Composting is a great way to reduce your household waste and do your small part for the planet. Plus, if you have indoor or outdoor plants, you can make your own nutrient-rich soil amendment to use in place of synthetic fertilizers.

Composting is one of those things that sounds complicated until you just try it for yourself. Each of us can (and should!) compost at home with pretty minimum effort.

To help get you started, I recommend printing our compost materials chart (below) and sticking it near your kitchen trashcan, perhaps on the back of the pantry or cabinet door. That way, you can check whether whatever you’re about to toss in the trash can actually be composted. (This is a great way to help kids learn about reducing waste!)

In an ideal world, every single ounce of organic material would be kept out of landfills, but a more realistic goal is just to compost as many items as you can. Every little composted banana peel and coffee filter is a win for the planet, as far as I’m concerned.

Without further ado, here’s an exhaustive list of what materials you can toss in your home compost pile.

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THINGS THAT SHOULD BE COMPOSTED

There are two types of materials to compost: greens and browns. We’ll talk more about how to mix them in a bit.

 

Green Materials:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Plant materials (indoor and outdoor)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • Tea leaves/natural tea bags
  • Fresh green leaves
  • Stale bread
  • Chicken manure
  • Rabbit manure

Brown Materials:

  • Dry leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Egg shells
  • Nut shells
  • Wood ash
  • Sawdust
  • Hay/straw
  • Small twigs
  • Wood chips
  • Dried plant stalks
  • Newspaper*
  • Cardboard*
  • Non-glossy paper*
  • Brown paper bags*
  • Toilet paper and paper towel rolls*
  • Paper napkins

*To help speed things up, these items should be shredded. Remove any tape or plastic film.

Note: If anything’s greasy, toss it in the trash instead.

THINGS THAT SHOULD ONLY BE COMPOSTED IN SMALL QUANTITIES

Only add small amounts of these items to your bin, if at all, to keep your compost attractive to the type of bugs that are good at helping to break things down:

  • citrus peels
  • garlic pieces
  • onion pieces

THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT GO IN A COMPOST BIN

There are certain types of food scraps you’ll want to avoid so that your bin doesn’t attract cockroaches and mice. You’ll also want to avoid anything that could introduce plastic particles or harmful pathogens.

From the kitchen:

  • Meats
  • Bones
  • Oils and fats
  • Dairy products
  • Produce stickers
  • “Compostable” bags and utensils*

From the home and yard:

  • Yard waste that contains weed seeds
  • Glossy paper
  • Pet waste (dog and cat)
  • Diseased plant parts
  • Tape from cardboard boxes

*A lot of items that say they’re compostable take years to break down in the types of compost bins we typically have at home. They’re really only compostable when they’re sent to industrial facilities that use extremely high temperatures.

BALANCING GREEN MATERIALS AND BROWN MATERIALS

Your main goal will be to toss a good mix of green materials (nitrogen-rich things) and brown materials (carbon-rich things) into your bin. It’s easy to remember the difference if you think of green leaves as a prime example of green matter and brown cardboard as a go-to brown matter.

The ideal ratio of green to brown is 1 to 4. Basically, every time you toss in a banana peel, add a handful of fallen tree leaves, as well. This not only helps break down the materials faster, it also prevents nasty odors. Even with the right ratio of organic materials, breaking them down isn’t exactly a fast process, so I recommend adding a compost starter to help start things off.

The best way to collect green materials is to keep a little countertop compost bin near your kitchen sink (I keep mine underneath) to collect food scraps. The majority of your brown matter can come from pieces of things you normally would have recycled, like cardboard Amazon boxes (minus the tape) and bills.

FYI: Add water if the materials in your compost bin look dry. Keep things damp but not soaking. If your composter is a barrel, you’ll want to turn it at least once a week to quicken decomposition. If you have a compost pile instead, stir it using a shovel or pitchfork weekly.

COMPOST FAQs

Are maggots good for compost?

There are a number of good bugs you want in your compost bin (mainly soldier fly larvae, which look like ugly roly-polies) to keep things running. While maggots can also help break down materials, having a ton in your bin isn’t ideal. It can indicate you’ve got too many fresh green materials. Add more browns if you see maggots.

Can you compost egg shells?

Egg shells are great sources of carbon to add to your compost bin. You’ll just want to crush them before you add them to the pile (even better: pulverize them). Otherwise, the shells will take forever to break down.

Can you compost coffee filters?

Paper coffee filters can absolutely be composted. I recommend buying unbleached filters if you plan to use your finished compost in the garden.

Can you compost bread?

You can toss bread into your compost pile—just bury it under some brown material to help keep rodents at bay. Bread should break down quickly.

Can you compost egg cartons?

If your egg carton is made of cardboard, you can compost it after you remove the glossy label attached. It’s best to tear the carton into smaller pieces first.

Is mold good for compost?

Having some mold in your compost bin is perfectly normal—it’s just part of the decomposition process. Excess mold though can be a sign that your green and brown ratio is off. Add more brown materials to help even out the moisture level. If you’re collecting kitchen scraps in a container indoors and you notice mold forming, make sure to run the scraps outside to your bin ASAP.

Can you compost rabbit poop?

Rabbit poop is considered compost gold. It can also be added directly into your garden without going through the composting process first. I actually agreed to get pet rabbits for my kids so I could use the rabbit poop in my garden.

Can you compost corn cobs?

These are 100% compostable, just like other vegetable parts, and should break down quickly.

Can you compost paper towels?

As long as a paper towel isn’t covered in grease or cooking oils, it can be composted.

Can you compost orange peels?

You can compost orange peels, lemon peels, etc., but avoid adding them in large quantities. I typically leave peels out of my compost bin and run them down the garbage disposal instead to help with sink odors.

Can you compost watermelon rinds?

Not only can you compost watermelon and squash rinds, they’re actually great at accelerating the decomposition process. If your compost seems to be taking forever to break down, toss some watermelon scraps in there and see what happens within a matter of days!

Can you compost shrimp shells?

It’s generally a good idea to avoid tossing sea food scraps into the compost pile, but shrimp shells are an exception. That goes for both cooked and uncooked. They’re a great green material for your bin, and once broken down, they’re an excellent addition to garden soil.

Can you compost parchment paper?

You can only compost unbleached and unwaxed parchment paper.

Can you compost wax paper?

Wax paper should not go in the compost bin. As a rule, don’t toss in any shiny paper.

Greenes Fence Cedar Wood Composter

If you’re still figuring out which composting system to use or if you want to learn more about how composting works, check out these recommended books on composting for beginners.

Once you’ve got your first batch of finished compost, make sure to put it to good use for your indoor or outdoor plants. Here’s how.

I hope you find our compost materials chart helpful. Let us know if you have any questions in the comment section!