurt also don’t belong in the compost. The spoiled dairy smell is offensive at the best of times, and will definitely attract the wrong type of visitors to your yard. In addition, the bacteria can interfere with the composing process and throw off the acidity balance of your compost.

Other Items to Skip

Pet waste: dog and cat’s intestines are host to a wide range of parasites and pathogens which is why you’ll want to keep that away from your pile. However, if you happen to have livestock manure, feel free to mix that in; it will aid the decomposition process. 

Diseased plants: It would be a grave mistake to add any part of a diseased plant to your compost bin because you run the risk of passing on the infection to any plants you grow with your composted fertilizer. 

Weeds: compost piles will provide weeds with a wonderful nutrient-rich environment to thrive in! To avoid them spreading and infecting your freshly weeded lawn or garden, keep your weeds away. You can also try killing them with homemade organic weed killer.

Compostable cups and lids: this is a classic case of greenwashing to help make companies feel better about their environmental footprint. The majority of cups and lids labelled compostable can only be broken down in industrial composting facilities. 

Things to Look Out For

backyard compost pile
Storing a compost pile in a wooden crate allows air to help with the decomposition process and keeps everything contained. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - herb007)

There are certain rules you should follow in order to have the best results when starting your own pile or bin. If creating an outdoor pile, you’ll need both green and brown materials.

  • Green materials are nitrogen-based waste materials like food scraps, coffee grounds, green leaves and grass clippings, and manure. This provides amino acids and proteins necessary for the bacteria and fungi to work properly.
  • Brown materials are carbon-rich items which are often wood based. Things like dry leaves, branches and stems, shredded newspaper, pine needles, etc. will help to provide energy to the microorganisms in the pile.

For best results, you will want to have approximately ⅓ green materials and ⅔  brown. An important part of composting is to keep turning the pile; this will also keep the food waste tucked away and out of reach for unwanted pests.

If you’d prefer to keep your compostable food scraps tucked away, consider using a Bokashi bucket (available on Amazon**) This is a special type of indoor bin with an airtight lid and a spigot at the bottom to extract the compost tea. The process uses an inoculate (effective microorganisms, wheat germ and molasses) to ferment leftover kitchen scraps.

No matter which method you choose, your garden will benefit. Happy composting!

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