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Clever Ingredients for Your Compost Pile

Home Composting The winter issue of Organic Gardening Magazine has a Top 10 List of Compostables to add to your compost bin. The list included: aquarium water, out dated kitchen herbs and hair. The Organic Gardening website has more information here.

I get asked a lot about what is compostable and what is not — So I thought I would post a list of what is acceptable in a compost pile. If you have a few more ideas based on your own composting experience, post them in the comments!

It is okay to compost the following:

  • Old cotton, silk or wool (torn up
  • Floor sweepings
  • cardboard (shredded)
  • Leaves, stems and chopped twigs
  • Wood ashes
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Straw or hay
  • Coffee grounds & tea bags
  • Seaweed/Kelp if you live near the ocean (Here is more info on that)
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Newspaper, (shredded)
  • Alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal
  • Aged manure

Stuff to AVOID: Dog or cat droppings, coal ash, diseased plants, meat, bones, fish, fats, dairy, colored paper. Apparently, some colored inks have heavy metals so that is why we are advised to avoid it. Small quantities would probably be okay, but not a lot.

And then there is Trench Composting…

Anyone have other ideas on what to compost?

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.


  • Teresa says:

    Hmm, how about hair? Can that be composted? When I cut the boys’ hair, I just toss it out in the yard for the birds to pick through (for nesting material).

    We also toss our egg shells in the compost.

  • YES Teresa!

    Hair can be composted (I had it listed in the top paragraph, but forgot to add it to the main list).

    And thank you for reminding me about egg shells. They are excellent in the compost pile.

  • Thank you for this excellent list. Would you tell us more about the black composting bin that you show? It looks interesting, too.

  • Hi Beth Ann-

    I didn’t take the photo (it is from — A copyright free photo site) BUT, I think the composter is a Deluxe Pyramid composter. I think that because there were several shots of it on the site and that is what it looked like to me. You can get the composter from Gardeners Supply Company. Here is the link:,default,sc.html

    The composter I have is the tumbler type. I have had a small one for years, but just bought a HUGE one this week. I will be putting it together this weekend and then I will let you know how it works. I prefer to tumble rather than stir my compost…but that is just me. 😉

  • Dana says:

    I’ve read that you can also add pasta cooking water, and any leftover wine or beer.

  • Nagen Rai says:

    your idea seems very creative . but in my way i usualy burn down dry things execpt plastics, glass, rubber. Ashes are another fast compost, which can be put directly to soil. my challange is to make light weight soil for the plant. i think we can compost iron material , it breaks down quickly.

  • Dana-
    Leftover wine…who has leftover wine? LOL

    I like the pasta cooking water idea!

    Good point about the ashes. They are always good to add.

  • Dana says:

    When I read about leftover wine on another site, the full sentence said, ” When cleaning up after a party, any wine left in your guests’ glasses should go right onto the compost pile.” Does that make better sense!!!!

  • Yes Dana…That makes better sense.

    I was just kidding about never having any leftover wine. I just meant that if it was the last bit left of a GOOD bottle, I would hate to dump it in the compost! LOL But if it was left over in someone’s yucky wine glass, yes…I would dump it.


  • Lazy Gardens says:

    Theresa –
    Ashes are not “always good to add”. In most of the arid west, the soil is already salic and alkaline. Why make it worse?

    Your information about colored inks is a decade or so out of date. Petroleum based inks with metal-based pigments are now far less common than soy-based inks with non-metal pigments. The inks themselves are a bit more expensive, but the overall cost of printing (which includes cleaning the press and disposing of test sheets, cleaning rags, surplus ink, and solvents) is slightly lower.

    I compost everything on your AVOID list except coal ash – small quantities of meat scraps, the occasional fuzzy green yogurt, dead quail and lizards, all plants (except cactus) diseased or not, even carnivore poop and pine-based kitty litter. By the time I get around to destroying a pile and sifting it, they are all gone.

  • Hair can be composted (I had it listed in the top paragraph, but forgot to add it to the main list).

  • nagen rai says:

    i wonder how hair can be compost. i think we can use cat and dog dropping and deased plant. And the other way to use fat, dairy,meat, meal is to give to animal.

