101 Things You Can Compost (printable)


Composting is a very simple process that nature takes to break down organic materials into a natural fertilizer for use in the home garden and yard. But one item people often ask is, what items can be composted? This will be a guide for what list of materials you can use to determine if you can add it to your compost pile or bin.

Building a Winter compost pile

If you are reading this, I assume you already have a good idea of what compost is, and how to get started making a basic compost pile. This article will cover the finer points of specific materials, starting from a high level as to how your temperature and other conditions can effect what should/shouldn’t be composted. By the end of the article you should have a full understanding of what materials you can add to a compost pile.

If you are in a rush, then you can simply download a printable list of items to compost. But I would urge you to return though and review some of the other points we make in this article as it relates to the importance of temperature and other factors to consider.

How this article is organized:

How temperature effects what should be composted

This may seem like a silly topic for a list of materials that should be composted, but it isn’t. If you are expecting to make compost in 4-8 weeks, then you need a pile to get hot. High temperature accelerates the decomposition of organic material. And certain plant materials may take up to a year to decompose under cold or ambient temperatures. So, getting your pile hot is very beneficial. [1] [2]

To make sure you get a hot pile, you will need to achieve a large volume of material. A good rule of thumb is to make your pile 3-4′ diameter (1-1.3m) and it will be sufficiently large to get hot. For a more detailed explanation, read our guide on making a hot compost pile.

Plant materials that are difficult to compost

Everything will compost given enough time. But there are certain plants that have thick, tough leaves that can take a year or more to break down under regular ambient conditions. To help accelerate their decomposition, you should shred them with a lawnmower and make sure you have a hot compost pile:

  • Palm fronds
  • Live Oak leaves
  • Holly leaves
  • Southern Magnolia leaves
  • Mountain Laurel leaves
  • Rhododendron leaves
Palm fronds take a long time to compost! Chopping them up with a mower and using in a hot pile can speed them up.

High temperatures kill weed seeds

Another reason we need to understand what temperatures our pile will reach is because of seeds. A hot pile that reaches 120F for about 7 days, or 140F for several days will kill/sterilize any weed seeds that may be in grass trimmings or yard waste. [2] The higher temperatures weaken a seeds natural defenses at decomposition, as well as accelerate it.

If your pile or bin isn’t large enough to get hot, you may not be able to kill the seeds from common yard weeds such as dandelion, sorrel, or clover. If that is the case, you should not add these materials to the compost pile. If your finished compost contains weed seeds, you may just end up spreading weed seeds all over garden or yard!

High temperatures will kill diseases on plants

An old garden adage states to never compost diseased plant material. And if your pile is ‘cold’ or not hot, then this can be a good policy. But a hot compost pile will kill all plant diseases via the high temperatures.

What materials should not be composted

In general, any plant material can be added to a compost pile hot or cold, and given enough time will decompose. But you should avoid using plant materials for composting if they have been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Grass clippings or yard waste that has come in contact with pesticides should not be added to a compost pile.

You may be asking yourself, I don’t use herbicides on my grass, but what about the previous owner? Well, that vast majority of lawn chemicals and herbicides will break down organically, given enough time. The trick is figuring out how long that will take. Some herbicides have a half-life of a month or two, while others such as glyphosate has a half-life of 18 months to 3 years.

Each half-life will reduce the amount of herbicide present by 50%. For example, you need about 5 half-lives to reduce the original amount of herbicide by 93%. So, you need to figure out what the herbicide was, what it’s half-life is, and then multiply that amount of time to reduce it. But, know that these half-lives are under certain conditions. And those conditions are probably different from your own yard. Thus, any attempt to determine this is going to be somewhat of an educated guess.

Meat, dairy, and oils should not be composted

As a general rule, you should not compost any meat, dairy, or oily cooked foods. These materials can often attract rodents or animals to your compost pile. Also, oils tend to saturate but no evaporate, and can squeeze out air leading to areas of anaerobic bacteria (cold compost bacteria that is very slow to decompose things).

Now, if you have a very large and hot pile, you can compost almost any material, even meat and cheese. The high temperatures will dissuade animals and help accelerate the breakdown. But this is easily achievable for large commercial compost facilities. It is difficult for a backyard composter to make a large enough pile to do this, and having such a large pile can also lead to risks of the compost pile catching on fire.

