Have you ever tried to compost? It's honestly one of the best things you can do for the planet and if you are into living a zero-waste life, it's one of the most important. But it's hard to know what is compostable at home, hopefully, this article will help you on your journey.
What Is Compost?
Put simply, compost is decomposed organic matter made up of biodegradable materials like leaves, dry grass, kitchen scraps and yard waste. With the assistance of decomposers - worms, fungi, microorganisms etc. - and the right conditions, the materials break down into decomposed vegetable matter known as humus but often referred to as ‘black gold', and for good reason!
When produced in the right conditions, compost offers nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that your garden will LOVE. You can mix it into your soil or it can be used as mulch.
Benefits Of Composting
- It Makes Your Plants Healthier
That "black-gold" makes your soil super fertile, it improves the quality of the soil and it adds beneficial microbes and nutrients making growing a little easier. Healthier soils mean that your plants will grow bigger and stronger and be able to fight off disease.
2. It's very beneficial for the environment
The value of composting is increasingly clear, it cuts down on garbage and it cuts back what we take out of the environment, it's really an ideal form of recycling. Composting can be done at any time of the year and has a direct relationship to zero-waste living.
By composting at home you are reducing unnecessary waste that heads to landfills, reducing all the dangers that come with burning that waste. Rotting materials in landfills pollute water resources via leachate.
Rotting materials become anaerobic and create methane gas. Methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas, and happens to be 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.
Organic and kitchen waste makes up about 30% of the waste disposed of by Canadian households. Studies indicate that produce (fruits and vegetables), breads and cereals are the most wasted food groups in Canadian homes and that most of this waste is avoidable. Canadian habits are changing, that's some good news.
The less rotting food we have in landfill the better. Composting whether it be at home, or at the municipal or commercial level is the best example of "upcycling", the concept of turning an unwanted item into something even better! You gotta love that!
3. It saves money
Compost helps to conserve water and reduces the need for chemical and synthetics fertilizers and pesticides.
If you love to garden and plant, odds are you're spending money each year to purchase compost. Making it at home will also reduce the waste that it's packaged in (plastic bags). Most compost you buy is made from cow poop or cotton burrs, homemade compost is much better quality, offering a wider variety of nutrients.
Plants that are grown in this type of soil are not as prone to pests and plant diseases, which means you will spend less money buying new plants to replace the ones that died.
If you compost properly, you can reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizer and since it helps the soil to hold onto water, you can reduce the amount you need to water, hence saving you money on your water bill.
4. It help soil drainage
If you have sandy soil, you are probably having to water it a lot to keep your plants happy and healthy. Compost can absorb more water, kind of like a sponge, helping to slow the drainage and provide more water for your plants to use. Which means watering less.
5. It balances your soils PH levels
Getting your soil to the right pH is hard, I am not going to lie, it can either be too alkaline or too acidic, both not ideal growing conditions because it prevents the roots from absorbing the nutrients they need. Good compost can help neutralize the soil's PH.
What Is Compostable At Home: Over 101 ideas to reduce waste now!
Compost consists of a 2:1 ratio of "green matter" (nitrogen-rich) which is normally made up of fresh, soft, wet materials like veggie scraps and "brown matter" (carbon-rich) which is typically dry, hard or dead like leaves.
The ratio is important, but don't get too hung up on it. I never get it totally right. If it starts to smell, you have too many greens, add some more brown. If you add too much brown and not enough green it will take longer for your compost to complete.
I've broken the next section up by colour coding to make it easier for you to see what is GREEN MATTER and what is BROWN MATTER.
