Compost pile. composting at home
Compost pile. hardworkhippie via Flickr

Do you garden? Then you need compost. You can buy it at the garden store, but why pay for what you can easily make yourself? Unfortunately, composting is not as easy as piling up all the organic matter you can find. Only a commercial composting operation can handle some of it. So you need to know what you can compost at home for an eco-friendly lawn and garden.

Humans didn’t invent composting. Nature did. But we have a way of complicating things. 

Everything that lives eventually dies, and nature has ways of making soil from it. It would be possible just to throw food scraps on the ground, bones and all. Wildlife would feast on it. Microbes and worms would finish off whatever they left. 

Nowadays, we live too close together for everyone to do that. And who wants to share property with the kinds of critters that eat meat scraps? And do you want your dog or cat to have them?

What you can’t compost at home

Fat, grease. what not to compost at home
Greasy fat.

So any animal product does not belong on a home compost pile. Besides meat and bones, don’t try to compost dairy products. For that matter, don’t try to compost dog poop. 

If that were all, you wouldn’t have to learn much about composting no-nos. Here are some plant products that never belong in a home compost pile:

  • Fats, oils, and grease, including salad dressings. Your compost pile needs water to do its thing. Fat repels water. (Don’t let any in the sewer, either. It wreaks havoc there. 
  • Weeds or diseased plants. They have to go with yard waste. Home composting may not kill all the seeds or whatever caused the disease.
  • Tree branches or shrubbery trimmings. Unless you have a chipper, they’ll just get in the way and take too long to rot.

Some sources say that rhubarbwalnuts, and hickory contain harmful chemicals you don’t want in your compost. But the links lead to articles that explain how to compost them safely.

What you can compost at home

Food scraps for compost
Food scraps for compost. Phil Cohen via Wikimedia Commons

The short answer? Anything organic and not mentioned above. But that’s not helpful, is it?

Compost leaves and grass clippings for sure. And when you change potting soil for your houseplants, add the spent soil, too. But get in the habit of composting food scraps. 

The way modern landfills are designed, nothing rots there. Composting requires air as well as water, and landfills exclude air. But the bacteria that thrive without it produce a lot of methane, a big problem in landfills.

Along with food scraps, don’t forget tea bags, coffee grounds, or eggshells—the one exception to the rule of not composting animal products. But make sure your tea bags are made of cotton. If the bag or the string that connects it to the label are nylon, that’s plastic and won’t break down.

Do you use paper towels or paper napkins? Even if they have a little grease on them, they make great compost. You can also compost paper plates and cups so long as they have no plastic coating. For that matter, compose used tissue paper. It’s not recyclable, but it will break down quickly when you compost it.

When you buy clothing, don’t forget to compost paper price tags. As for paper or cardboard inserts, you can recycle them if they’re big enough, or you can compost them.

You ought to recycle most newspaper and office paper, but sometimes they get contaminated by food waste or some other organic matter. Compost them. You can also compost shredded paper. Any recyclable paper product except slick magazine paper can go on your compost pile.

If you use toothpicks, single-use chop sticks, skewers, wooden matches, or other small, disposable wood or bamboo product, add it to your compost. Break the chopsticks to increase surface area. Break off and discard the spent match head, however. It may still have some of the ignitable chemicals left. They won’t ignite anymore, but they won’t do your soil any good.

It you do any kind of woodworking, compost the sawdust. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, compost the ash. For that matter, compost any hair you might accumulate (yours or your pets’)––even fingernail clippings. 

You can even compost latex rubber: balloons, gloves, condoms, and more. Thicker rubber, such as gaskets for a blender, will take longer to break down, but it’s all organic.

Finally, if you sew, compost the fabric scraps (except nylon, polyester, or other plastic—it’s bad for the worms.) Even if you don’t sew, you’ll eventually have clothes and linens too ratty to wear or donate. (Although some charities accept such for fabric recycling.) Cut up any natural fabric into small pieces and compost it.

In other words, what you can compost at home includes a lot of things that might not occur to you at first thought. But now that you’ve read about it here, compost it!  And now that you know what you can compost, read my article about how to compost at home.

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