Furthermore, if you compost meats and the temperature is not very high, you will likely have fly larvae and maggots in your pile (personal experience!). So, in general, stick to plants.

Never compost dog or cat feces

Dog and cat feces should not be composted as they can contain parasites that can survive high temperatures of a compost pile. These parasites are harmful to humans, and if they were transferred to your vegetables you could unwittingly ingest them. So, best to dispose of the pet feces in the trash.

Be cautious with paper and cardboard products

While many sources say it’s fine to compost news paper or cardboard (even cereal boxes), I would recommend you not do so. The reasoning for this is that glossy finishes and colored inks can contain heavy metals that may contaminate your garden. Now, it will take many years of heavy use to do so, but if you can spend a reasonable effort to avoid the risk, you should do so.

If you want to learn all the nitty gritty details of what can be in colored or glossy paper/cardboard products, you can read about it here.

Basics of Compost, what ingredients are needed.

Four main ingredient categories are needed to make compost.

  • Green materials – fresh ingredients that are rich in nitrogen
  • Brown materials – dried plant or paper based products that are high in carbon
  • Water – An active compost pile needs to be moist, but not wet to function and decompose properly. You need to maintain
  • Air – active compost piles need oxygen to function

Water and air need no further explanation. But for people new to composting, what kind of materials should they gather can be confusing. From a high level, the most common items that are used to make a home compost pile are the following:

Common Green materials for compostCommon Brown Materials for compost
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Grass clippings

  • Coffee grounds

  • Manure
  • Shredded cardboard

  • Shredded Paper

  • Sawdust

  • Autumn leaves
  • Source [1] [2] [3]

    The above materials are easy to accumulate for most homeowners. A good rule of thumb is your overall pile should be around 50/50 green to brown material by volume, and a total size of 3′ diameter and tall. This helps ensure your compost pile will heat up to accelerate the decomposition, assuming other best practices are followed such as maintaining proper moisture levels as well as frequent turning.

    Vegetable and fruit peelings are probably the most common green material composted

    But, what constitutes a green or a brown material, and if it is safe to compost is another matter. Below you will find a list of green and brown materials that you can compost, based on the household source.

    Shredded cardboard / paper is the most common brown material composted

    Note – you can download & print our complete printable list of items to compost here.

    List of kitchen items that can be composted

    NumberKitchen MaterialGreen / BrownSpecial instruction
    1Fruit scrapsGreen
    2Vegetable peelingsGreen
    3Egg shellsGreenCrush them up
    4Coffee GroundsGreen
    5Corn cobs & husksGreen
    6Spoiled lettuceGreen
    7Citrus rinds/peelings (orange, lemon, lime)GreenThese are fine in a compost pile, but not ok for a worm bin / vermicomposting.
    8Melon rindsGreen
    9PineappleGreen
    10Squash skins / coresGreen
    11Spoiled tofuGreen
    12Spoiled wineGreen
    13Spoiled juiceGreen
    14Expired canned vegetablesGreen
    15PastaGreen
    16BreadGreenTorn up
    17RiceGreen
    18Avocado skinGreen
    19Rotten tomato sauce or pasteGreen
    20Expired spices / herbsGreen
    21Expired granola/protein barsGreen
    22Avocado pitsGreenOften germinates in compost piles / slow to break down
    23Peach pitsGreenSlow to break down
    24Spoiled cheese GreenUse in moderation, deep inside pile
    25Expired jam/jellyGreen
    26Stale beerGreen
    27Shrimp ShellsGreenVery high nitrogen. Excellent green material.
    28Lobster shellsGreen
    29Crab shellsGreen
    30Crayfish / Crawdad shellsGreen
    31Tea leavesGreen
    32Pizza boxBrownOnly non-greasey parts without colored ink
    33Paper towel cardboard rollsBrownShredded
    34Paper towels / napkinsBrownShredded
    35Brown Paper bagsBrownShredded
    36Tooth picksBrown
    37ChopsticksBrownOnly plain wooded chopsticks should be composted
    38Wooden skewersBrown
    39Paper platesBrownOnly white or brown, uncoated
    40Egg cartonsBrownOnly those made from recycled paper/cardboard. Shredded
    41Egg shells (crush them up)Brown
    42Coffee filtersBrown
    43Tea bagsBrown
    44Stale chips, tortillas, pitasBrownOnly plain wooden chopsticks should be composted
    45Stale crackersBrown
    46Stale cerealBrown
    47Stale nuts / peanutsBrown
    48Nut shells (walnut, hickory, pistachio, etc)Brown
    49Peanut shellsBrown
    50Sunflower seed shellsBrown
    51Popcorn kernelsBrownCan be cooked or uncooked
    52Wine corksBrownChopped up
    52Clam/muscle shellsBrownCrushed

