99 Things You Probably Didn’t Know You Can Compost


compost bin

Anybody who has a composting bin or compost pile at their house knows that old apple cores, banana peels and potato skins can be composted. The list of items that can be composted doesn’t stop there, in fact, it barely scratches the surface.

Did you know that you can compost an old tea bag? Old spices? Grass clippings? How about sticky notes? Yes, each of those items can be composted!

There are many compostable items, and this list will get you started with the first ninety-nine. Composting at home is a very effective method to reduce the amount of waste you personally contribute to the landfill.

If you are composting for an organic garden use organic starting materials. Some of the items below I would not recommend for organic gardens. For clarity, I will specify those items below.

The Basics

  1. All organic vegetable and fruit matter including rinds, skins, shells, seeds, cores and peels
  2. Old leaves and hay
  3. Used coffee grounds
  4. Paper coffee filters
  5. Grass clippings
  6. Egg shells
  7. Tea bags
  8. Peat moss
  9. Tree bark
  10. Old flowers
  11. Garden soil
  12. Old top soil
  13. Old bread
  14. Wheat bran
  15. Cooked grains
  16. Olive pits
  17. Popcorn kernels
  18. Dust bunnies
  19. Toothpicks
  20. Business cards (Paper)
  21. Natural wine corks
  22. Toilet paper rolls
  23. Wrapping paper rolls
  24. Old loose leaf tea leaves
  25. Dried brown garden weeds (avoid composting weeds that go to seed)
  26. Spices and herbs that have lost their smell
  27. Nut shells (except walnut shells, which contain a chemical that can be toxic to plants)
  28. Wood chips and sawdust – from untreated wood, treated wood is toxic
  29. Soy products – non GMO
  30. Wine and beer-making wastes
  31. Old dry cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, etc.
  32. 100% cotton swabs and Q-tips (do not compost plastic sticks)
  33. Wood fire ashes from grill or fire-place (also from smoking fish and other meats)
  34. Dirt in soles of shoes
  35. Facial tissues (unless soiled with chemical products)
  36. Old organic milk, ice cream, cream, etc. (in limited amounts)
  37. 100% cotton clothing (ripped into small pieces)
  38. 100% wool clothing (ripped into small pieces)
  39. Raffia decorations
  40. Crepe paper streamers
  41. Paper napkins
  42. Natural wreaths, garlands and other natural holiday decor
  43. Chopped up Christmas trees
  44. Aquarium plants
  45. Paper bags (ripped into smaller pieces)
  46. Old Post-it Notes
  47. Any form of paper that has been soiled by food
  48. Pizza boxes (make sure to break them down into small pieces)
  49. Shrimp shells
  50. Used paper plates without wax coatings
  51. Old mail and bills (make sure not to compost envelopes with the plastic windows)
  52. Paper or wood-based matches
  53. Animal manure and droppings
  54. Paper towels and towel rolls
  55. Cork
  56. Organic glue
  57. Animal fur
  58. Jell-O (gelatin)
  59. Paper muffin and cupcake cups
  60. Cage cleanings from small pets such as Guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and iguanas
  61. Freezer burned fruits and veggies
  62. Burlap sack
  63. Stale candy (remove wrapper, of course!)
  64. Cardboard and paper egg cartons
  65. Cardboard tampon applicators
  66. The boxes that surround many forms of cheeses
  67. Pure cellophane bags
  68. Paper Envelopes from your mail (Shredded up)
  69. Shredded catalogs and magazines (unless they have a very waxy cover)
  70. Chewing gum
  71. Feathers
  72. Old rope
  73. Stale catnip
  74. Organic cotton socks
  75. Dead houseplants
  76. Star fish (dead)
  77. Old Halloween pumpkins
  78. Electric razor trimmings
  79. Finger and toe nail clippings
  80. Hair – Both human and animal hair is compostable
  81. Ground bone and blood meal
  82. Old rawhide dog chews
  83. Old dog/cat foods
  84. Small pets that have died, like goldfish (Not recommended, but possible.)
  85. Urine (although can be quite smelly in the summer sun)
  86. Old cheeses
  87. Ash from fire place
  88. Old beer, wine and liquor
  89. Crustacean shells (shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.)
  90. Organic tobacco waste
  91. Bamboo products
  92. Old fish food
  93. Sheepskin condoms
  94. Shower loofahs (made from natural materials, such as sea sponge)
  95. Bamboo skewers
  96. Granite dust
  97. Dolomite lime
  98. Liquid from canned fruits and vegetables
  99. Pure soap scraps

Do you compost at home? Can you think of some other items you can compost? If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments below.

– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

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  • Rick Burner

    It’s easier to list what I don’t compost (for use in a vegetable garden): Metal, household chemicals, plastic, used motor oil.
    Note that I do not use toxic chemicals in the yard.

    Everything else goes in: windfall grapefruits (never more than 40# at a time), meat, bones, humanure, occasional spilled oil or diesel fuel (soaked up with sawdust), shredded branches, opposums that try raiding my garden, etc.

    Been doing this for years.

  • Kat

    Great list of what you can compost! I was just thinking to my slef that I wanted to get a compost pile going, but dont’ really eat much veggies. So, it’s good to know that there are many other things you can compost!

    Thanks!

  • Al

    How is animal manure not organic?

  • Green Girl

    Excellent list!

    I wish more people would compost and hopefully, this list of items will help encourage more people to try composting. Good work!

  • http://www.cighe.net/ExperimentalSanitationApproval/index.html MJ Raichyk

    Better go look at the videos on humanure composting if you’re going to compost animal products, oils and such. Joe Jenkins has a lot of excellennt ideas on the whole process from source to product. The Swedes are promoting this sort of sanitation systems for bootstrapping their friends in Africa, under amazingly Swedish-sensible foreign aid. The results are VERY encouraging everywhere it’s practiced. Jenkins has been active in Mongolia and in Haiti (post disaster, first responder, and great step to healthy sanitation). There’s also a major group in California (a spinoff of the GreywaterGuerilla movement) and you can see their in-house project at http://www.youtube.com/user/dectiri where we have been accumulating great ideas to incorporate into sustainable thinking and living.

  • Laure

    After searching for the greenest choice in rubber gloves, I found an expensive version and Casa Bella gloves (still more than the not-so-natural blend found in Playtex and other grocery brands).

    I like natural cleaners, but even things like vinegar can be tough on the skin when used full strength. And I finally found a natural solution for my dog’s ear problems, but again, not ingredients I want on my skin unless I want to be wearing Gentian Violet all day….for for days.

    From what I could find, they are 100% latex (barring the colorant?) and should biodegrade even more quickly if left in the sun for awhile.

  • Laure

    Someday I want to grow my own loofahs, like I saw growing in Mexico. You just have to make sure you get the seeds out before using it in the shower!

  • diane greenfield

    I compost almost everything you have listed…I also scrape up the dirt/ wood chips from where I chop my fire wood and throw that in… I like used coffee filters/ paper towels in the bottom of planters…throw in compost scraps part way….in big pots, I like to use fir cones that have fallen for fill…small branches can be broken into small pieces and added… when we have a fish that isn’t good for consuming, I dig a hole in the garden..put it in, then plant something in the hole….

  • John Cossham

    A few inaccuracies. ‘Organic’ in composting terms means ‘contains carbon, from plant or animal’ and as such anything organic can be composted.

    Soil does not compost down… it doesn’t harm the heap, but takes up space. Don’t worry about soil on roots of plants, put it in, but don’t put shovelfuls of it on.

    Chewing gum (in the UK at least) is not biodegradable.

    Be careful what sort of sawdust you put on… stuff with preservatives is best left out.

    Envelopes with windows, well more and more, these windows are compostable so I’d bung them in and take any uncomposted ones out of the finished product…

    Tissues are biodegradable but many baby wipes aren’t, and tea bags also may have a non-organic component, leaving ‘tea bag ghosts’ in your finished compost. I tear these open to release the composted tea leaves and bin the ghost.

    Why only herbs and spices which have lost their smell? Weird! Walnut shells are fine… they don’t contain the chemical which can affect plant growth… the walnut tree mainly exudes this from its roots. And weeds which might run to seed are fine… just be aware that if you put weeds WITH seeds, these may germinate at a later date!

    Finally, corks and moss take ages to rot down… be patient and put it back in the next heap and it’ll go the second (or third!) time around.

    You forgot latex gloves such as ‘Marigolds’, rubber bands, and of course, ‘humanure’ which if dealt with sensibly, is great for composting.

