Which Items Are "Greens" and Which Are "Browns"?

Composting Questions

Food waste recycling compost
Peter Dazeley

Here is a simple list of common materials for the compost pile, grouped as either "greens" or "browns." "Greens" are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein. They are also the items that tend to heat a compost pile up because they help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply quickly. "Browns" are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The main job of "browns" in a compost pile is to be food sources for all of the lovely soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of your compost pile.

"Browns" for the Compost Pile

  • Fall leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Twigs, chipped tree branches/bark
  • Straw or hay
  • Sawdust
  • Corn stalks
  • Paper (newspaper, writing/printing paper, paper plates and napkins, coffee filters)
  • Dryer lint
  • Cotton fabric
  • Corrugated cardboard (without any waxy/slick paper coatings

"Greens" for the Compost Pile

  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds/tea bags
  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Trimmings from perennial and annual plants
  • Annual weeds that haven't set seed
  • Eggshells
  • Animal manures (cow, horse, sheep, chicken, rabbit, etc. No dog or cat manure.)
  • Seaweed

You'll often see recommendations for an ideal ratio of browns to greens. Generally a ratio of three to four parts browns to one part greens is great, but you don't need to be exact about it. Decomposition happens. It's a natural process. Pile your compostables up, turn them (or don't) and, in time, you'll have compost. It really is that simple.