What NOT to Compost + 11 Surprising Things You Can!

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Wondering what you can and cannot add to your compost? Here’s a list of what NOT to compost, plus 11 surprising things you can!

compost pile

What NOT to Compost + 11 Surprising Things You Can!

A good compost pile can provide much needed nutrients for your soil to help them grow lush and plentiful harvests. It is the lifeblood of new gardens! It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill. A lot of items on the “safe” list might otherwise be thrown away.

If you’re new to composting, you may be wondering what not to compost, and you may also be missing things you CAN turn into garden gold.

Don’t put good material in the landfill! Make sure to add these surprising items to your heap instead. Take a look at these eleven things to compost you probably aren’t. Chances are you’re tossing at least one of them.

1. Wood Ashes are Compostable

If you have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, save those wood ashes! They can be added to your pile! Doing so will help to make your soil more alkaline.

On the other hand, charcoal ashes should not be composted. Most charcoal is coated in chemicals to help it burn better. Those chemicals could ruin your homemade garden gold.

2. Can You Compost Cardboard?

Most of us usually have a plethora of Amazon and other shipping boxes coming into our home on a regular basis. If you’re throwing them in the trash or recycling bins, you’re wasting good compostable materials.

To compost cardboard boxes, remove any tape or glue. Tear the box into manageable pieces and mix them into your pile. If you don’t want to go to the effort of tearing them, you can also use them in lasagna gardening! Learn more here.

3. Leftover Christmas Greenery

It seems such a shame to buy green wreaths, garlands and Christmas trees that only get one use once a year. Instead, once you’re done with them, break them up and add them to your compost pile.

Before you do so, make sure they have no glue, glitter or other crafty type additions on them. Those things are not good for your compost pile. Make sure they they haven’t been spray painted or chemically treated, and you can also feed leftover Christmas greenery to goats!

4. Breakfast Scraps

Mornings are usually hectic and rushed for families, but that doesn’t mean they can’t break down. Fruit peels and eggshells can be added to your compost for richness and to add nutrients such as calcium to your compost mixture.

Don’t add to many citrus peels to your compost, though. Too much citrus can affect the pH. Instead, use those citrus peel for homemade cleaning solutions!

If you see any stickers on your fruit, though, take them off and throw them in the garbage. Fruit and veggie stickers are NOT compost safe.

5. Junk Mail

We all receive junk mail that we don’t want so why not make it useful for something? Shred junk mail that comes on plain paper and add them to your compost. You can even compost parts of envelopes that do not have glue or stamps on them.

This also applies to printer paper as well and is a great way to use scraps left from printing so they don’t go to waste.

compost bucket and table scraps

6. Can Coffee Grounds be Composted?

No, you’re not going to compost your actual coffee pot, but you can compost every part of the pot of coffee you brewed this morning. The leftover grounds, the filter and even leftover coffee can all be added to your pile to help make it into the soil you need.

If you use K-cups, tear the foil covering off and you can compost the grounds and the little filter that is inside each one. Now’s a good time to switch to reusable K-cups, by the way. Add your own ground coffee and save money and the environment!

Composting coffee is not the only beverage that can be composted. If you drink tea, your tea leaves and leftover tea can all be added as well.

Just be sure that neither your coffee or your tea has dairy products or non-dairy creamer in them. Dairy should never be composted.

Also, tea bags are NOT compostable either. Many of them are made from nylon fibers that won’t break down and can contaminate your pile.

7. Can You Compost The Hair in Your Hair Brush?

This one may be too much for some people, but hair can be composted and actually does a couple of great things for your pile. Hair, when added to a compost pile, helps the pile itself to retain moisture which is needed to assist in breaking everything down into soil. It also adds a high level of nitrogen to your soil which is beneficial for any plants to grow.

Lint from the dryer is another NOPE. Lint includes a lot of synthetic materials which won’t break down aren’t aren’t healthy for your garden. You’ll want to put dryer lint in the garbage instead.

8. Can you Compost Cat Poop? What about Dog Poop?

Don’t add dog or cat feces to your compost. They can contain harmful parasites you don’t want in your garden soil. Adding chicken, horse, cow, or rabbit manure to your compost is perfectly fine, however.

9. Used Paper Towels & Paper Napkins

Still using disposable paper towels? Don’t throw them in the trash – compost them instead. Keep in mind that this should only be done if the paper towel is “clean.” If there are any chemicals at all on the paper towel, it’s best thrown in the trash.

As already stated, chemicals in your compost pile can leach into the soil it creates which can then leech into the food or flowers you grow.

10. Paperboard

Cereal boxes, frozen pizzas, and other foods your family might eat can usually be composted. Just be sure to avoid any sections with glue and to rip them into smaller pieces to help them break down easier. The same goes for labels on any cans you’re throwing out.

Some will advise you against adding anything with heavy printing on it. Ultimately, it is a personal choice as to whether you compost them or not.

making compost for your backyard garden (1)

11. All Those Fallen Leaves

Does your city pick up bagged fall leaves? Most do, but you should have them skip your house. Instead, mix fallen and raked leaves into your bin. Since they’re already dried out, they will break down incredibly fast; providing your compost pile much needed nutrients.

12. Can You Compost Weeds?

Weeds should not be added to your compost pile – the seeds can end up in your garden! No bueno.

You also shouldn’t add any part of the black walnut tree – juglone hurts your garden so you don’t want to add that to the lovely black dirt you plan to use to enrich your garden.

13. Can You Compost Meat or Fish?

One last thing on the NO list is meat. Meat can add beneficial nutrients, but it also smells as it decomposes and attracts animal pests. Most people put meat and fish on the NO list. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

14. Other Things You Can’t Compost

  • large sticks – they take forever to break down
  • grease, lard, or oil – save that bacon grease and use it in your cooking!
  • yard waste that’s been treated chemically – it can kill the microorganisms in your pile
Hopefully, this gives you a few tips on ways to reduce waste at your house! In this day and age when it's difficult to recycle, composting garbage is a great thing to do! For more specifics, read the EPA's handout on composting at home.

For more information, you might like these:

How to Get Started with Vermicomposting

Keep Your Compost Going All Winter

Growing Vegetables from Table Scraps

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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