Composting 101: 21 Things to Put in Your Compost {Green in 365}


Green in 365 series

This is Day 127 of the Green in 365 series!

By Kim from The Soulicious Life

I hate to waste, I love to garden, and yet I only started composting last spring. I can’t honestly say what took me so long to join the revolution, but now that I’m on board, I’m hooked!

It’s easier than you might think, and with the abundance of fruit and vegetable scraps hitting your kitchen these days, there is no better time to start. Composting is a completely natural process in which organic matter breaks down into rich new soil.

Composting at home provides an easy way to turn small amounts of organic matter, including food scraps and yard waste, into nutritious soil loved by gardens beds, bushes, and outdoor containers.


Getting Started With Composting

Composting simply calls for a designated area in which your household scraps can decompose. It also requires three key ingredients:

  • Brown materials, i.e. dead leaves, branches and twigs, which provide carbon
  • Green materials, i.e. grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells, which provide nitrogen
  • Water, which helps break down the matter

Tips to Get Going

  • Choose the composter that’s right for you. If you have the space and are handy, you might build composting stalls in which you toss your scraps directly on the ground and cover with a tarp to keep moist. Alternatively, you can invest in one of the many styles of bins and tumblers available online and in garden stores. A more simple (and less expensive) approach is to utilize a black, lidded trash can by drilling about 30-40 holes throughout it for air circulation.
  • Designate an area near a water source so you can easily add moisture as necessary. You’ll also want a space somewhat out of sight (and smell) but close enough to your gardens to ease the distribution of finished compost.
  • Keep a 50-50 ratio of brown to green material, and alternate the layers as you can.
  • Turn your compost pile every week or two to distribute air and moisture. If you don’t have a tumbler style composter, investing in a pitchfork or sturdy shovel is a must.
  • Eventually, you will have to stop adding materials to the pile so it can decompose completely. Feel free to start a second (or even a third) pile so you always have one to contribute to while the others are finishing up.
  • Invest in a small, lidded container to keep next to your kitchen sink; it will ease the scrap collection process.
  • The time it take for your material to decompose will vary according to the time of year, materials put in, moisture level, etc.
  • When the material in your composter is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use!

Composting 101: 21 Things You Can Put in Your Compost (And 8 Things You Never Should)

What to Compost

In addition to fruit and vegetable scraps, you can compost these items as well:
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Latex balloons
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings

What NOT to Compost

Not everything organic should go in your compost heap. According the EPA, leave these items out, and for good reason:

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs. Why? Releases substances that might be harmful to plants.
  • Coal or charcoal ash. Why? Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs. Why?  Creates odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants. Why? Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants.
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils. Why? Creates odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps. Why? Creates odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter). Why? Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides. Why? Might kill beneficial composting organisms.

Do you compost? Why or why not?

Kim at The Soulicious Life Denver-based Kim Daly, a.k.a SoulMomma, believes that an eco-friendly existence should be part of any healthy lifestyle. When not nurturing her compost bin or buying new-to-her items, she can be found discovering delicious vegetarian recipes, hiking with her family, and striking a yoga pose anywhere she can. Learn to nourish your body, your soul and the planet on her blog, The Soulicious Life.

Find all the Green in 365 posts.


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  1. says

    If your pet is a rabbit or gerbil, you can compost its waste; these animals don’t have the dangerous digestive pathogens. For our rabbit, we used litter made from ground-up corn cobs (until I saw it in the store, I had NEVER thought about what happens to the cobs when factories make canned corn!) so that was compostable, too. Our gerbils loved to shred paper, so rather than buy wood chips for them, we just gave them our confidential documents, and then all the shreds and waste could go into the compost.

  2. Wendi says

    I was hoping the “What To Compost” list would also categorize each item into “brown” or “green” because I can never remember. Do you know of an easy way to tell if something is green or brown for composting purposes?

    Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Wendi – “Brown” items include cardboard rolls, paper (shreds are best), grass clippings, hay and straw, leaves, sawdust wood chips and yard trimmings. To the best of my knowledge, the other items on the list fall into the “Green” category. Hope that helps!

  3. says

    This is a great list! I’m going to be composting for the first time this year, but had no clue what I could and couldn’t compost. Now I know!


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