By Nate Lipka on Aug 9, 2010

I Didn't Know That Was Compostable!


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.

Wine itself can even help encourage the composting process. Photo: Flickr/Codefor

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.

Compostable Condiments

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.

Zero-waste wine

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.

Packaging

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.

Paper products

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.

Cotton balls, cotton swabs, lint from the dryer and even old shredded cotton and wool clothing can go in your bin. Photo: Flickr/incurable_hippie

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.

Read more from Libuse Binder at Weekly Way and Ten Ways.

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      • Jeffrey Smedberg

        LIbuse,
        I appreciate you expanding folks awareness of what can be composted. But I have to disagree with a few of your suggestions.

        I put a SunChips bag in my home compost pile, which is full of worms and actively decomposes food and paper products in a matter of weeks. In spite of the company’s claims, after a few months the SunChips bag had discolored slightly but was still a structurally sound bag. So I rate SunChip’s compostable bag claim as another greenwashing marketing ploy.

        Dryer lint is good for your compost pile only if your laundry is 100% cotton, wool, or other natural fibers. Otherwise you will be adding minute particles of nylon, rayon and other petroleum-based synthetic fibers to your garden, which is the terrestrial equivalent of plastics in the ocean.

        Clean and dry paper has a much higher value recycled into a new paper product. Composting should be reserved for soiled paper such as used napkins and non-plastic-coated paper plates with food residue. And I beg to differ with your guidance for pizza boxes. Tear off the clean portions of the cardboard box for the recycling bin, and the greasy parts will rapidly decompose when you bury them in your compost pile.

        -Jeffrey Smedberg
        Recycling Programs Coordinator
        County of Santa Cruz, California

      • Ann O’Donnell

        Although I’ve been composting alcohol dregs for over 20 years, I had no idea things like jam and preserves could be composted. I thought all the processing etc. would kill any good left in them. This brings to mind other things e.g. expired baking powder, toothpaste, diet sodas, vegetable oils and so on. Is there a list of food stuffs most of wouldn’t compost but should?

      • http://earth911.com/news/2010/08/09/i-didnt-know-that-was-compostable/ Susan

        I think there should be some warning that while things like bread and pasta are compostable, putting those items in your compost bin is very likely to attract rats and other vermin. It’s better to put those sorts of items into a municipal system rather than home compost bins.

        Also, it would be helpful if there was some scale on how long things take to break down. If you are planning to use this year’s compost bin for next year’s mulch, you can’t put things like corn cobs or whole christmas trees in.

      • Sue

        Great article! I have tried to compost but I wasn’t aware of many of the items you mentioned in this article could be added to it like bread, rice and pasta. I’ve just expanded upon my knowledge on composting since I knew about some of the items like the eggs shells, coffee grounds, vegetable matter,etc. Recycling means less garbage and better soil for doing so.

        I also read that paper and redworms also can expedite the whole composting process too.

        Thank you for sharing this information!

      • http://www.lowryecosolutions.com Eric

        I run local composting education programs in the Lower Merion area. This is great information as many people don’t realize that almost everything that isn’t recyclable IS compostable.

        And don’t worry about bread/pasta being a problem in your compost. They get down and dirty just like everything else.

        The really cool part is avocado pits start to grow in the compost bin. Take them out and plant them for a cool garden addition.

      • Gee

        I have heard that dairy products will attract rodents…is that true?

      • L. J. Beckman

        I can’t believe how uneducated I am about possible recyclables! I was trying so hard and still I didn’t know… This information needs to be mainstreamed, in my opinion.

      • http://www.tenways.org Libuse Binder

        Thank you all for your comments. Comparing notes with others is one of the best ways to find the right composting system for your space, needs, and environment.

        While, as Jeffrey mentioned, “clean and dry paper has a much higher value recycled into a new paper product,” many municipalities will not accept shredded paper in recycling bins. If this is the case where you live, I recommend that you compost your shredded paper instead.

        As for the greasy parts of the pizza boxes or soiled napkins and paper plates, if you are going to compost these items, I suggest burying them as Jeffrey suggests.

        Ann, I recommend checking out The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener
        edited by Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin or anything by Eliot Coleman.

      • Marge

        I tried to recycle my ex husband, but he kept unlatching the hook on the compost pile.

      • Molly

        I appreciate all the tips. Help me again, if you can: I cannot find a place to ship the plastic containers that CD’s come in. Is there anywhere?

        Thanks,

        Molly

      • karen

        GreenDisk.com will take plastic CD containers

      • Valerie

        In addition to knowing WHAT to compost, it is also important to know HOW to compost. A properly managed pile will not attract pests and only some “compostable” packaging, such as the SunChips bag, can be broken down in a home composting pile (as opposed to a commercial composting facility, where high temperatures can be maintained for several consecutive days). There are some great resources here: http://ccetompkins.org/garden/composting/how-fact-sheets for those who want to learn more.

      • Wendy

        I’m wondering how to dispose of carbonless copies of checks (used checkbooks — I believe this paper is also known as NCR??) I’ve heard it is toxic, so don’t want to compost or burn it — I’d like to shred them…but what should I do with them after that???

      • http://www.mamaswormcomposting.com Jen

        This is an informative and entertaining article. It’s fun to think of all the things that we can throw in the compost pile that we normally wouldn’t think of! Since we moved to a house that has city-wide composting I have noticed our trash (for a family of four) reduce to just 1 bag per week. It’s well worth it to compost!

      • Liz

        Marge,
        I think you were supposed to bury him along with the pizza boxes. :)

      • Dale

        I’ve had a compost pile in my backyard now for over 20 years,it’s about 10’Lx5’w x5’t and belive me I can compost anything,Those Sunchip bags need to be cut with scissors in strips before putting in your pile,I put 2 different bags in mine and the one that is in strips is decomposing quicker,the color and writing is almost unreadable(these were put in in April 2010).Also WORMS really help,I have about 2000 in mine.Most of my pile is leaves and fresh cut grass and once a month fresh horse manure from a local farm (they give it away free),and water.I put most food scraps,stale chips coffe filters and teabags in my pile,about a foot down,dig away the leaves and bury it.Also all the junk mail that comes to the house get shredded and put in the pile too.I turn my pile a least 3 times a month.I know not everybody has the space like I have but the key to composting is worms,so try it today.