What Is Compostable: Brown Matter from the kitchen
Broken eggshells (crush them first) & cardboard egg cartons (break them up)
Stale bread, cereal, oatmeal, nuts (not walnuts), Peanut shells, seeds, granola, dry rice and pasta, pita, tortillas and pizza crust
Used brown paper napkins & brown paper bag
Stale herbs and spices
Bread or muffin crumbs
Cardboard paper towel rolls (try to eliminate paper towel altogether)
Used paper plates, shredded paper, paper towel and napkins (all unbleached)
Shredded newspaper and unwaxed cardboard, cereal boxes
Toothpicks, wooden chopsticks, wooden skewers
Soiled pizza boxes & brown paper lunch bags
Unbleached coffee filters
Old, dry legumes (they might sprout)
Note: you may have items in your home that say they are either “biodegradable” or “compostable” like straws, these items do eventually break down, but it can take them a really long time. I tend to avoid placing these types of items in my compost.
What Is Compostable: Green Matter from the kitchen
Freezer burnt veggies
Fruit and veggies scarps like veggie skin, apple to pear cores, watermelon rinds, stems, soggy lettuce or spinach, banana peels, etc. (cut them up into smaller bits)
Skin from avocados, avoid skins from citrus fruits, they will mess with the PH levels and can kill the worms
Loose leaf tea, not tea bags, they typically contain plastic
Spoiled nut milks (soy, almond, coconut etc.), no dairy
Tofu & tempeh & seaweed
Spoiled foods from cans like beans
Mouldy jam, olives, pasta sauces are found in glass jars
Leftover cooked pasta or rice
Old cheese & melted (a little at a time)
What Is Compostable: Brown Matter from the Bathroom & laundry room
Eco-Friendly Toilet paper & toilet paper rolls (in smaller pieces)
Human or pet Hair plus hair trimmings
Natural loofahs (cut it up into smaller pieces)
Natural latex or lambskin condoms (not synthetic)
Cotton swabs with a cardboard stick, not plastic
Cardboard tampon applicators
Cardboard boxes from things like toothpaste or other personal care items
Old cotton textiles, like dishcloths, jeans, t-shirts, old cotton rag, or socks, must be made from natural fibres like cotton, wool, bamboo, hemp or cork and its best to cut them up into smaller pieces
What Is Compostable: Brown Matter from the garden
Small twigs and sticks, I mean really small, not large branches
Cardboard seed pouches (always uncoated)
Dry leaves and dead plants
Pine cones and pine needles
Trimmings from a bush or shrub
Unused garden soil
Tree bark and peat moss
Untreated wood chips
Burned wood ash from a campfire (not coal ash)
Burlap garden liners
Old bedding from gerbil or hamster cages
Rope or twine (uncoated)
What Is Compostable: Green Matter from the garden
Decaying flower arrangements
Leaves from houseplants
Natural fertilizers, like alfalfa meal or kelp meal
Real Christmas trees, wreaths and garland (you will need to cut the tree into small pieces)
Pumpkins used at Halloween and thanksgiving
What Is Compostable: Brown Matter from around the home
Shredded newspapers, junk mail, or magazines
Dry dog or cat food
Cardboard magazine inserts
Paper envelopes with no plastic
Worn out natural fiber pet toys
Wooden match sticks (used)
Unglossy business cards and bills
Plastic plant pots
What is NOT Compostable?
There are some things that we think can be composted but actually can't. Putting the wrong thing in the compost bin will contaminate it and all the work you put into it will be for nothing. I don't want that to happen to you.
From the kitchen:
Animal-based proteins like meat, fish and bones, can attract unwanted critters and also risk introducing pathogens.
The same goes for eggs and dairy.
Fats, grease, lard or oils
Citrus fruit peel, these are too acidic and will mess with the PH of the compost. They can also harm the worms. The same goes for onion and garlic.
No cakes that have high sugar content. All types of bread, except if it's plain and stale.
No tea bags (they contain plastic) and no coffee pods either, even if they say biodegradable on the label.
Pesky plastic stickers found on fruits and veggies.
Brown bags or paper bags that are coated.
From the bathroom and laundry room:
Diapers and women's personal care items like tampons and pads.
Synthetic textiles of any kind.
Dryer lint was very common to add but with the issue of microplastic breaking off in the wash, it's best to avoid it.