    List of yard items that can be composted

    NumberYard MaterialGreen / BrownSpecial instruction
    53Grass clippingsGreenMust be well mixed
    54Hedge trimmingsGreen
    55Fresh leavesGreenTorn or cut up
    56WeedsGreenSafe if you have a hot pile. If not, remove seed heads.
    57SeaweedGreenTorn or cut up
    58Excess fertilizerGreenNitrogen rich fertilizer (no pesticides/herbicides)
    59Houseplant trimmingsGreen
    60Cut flower arrangementsGreen
    61UrineGreenUrine is rich in nitrogen. It is an excellent green material.
    62Pumpkins / Jack-O-LanternsGreenGather these in November to make a hot Winter compost pile
    63Used potting soilBrown
    64Flowerbed or garden fall clean up stalksBrown
    65Dead flower stalksBrown
    66Tree barkBrown
    67TwigsBrown
    68Autumn leavesBrown
    69Dust from sweeping floor or dust bunniesBrown
    70Dead houseplantsBrown

    List of general household items for composting

    NumberHousehold ItemsGreen / BrownSpecial instruction
    71Brown packing paper (kraft paper)BrownShredded
    72Shredded cardboardBrownTorn or shredded
    73Shredded paperBrownNo colored paper or inks
    74Toilet paper rollsBrownUsed or clean, both can be composted
    75Kleenex / tissuesBrownnull
    76Envelopes / junk mailBrownNon-glossy white paper plain or with black ink only
    77StrawBrownPeople often discard after Autumn
    78SawdustBrownFrom untreated, plain air-dried or kiln dried wood
    79Hair from brushesBrownnull
    80Hair clippings / beard trimmingsBrownnull
    81Finger nail clippingsBrownnull
    82Lint from natural fabricsBrownnull
    83Cotton ballsBrown100% Cotton only
    84White cotton clothesBrown100% Cotton only
    85Wool clothesBrown100% Wool only, shredded
    86White cotton sheetsBrown100% Cotton only

    List of pet items that can be composted

    NumberPet materialsGreen / BrownSpecial instruction
    87Cow manureGreen
    88Goat manureGreen
    89Horse ManureGreenNeed to hot compost, as it can contain weed seeds
    90Rabbit ManureGreen
    91Guinea pig manureGreen
    92Manure from herbivoiresGreen
    93Deer manureGreenOften can be found in yard
    94Chicken manureGreenWarning – must reach 140F for 7 days or sit for a year before use! Salmonella / Pathogen risk
    95Old pet foodGreen
    96FeathersBrown
    97Pet hairBrown
    98Spoiled pet foodBrown
    99Wood shavings from horse beddingBrown
    100Chicken beddingBrown
    101Rabbit/Guinea Pig beddingBrown

    Final thoughts

    Composting is really a way of life. Once you realize how many different things found around your house can be composted, you will start doing so, and feel great about it. You will be amazed at just how much landfill space could be saved if more people composted at home.

    References:

    [1] – Bob Bergland, US Secretary of Agriculture et al. “REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON ORGANIC FARMING. USDA Study Team on Organic Farming“, United States Department of Agriculture, July 1980

    [2] – Graves, R. E., and G. M. Hattemer. “Chapter 2 Composting. Part 637 Environmental Engineering National Engineering Handbook. United States Department of Agriculture.” Natural Resources Conservation Service (2000).

    [3] – Soil Building – Manures & Composts. United Stated Department of Agriculture. Accessed 01JUL2022.

    Joe Foster

    Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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