One of the most common questions among beginning composters is "what can I put in my compost bin?" While it helps to know that there are two basic types of materials (greens and browns, i.e., nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich) to put into your bin, it might be even more helpful to have a detailed, go-to list of things you can compost.
Not everything on this list will be for everyone. Some people, worried about pests in their compost, will decide to forgo composting grains such as rice, pasta, and bread.
Others will decide that they would just rather recycle newspapers than compost them. That's fine. Consider this list a starting point; a place to get ideas for what you can safely compost.
You'll notice several items missing from this list, such as meat, dairy, and fats. While you can technically compost all of these (especially if you have a Bokashi compost bin) I've left them off this list because extra care must be taken to compost these items safely. The items on this list are safe for you, and for your garden.
A word about proportions. In general, you want about 4 times (and up to ten or twenty times, depending on who you talk to) as many browns as greens. If you're going for super-fast compost, you'll want to pay strict attention to proportions. But if you just want to make some compost over time, and avoid sending the organic matter to the landfills, then you really don't need to worry about it too much.
If your bin gets wet and smelly, add more browns and cut back on the greens for a while. Give it a turn. If your bin just sits there, not breaking down, add some greens, turn it, and it should start breaking down again. Compost happens, whether we do anything at all. It's just a question of how patient we are.
Greens for Your Compost Bin
"Greens" are the nitrogen-rich additions to your compost pile. These tend to have lots of moisture, break down quickly, and provide a quick burst of heat to your pile. While we call them "greens," technically any plant matter will work here: coffee grounds, for example, are brown in color, but they're rich in nitrogen, hence, they're a "green." Here are some ideas of greens for your pile:
- Fruit and vegetable peels
- Citrus rinds
- Melon rinds
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves/tea bags
- Old vegetables from the crisper
- Houseplant trimmings
- Weeds that haven't gone to seed
- Grass clippings
- Fresh leaves
- Deadheads from flowers
- Dead plants (as long as they aren't diseased)
- Cooked plain rice
- Cooked plain pasta
- Stale bread
- Corn husks
- Corn cobs
- Broccoli stalks
- Sod that you've removed to make new garden beds
- Thinnings from the vegetable garden
- Spent bulbs that you used for forcing indoors
- Holiday greenery (from wreaths and swags, for example) -- just be sure to cut the stems off of the wreath form or wires first)
- Old, less flavorful packaged herbs and spices
- Egg shells
Browns for Your Compost Bin
"Browns" are the carbon-rich materials in your compost that add aeration to the pile and structure to your compost.
They break down more slowly, so it's a good idea to chop them up fairly small if you're able to. Here are some browns to put in your compost pile:
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded office paper/school papers
- Shredded, non-glossy junk mail
- Torn up plain corrugated cardboard boxes (not with glossy coatings)
- Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
- Fall leaves
- Chopped up twigs and small branches
- Pine cones
- Nut shells (avoid walnut shells as they can inhibit plant growth)
- Used napkins
- Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes (cardboard>
- Fallen bird's nests
- Pine needles/pine straw
- Paper coffee filters (used)
- Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
- Sawdust (only from untreated wood)
- Brown paper shopping bags, shredded/torn
- Brown paper lunch bags, shredded/torn
- Leftover peat or coir from seed starting
- Coir liners for hanging baskets
- Wood chips
- Bedding from chickens
This list is a good starting point for safe, common things you can compost. As you can see, there are many common household items we can compost rather than throw into the trash.