    However, any article which encourages people to recycle more and get better soils is good, so thank you!

  • Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable

    Great list! I pinned it in order to refer to it often:) Thank you for sharing.

  • Blue Buffalo

    What about expired dog food? If the ingredients are all natural and align with the lists above, shouldn’t that be OK to add to the compost? I see it on your list, is there any specific ingredients you would want to stay away from?

    Thanks!

  • Oldngrumpy

    Soil can be a waste of valuable space in a compost bin, but it also contains many bacteria and natural enzymes to jump start the process. Manure would be a better choice, as would potting soil in small amounts.

    Walnut shells contain tanic acid, which is a preservative used in curing leathers and hides. Since it retards decomposition, it is very counter productive in compost. The shells themselves will decompose, but the entire bin will suffer for them. Best to find other uses for them, such as abrasive for heavy cleaning and sandblasting made from crushed shells. A small tumbler with crushed walnut shells will polish up metal pieces in a few minutes.

  • laurachristine

    i thought dairy was a no no… and please don’t compost dryer sheets…. theyre laden with toxic chemicals… please don’t even use them if thats possible.

  • David

    Why only non-GMO soy products? That seems like an odd distinction to make.

  • DDF

    I don’t think I saw dryer lint mentioned…AS LONG AS……YOU DON”T USE THOSE DRYER SHEETS, lint is great! Also, not too much fire ash as it is very very alkaline and would certainly change up the ph if used often and too much!!

  • Tom

    Question: Can empty vitamin and supplement capsules be composted. V-caps are made with cellulose, and regular capsules are ususally made with gelatin.

    Thanks for great info!

  • DebbyBruck

    I’m working on a compost pile now and these great suggestions mean that I can add a lot more materials.

  • Kerstin

    Just ran across this article, wanted to add to the list:

    “excess sourdough starter” – since it is yeast, water, and flour…pretty good.

    “Kombucha scoby babies” – a growth primarily of bacteria and yeast…if you cannot get rid of extras that grow, you can compost them. Same for extra “kefir grains”.

    Thanks for the list.

    Kerstin:-)

  • ghc_health

    Great additions! Thanks, Kerstin!

    -Dr. Edward Group

  • maureen

    I have a lot of moss in my South facing garden – can moss go into my compost bin?

  • http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/ Global Healing Center

    I believe so… it’s the main ingredient in moss peat. It’ll be fiber heavy and not add a lot of nutrients but in a quick search, I didn’t see a problem. Anyone else have some input?

  • greenthumbgardener

    I have been growing the conventional veggies such as potatoes, corn, garlic, onions, pumpkins, cantaloupe, cucumbers, peas, beets, lettuce, and radishes in my garden for seven years now and I started out with sand and crab grass that robbed my veggies of their food. With the lawn care business, I started adding every bit of grass to the garden that I cut as long as it wasn’t full of weeds. This helped my garden out tremendously by the third year of plowing grass under. Three years ago I started using something that all fisherman hate to catch but I can’t seem to stop looking for now….CARP! These fish are bottom feeders that eat salmon eggs as well as other great fish eggs and though they may sound gross for us humans to eat, they are full of fatty acids and tend to do a great job filling in the underline base of my soil with nitrogen. The way I feel is that if we use the crap fish to feed our gardens and therefore ourselves for now; then we can eat more of the good fish later. Great list of degradable items up top and I will be sure to use some of them.

  • u2u2u2

    If they are vegetarians, than the manure is organic.

  • csigirl2

    Can you please share how you determined chewing gum to be compostable? Pretty sure the elastomers and plasticizers are synthetic and will not compost/biodegrade, especially in a backyard pile.

  • Mark

    does anyone know if i can use the dirt from my salamanders tank for compost? he only eats crickets. thanks

  • http://russty.ca Russell Gonsalves

    Hi there, I was wondering if this packaging can be composted. It’s recyclable plastic.

  • http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/ Global Healing Center

    I’m not sure what those symbols are but recycling and composting, while both awesome, are two separate things and not always interchangeable!

  • http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/ Global Healing Center

    I’m not sure what the symbols mean but recycling and composting, while both awesome, are two different things and not always interchangeable.

  • http://russty.ca Russell Gonsalves

    Thank you.

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