What Is Compostable? 18 Things You Can Compost

An illustration showing what can go in a compost bin.

Struggling to figure out exactly what goes in a compost bin?

This guide was written for those looking for a little direction when it comes to getting results from their compost piles, instead of filling them with useless junk.

Composting is an easy way to minimize your everyday waste – it just requires a bit of time to get the hang of your kitchen-to-compost flow.

Over time, you may also find things you just don’t want to deal with even if they are technically compostable.

So, what is compostable (realistically)?

18 Things You Can Compost At Home

Written mainly for at-home setups like backyard composting piles, we’ll be covering compostability in a way that works for nearly anyone – whether it’s needed for a house, apartment, school, or those who simply let their local waste collection take care of it.

Various organic ingredients ready to be added to a compost pile.
Image by Lenny Albrecht via Flickr

While you don’t have to learn how to start a garden, they can be quite small and rewarding to design. If you have your own homemade compost ready to go, it becomes even simpler.

If you want to know both what to compost and what not to compost, we also have a list for that. Just be realistic about your composting goals – if you want actual fertilizer for your garden, focus on the quality of your pile instead of adding as much technically compostable stuff to it as possible.

Remember that most industrial composting facilities will be able to process certain materials that your home setup may not be able to handle, so watch out for anything we mention in that category.

1. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce

Expiring bananas, some of the best materials for composting.

The great thing about composting kitchen waste is that almost all of your expired fruits or vegetables can be added to your bin. The best way to do this is to just scoop anything out of its peel, and also remember to remove any produce stickers (they’re partially non-recyclable plastic).

Another good idea is to avoid some of the more prolific garden crops if you’re planning on using your compost as fertilizer. Things like tomato plants produce a ton of seeds, which means more weeding of volunteer sprouts in the future once mixed in with your soil.

2. Most produce peels and scraps

Most produce scraps and trimmings are perfect for making compost; however, there are some peels and casings that may give you a bit of trouble.

Avocado peels, for example, are almost leathery in texture when dry and I’d recommend either letting your local green bin services compost them or cutting them up into smaller pieces for your own compost pile.

3. Herbs and spices

Similar to fruits and vegetables, adding whatever expired herbs and spices you no longer have a use for directly into your compost is the best way to give them a second-life. Not much else to say about this, just avoid adding crazy amounts of pungent aromas like garlic if you’re sensitive to smells.

4. Coffee beans and grounds or tea leaves

Coffee beans, one of the most common things to compost.

If you make your own coffee or tea, definitely add the leftovers to your compost. Spent coffee grounds in particular are starting to catch-on within the sustainable agriculture community as one of the best things you can compost! The filters and bags are a different story, but may be okay in small amounts. Check a bit further down where we talk about paper for more about that.

5. Nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains

Another category without too much to consider, these kinds of food scraps can simply be mixed into your compost bin in most cases. So feel free to add the rice you forgot about in the back of your fridge, that crusty old bean dip, or whatever else you don’t see yourself eating. If you didn’t know, legumes are foods like beans, lentils, and peas.

6. Bread, pasta, flour, and baked goods

Things like stale bread, overcooked pasta, or expired flour are perfect ingredients for your compost bin and tend to be made from grains in most cases.

A loaf of bread, which can be composted if stale.

With that being said, bread is a pretty vague category of food – if you’re thinking about adding a bunch of buttery baked goods to your bin, you may want to think about what types of pests are attracted to decomposing animal products.

7. Small amounts of animal products

People tend to disagree on this topic, and we’ve gone over this more in our guide on what you should avoid composting. In short, a majority of animal products like milk, eggs, and meat spoil incredibly fast.

Not only does this smell awful, but decaying animal products also tend to attract some of the most commonly feared pests like rats and roaches. And yes, this includes lab grown meat, if you have access to that. Avoid large amounts, but feel free to add honey or beeswax!

8. Plant based meat and dairy products

Animal products are a no-go, but plant based meat and other products like nut or oat-based milks, yogurts, and cheeses should be fine to compost. Most of these products are made from things like soy, cashews, almonds, and oats. Highly processed, sure – but these don’t decompose or smell like animal products do.

9. Egg shells

Eggs, which have shells that are perfect materials for composting.

While you should probably avoid adding a ton of raw or cooked egg to your compost bin, egg shells are a different story. Egg shells contain a variety of beneficial nutrients like calcium, and can be a valuable addition to your compost system. If you want to avoid large chunks of egg shell in your soil, consider drying your egg shells out before adding them!