  • Here is an alphabetized list of compostable (sp) items:

    Animal fur
    Apple cores
    Aquarium plants
    Artichoke leaves
    Bagasse (sugar cane residue)
    Banana peels
    Bat guano
    BBQ’d fish skin
    Bee droppings
    Beet wastes
    Bird cage cleanings
    Bird guano
    Blood meal
    Bone meal
    Bread crusts
    Brewery wastes
    Brown paper bags
    Burlap coffee bags
    Burned oatmeal (sorry, Mom)
    Burned toast
    Cardboard cereal boxes (shredded)
    Cattail reeds
    Chicken manure
    Chocolate cookies
    Citrus wastes
    Coconut hull fiber
    Coffee grounds
    Cooked rice
    Corncobs (takes a long time to decompose)
    Cover crops
    Cow manure
    Crab shells
    Date pits
    Dead bees and flies
    Dirt from soles of shoes, boots
    Dolomite lime
    Dried jellyfish
    ‘Dust bunnies’ from under the bed
    Egg shells
    Electric razor trimmings
    Elmer’s glue
    Expired flower arrangements
    Felt waste
    Fingernail and toenail clippings
    Fish bones
    Fish meal
    Fish scraps
    Flower petals
    Freezer-burned fish
    Freezer-burned fruit
    Freezer-burned vegetables
    Fruit salad
    Garden soil
    Gin trash (wastes from cotton plants)
    Goat manure
    Granite dust
    Grape wastes
    Grapefruit rinds
    Grass clippings
    Greeting card envelopes
    Grocery receipts
    Guinea pig cage cleanings
    Hair clippings from the barber
    Harbor mud
    Hog manure
    Hoof and horn meal
    Horse hair
    Horse manure
    Houseplant trimmings
    Ivory soap scraps
    Jell-o (gelatin)
    Kitchen wastes
    Kleenex tissues
    Leather dust
    Leather wallets
    Leather watch bands
    Lees from making wine
    Lint from behind refrigerator
    Lint from clothes dryer
    Liquid from canned fruit
    Liquid from canned vegetables
    Lobster shells
    Macaroni and cheese
    Matches (paper or wood)
    Melted ice cream
    Milk (in small amounts)
    Molasses residue
    Moldy cheese
    Moss from last year’s hanging baskets
    Nut shells
    Old beer
    Old leather gardening gloves
    Old or outdated seeds
    Old pasta
    Old spices
    Old, dried up and faded herbs
    Olive pits
    Onion skins
    Outdated yogurt
    Paper napkins
    Paper towels
    Pea vines
    Peanut butter sandwiches
    Peanut shells
    Peat moss
    Pencil shavings
    Pet hair
    Pie crust
    Pine needles
    Popcorn (unpopped, ‘Old Maids,’ too)
    Post-it notes
    Potash rock
    Potato peelings
    Powdered/ground phosphate rock
    Produce trimmings from grocery store
    Pumpkin seeds
    Q-tips (cotton swabs: cardboard, not plastic sticks)
    Quail eggs (OK, I needed a ‘Q’ word)
    Rabbit manure
    Rapeseed meal
    Rhubarb stems
    River mud
    Seaweed and kelp
    Shredded cardboard
    Shredded newspapers
    Shrimp shells
    Soggy Cheerios
    Soy milk
    Spanish moss
    Spoiled canned fruits and vegetables
    Stale bread
    Stale breakfast cereal
    Stale potato chips
    Starfish (dead ones!)
    Sunday comics
    Tea bags (black and herbal)
    Tea bags and grounds
    Theater tickets
    Tobacco wastes
    Toenail clippings
    Tofu (it’s only soybeans, man!)
    Tossed salad (now THERE’s tossing it!)
    Tree bark
    Unpaid bills
    Vacuum cleaner bag contents
    Watermelon rinds
    Wedding bouquets
    Wheat bran
    Wheat straw
    Wine gone bad (what a waste!)
    Winery wastes
    Winter rye
    Wood ashes
    Wood chips
    Wooden toothpicks
    Wool socks

  • Wow! Thanks so much for the awesome list!!!

    This is great.

  • That’s a long list, I thought I could add some more, but after seeing the list above, it’s more than enough:) this is my first visit to your blog, and am loving it.

  • Sharon Dwinell says:

    i make up a lg batch of a cranberry liqueur every couple of yrs or so – 40# of cranberries, orange peel, lemon peel, heavy syrup & vodka. i use the leftover mash after straining for various baking projects, but there is always WAY more than i can use. is it ok to put this in the compost bin? i wasn’t sure b/c of the vodka. thanks

  • That is an excellent question Sharon. Hmmmm….

    I would think it would be okay to throw in the compost bin. Yes, the vodka may kill some of the microbes it comes in direct contact with, but it is not like you are pour straight vodka into the bin. I think the small amount of vodka that would be left in mash would disappear quickly and be diluted when mixed into the compost.

    I think it would be fine.

  • […] 10, 2009 · 4 comments Okay. We talked about compost ingredients HERE and HERE. Then a friend sent me an email with a few more items I forgot to list. (Thanks […]

  • joe says:

    Hi, Theresa you said not to compost color news paper. Is it glossy color or any color news paper, because most news paper now coming with color?

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