The same goes for your vacuum contents, studies have shown plastic in dust is a huge problem.
From the garden:
Toxic plants such as Oleander.
Large twigs and branches (unless you can chip them).
Any treated wood or lumber (and their sawdust).
Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Plants that have any kind of disease, either dead or alive.
Any invasive plant.
Coal ash is a no-no, wood ash is okay.
From Around the home:
Any paper that is coated or has plastic on it.
Cat litter, used or not.
Dog poop or cat poop (both can contain parasites).
How to compost at home:
When you first start it takes a bit of time to get into the groove of it but stick with it. Most composting does begin in the kitchen, as you cook or clean out the fridge you will have lots of items that be added to a compost pile. You may have a small bin inside the kitchen that you collect daily or you may have a larger compost bin outside.
If you live in a city that collects organic waste, you may be using that solely. But if you garden and plant your own food, it might be worth trying a larger bin outside the home.
Keep a small compost bin inside the home and fill it up, then twice a week take it out to the main pile. If you are worried about the smell, make sure the bin you are using inside the home has a very tight lid and a carbon filter.
To compost at home you need: a container, layers (what you put into it), you need to keep it relatively moist (not wet) and you have to turn it occasionally. The 2:1 ratio I mentioned earlier is important, you don't want too much of one thing, all kitchen waste or all grass clipping you need balance to prevent smell. Properly layering your compost prevents gasses from building up this aids in stacking up the heat and cooking the smell out.
Types of Compost:
Before you start composting you need to think about the space and location of your bin. Whether you live on a large farm or in a small apartment, composting is possible.
Option 1: The Compost Pile
Is exactly that a huge pile of green and brown matter that you turn over every once in a while using a large rake. You'll need some elbow grease.
Option 2: Compost Tumbler
You can also opt for a tumbler, these are larger bins that have a wheel. This is a perfect option for a smaller home with a decent backyard. Tumblers speed up the composting process, when you turn it, it heats up at a much quicker rate. The wheel also helps to mix the material a little easier than a large rake. You can find tumblers that hold quite a bit of matter. Perfect for a suburban setting, no massive pile to turn and you can get rid of the bin in your kitchen altogether if you wanted too.
Option 3: Kitchen Composting
This is the most typical type of composting and a good jumping-off point if you wanted to take it to the next level. You can keep a small bin or container on the kitchen counter or under the sink. I use this ceramic one, it has a built-in charcoal filter to help with smells, stainless steel is another great option. These smaller bins are great for apartments or smaller kitchens.
Check out the Best Indoor, Urban Compost Bins & Kitchen Compost Systems for my top pick at home bins. And if you need a bag to put your compost in, you need to know which is the better option.
How To Start a Compost pile:
If you are doing a compost pile, make sure you choose the right spot. Your bin should be slightly lifted to avoid low-lying areas where water can pool. Remember you want the pile to be moist but not wet. Choose a spot that is protected from the wind, dry and sunny with good drainage.
Add your matter, shred or chop items into small pieces, these are easier to break down.
When you turn your pile, add some water, if you notice when you dig in it's dry, add water and if you see it's on the wet side, don't water it for a few days. Just keep checking it.
When you add new matter to your pile, turn it over, this will help speed up the decaying process. If your pile is warm when you touch it and there is steam coming off it, it's working its magic.
When the bottom of the pile gets too dark brown, you've successfully made compost. YAY!
How To Use your Compost
This is the best part! Take all that "brown gold" and mix it directly into your garden soil, raised beds, container gardens, potting mix (use 100% composts in these) you name it! Add as much as you need, mix it with the soil and watch the magic happen! Good compost soil will be crumbly, not dense and easily broken apart between tour fingers.
You also add it as topsoil, like mulch. Or, brew a compost tea and use it as a liquid fertilizer
Well, there you have over 100 things that are compostable at home! Have you tried composting? Share your experience in the comments below.
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