10. Chicken and herbivore manure

While we’re on the topic of eggs, if you’re someone who keeps a pen of backyard hens, you can safely add their manure to your compost heap as well. High in nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients; by adding chicken manure to your compost bin you’re likely increasing the quality of your future fertilizer.

Aside from chickens, if you’re keeping other herbivores like horses, goats, cows, or pigs you can easily recycle some of their waste into your at home compost. Animal bedding made from straw or sawdust are also considered compostable items, and often usually contain animal waste anyways.

11. Some types of pet waste

This kind of falls under the “herbivore manure” category, but I thought it best to make this clear. If you’re going to add pet waste to your compost bin, make sure it’s from a pet that eats a plant based diet, and one that doesn’t need regular medication.

For example, waste from pets like pets or rabbits can easily be collected and added to your bin. The main idea is to avoid the waste from animals who mainly eat meat, such as your pet dogs or cats. Don’t add cat litter, either – although your cats may end up using your garden for that anyways!

12. Human urine

All jokes aside, you can genuinely add your own pee to your composting system, if you want. If you’re new to all of this, you probably have zero interest in doing so. Even most experienced gardeners don’t do this, but if you ever really need to go while composting at home, it’s not the end of the world.

13. Houseplants

white poinsettia

As tragic as forgetting to water a thirsty houseplant is, you can usually compost them at the end of their life. Just make sure your houseplant isn’t invasive or poisonous before composting, as you don’t want to upset your local ecosystem or injure any pets or wild animals.

14. Yard waste and lawn clippings

Your yard waste and lawn clippings can be composted. After all, it’s just organic plant matter. But, there are a few things to watch out for when composting yard waste.

First of all, while adding branches, bunches of leaves, and other bigger pieces of yard waste can be done – too much will slow your composting down. Things like smaller branches and leaves are fine, but I’d save larger bits for your green waste bin unless you have a massive compost heap.

yard waste compost

Secondly, if your lawn or mowed grass is treated with pesticides or herbicides, avoid adding any to your garden compost entirely. While grass clippings can be one of the easiest sources of nitrogen-rich material, you definitely don’t want to introduce concentrated pesticides into your garden.

15. Corks and bamboo

These two things aren’t the same, obviously, as cork is harvested from trees and bamboo is a type of grass – but they can both be composted and represent a category of compostable things you can add but maybe never considered.

Small bits and bobs of natural materials are all around us; and in many cases, like with corks or sustainable bamboo, they can be added to your bin without any issues. Just check to make sure you aren’t being fooled by sneaky tactics like an inner plastic layer.

16. Specific types of paper

compostable brown paper

It’s important to understand that most kinds of paper are treated with additives and various chemicals as a standard part of the manufacturing process. The good news is, most paper products that are compostable will be labeled as such, but if you don’t see anything indicating your paper waste as compostable, it’s better to just recycle it.

Paper is starting to make a comeback when it comes to things like food packaging, but it still has a ways to go before it’s all easily compostable without any downsides. Even when brands do choose to use paper, it’s often white-bleached paper instead of paper that uses unbleached brown paper pulp.

Here are a few examples of paper you can compost:

  • Unbleached lunch bags, waxed parchment paper, etc
  • Unbleached paper towels, napkins, tissue paper, etc
  • Newspaper (debatable, although many use soy-based ink)

17. Some kinds of cardboard

Cardboard can be a minefield of confusing semi-compostable blends often made of different layers that may even include plastic. Again, look for compostable or biodegradable labels before considering adding cardboard to your compost bin. Even the glue holding cardboard together can be made from petrochemicals!

If you’re going to add some cardboard to your bin, cut it up in smaller bits before doing so. And you can also soak it in a bit of water first to help it break down faster, if it’s not too messy for you.

18. Save bioplastics for industrial composting

One of the main draws of products like biodegradable garbage bags or silverware is the ability to compost them. The problem is, these kinds of compostable products tend to only break down effectively under the right conditions and require industrial composting.

Meaning, if your compost pile isn’t meeting the standards set by regulatory agencies, your bioplastic sporks won’t actually do what they were created to do. If you live somewhere where green can pickups are commonplace, you should add your compostable bioplastics to them. Either way, better than traditional plastic!

Final thoughts

This list of compostable items will change and improve over time, so remember to check back if you enjoyed it!

For those of you just starting to figure out what can be composted, following this guide should cover most of the common things you’ll be adding on a daily basis.

Do you have any of your own suggestions on what to put in a compost bin?

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