Whether you are managing your own compost bin, or you live in a town or city that composts for you, composting is one of the most efficient ways to help keep millions of tons of biodegradable trash out of the landfill.
Many compostable items are probably those you are already familiar with, like veggie trimmings, coffee and tea grounds, and yard and plant clippings, but these items are just the start of what can go in your bin.
Bread and Crackers
There are many potential contributors to the compost in the kitchen. Stale starches such as bread, crackers, pretzels and even cooked pasta and cooked rice can all be composted. These drier items will help offset the wetter kitchen waste such as veggie trimmings.
Herbs, spices, jams and preserves all have a limited shelf life, and once they are too old to use, they can be added to the pile as well.
Eggscetera - shells and dairy
Egg shells are compostable, although they should be rinsed or even heated for ten minutes in the oven in order to kill bacteria. Leftover dairy products like melted ice cream and moldy cheese can also be composted.
Wine is a zero-waste drink thanks to your compost pile; put the bottle in the recycling bin and the cork in the compost, and the wine itself can even help encourage the composting process. If you make your own beer or wine, all of the waste from these processes is is a beneficial addition to the pile.
Plastic, which is a popular packaging material, is not compostable and does not biodegrade. Thanks to continuing education about this fact and consumer demand, some cities, towns and businesses have begun to eliminate plastic packaging like polystyrene containers. These efforts have been furthered by the development and distribution of compostable to-go containers. Big box health food stores like Whole Foods, for example, now use compostable containers for everything from salad to coffee beans, and SunChips introduced a compostable bag this spring.
Almost all forms of clean, non-treated paper can be composted as long as they are shredded or broken into smaller pieces. Paper is another material that acts as drier material to help keep the proper ratio of "green" to "brown" materials in your pile. You can compost most paper including bills (once you have paid them, of course!), junk mail, paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, toilet paper rolls, paper cartons from eggs and berries, and even the grease-free part of your pizza boxes.
Hair it is
There are many items in the bathroom that can be rerouted to the compost pile. Hair from your hairbrush or fur from your pet are full of useful nitrogen and can be thrown in the compost pile. Nail trimmings can be composted too as long as they have not polish on them. Cotton is also fodder for the bin, so cotton balls, cotton swabs (as long as the handle is made of cardboard), lint from the dryer and even old shredded cotton and wool clothing need never see the trash pile.
Lint and other unwelcome guests
Even the waste from your cleaning adventures can go in the pile. When you are done vacuuming, empty your bag into the bin, and when you sweep out the fireplace, add the ashes as well. Trimmings from your indoor plants can go along with any used soil, and you can even compost the crumbs you sweep off the floor.
Party in the bin
One of the most difficult decisions to make during the holidays is what to do with the waste generated after a big celebration. With a bit of planning, it is easy to ensure that most of your party favors are compost bin-friendly. Both Christmas trees and jack-o-lanterns are compostable, as are wreaths made from natural materials like tree trimmings and flowers.
Making the mix
The most successful compost bins and piles are those that have the right mix of materials needed for the composting process to take place properly. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco now offer compost pick-up, so check with your municipality about availability of this service and which items are considered compostable. If you are going to compost on your own, check out this cheat sheet for composting as well as these tips to help you decide on the right composting system for you.
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