Last Updated on February 9, 2022
Composting 101 is the ultimate guide explaining what to compost and how to get started. Help your environment and feel good about doing your part.
When learning about composting for beginners you can focus on learning how to start composting, what to compost, and why you should do it. I love composting, and it’s one of the best ways you can reduce your household waste. According to the EPA, a household can reduce their trash from 30-60% just by composting! Seriously, it’s one of three easy ways you can reduce your household waste by 80%.
What is compostable? The answer: A LOT OF THINGS! Things you probably haven’t even thought of before.
Lots of people think their organic waste like food scraps will decompose in a landfill, but it won’t! Landfills are designed for storage, not decomposition. Landfills aren’t aerated, so your organic matter is perfectly preserved living in limbo releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide – YIKES.
what is compost?
Composting is taking food scraps, plants, and other organic matter and returning it to the earth to create a nutrient rich soil. And, it’s awesome for the planet. If you just started learning about composting be sure to check out some of my other blog posts.
blog posts on how to start composting:
- How to Build a Compost Bin | Easy and Cheap DIY
- A Composting Guide for Apartment Living
- Your Guide to Backyard Composting
Now, that you know why composting is great for the environment, and you’ve picked out the perfect composting system, let’s talk about what to compost.
There are two basic types of materials to add to your bin: Greens (nitrogen-rich) and browns (carbon-rich). You want to try and aim for a 50/50 split in your compost bin and don’t worry about getting it exact, you’ll learn as you go.
To keep things nice and simple, I’ve constructed a list of items you can compost around the house. You can reference it whenever you start to wonder “can I compost this”?
composting for beginners
Before we get into our big list of compostable items, it’s worth talking a little about the difference between home compostable and industrial composting. Because that’s a thing.
Home compostable refers to when you can simply place the item in a home compost bin with fruits and vegetables. It will break down in a tumbler, worm bin, or DIY bin you have set up at home.
You’ll often see something labeled as ‘Certified Compostable for both commercial facilities and backyard composting’ so you know that it will break down in your backyard bin.
Industrial and commercial composting facilities have special equipment designed to break down more difficult items like meat, dairy, fish scraps, baked goods, oils, and bioplastics. These facilities are heated which breaks things down very quickly.
These items don’t normally go in a home compost heap because they will take a really long time to break down and can attract outdoor pests.
what is compostable?
Remember that a lot of what can be composted is relative to where you’re composting it.
In the following list of compostable items, I notated a few items you should save for an industrial facility or bokashi bin with an asterisk, but remember it’s always best to double check!
If you’re dropping your compost off at a farmers market or community garden, please note that they may have specific guidelines on what they do and don’t accept.
If you’re using a company or business always double check to make sure you’re adhering to their specific guidelines.
125+ household items you can compost:
The first stop for compostable items is the kitchen. You’re going to have a lot of organic waste in the kitchen. Think food scraps, paper, even pizza boxes! As you’re putting many of these items in your compost bin, don’t forget to put them in small pieces.
While you absolutely can compost a pizza box, it’s not going to break down while whole. Rip it into small shreds before placing it in your bin for the best results.
compostible items in the kitchen?
- coffee grounds
- coffee filters
- loose leaf tea
- some tea bags (a lot are plastic so make sure they’re certified compostable – check out these eco-friendly tea brands)
- paper grocery bags
- paper bags for flour and sugar
- onion and garlic peels (save these to make vegetable stock before composting!)
- kale stems
- carrot peelings
- corn husks
- corn cobs
- pepper seeds and stems
- brussel sprout stalks
- brocoli stems
- citrus rinds (don’t put too many of these in your bin if you’re vermicomposting. worms don’t like them.)
- strawberry tops
- apple cores
- banana peels
- avocado pits
- avocado shells (I’m not going to list out every fruit and vegetable, but you can throw any raw fruit and veg in your bin without a problem)
- stale energy bars
- cooked plain pasta
- stale bread, pitas or tortillas
- cooked plain rice
- dried herbs and spices without flavor
- melon rinds
- spoiled nut milks like soy, almond or coconut milk
- stale chips
- used paper napkin
- used paper towels (as long as you haven’t used any heavy chemical cleaners)
- paper towel cores
- stale crackers
- stale cereal
- burnt popcorn or unpopped kernels
- stale pretzels
- pizza crusts
- nut shells (except walnut shells, which are toxic to plants)
- old oatmeal
- old jams or jellies
- paper cupcake or muffin liners
- stale candy (be careful of adding too much sugar as it will invite pests)
- used paper plates (as long as there’s no waxy coating)
- spoiled tomato paste or pasta sauce
- seaweed, kelp or nori
- cardboard egg cartons
- parchment paper (as long as it’s not waxy, just paper)
- wine corks
- stale beer or wine (leftover wine can also be used to make homemade red wine vinegar)
- bamboo skewers
- cardboard boxes from pasta, cereal, etc. (just remove the plastic window)
- unwaxed cardboard pizza boxes
- spoiled tofu or tempeh
- egg shells
- cooked foods* (you can put some cooked foods in your backyard bin, but try and limit the amount.)
what to compost in the bathroom
The bathroom may be the smallest room in the house, but man-oh-man can it be wasteful! I’ve found one of the best ways for me to reduce my waste in the bathroom is to implement a one-in-one-out rule. So, I can’t actually bring in a new product until I run out of an old product.
Check out my blog post 15 Swaps for a Sustainable Bathroom for more tips!
- hair from hairbrush
- toilet paper cores
- the paper wrapping that comes around your toilet paper
- nail clippings
- compostable floss
- natural loofahs
- menstrual blood
- 100% cotton, cotton balls
- plastic-free cotton swabs (only cotton and cardboard)
- 100% organic cotton sanitary pads
- 100% organic cotton tampons (including used)
- cardboard tampon applicators
- used facial tissues
- trimmings from razor blades
- bamboo toothbrush (not the bristles, unless plant-based)
- soap scraps (only from natural soaps)
- 100% lambskin condoms (not vegan, doesn’t protect against STIs. Natural latex condoms will eventually breakdown, but it will take a LONG time.)
- compostable pregnancy test
more compostible items around the home:
Here are a few compostable items from around the home that don’t necessarily belong to any specific room.
If you’re looking for more tips on how to make your home or apartment more eco-friendly check out my guide 8 Tips for Making Your Apartment more Eco Friendly and 10 Tips for Creating a More Sustainable House.
- animal hair
- vacuum dust (if your carpet isn’t synthetic (most is!))
- dryer lint (if your clothes are made from natural fibers! Avoid polyester)
- natural fibers in small pieces
- grass clippings
- hay or straw
- herbivore manure (rabbits etc.)
- bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
- shredded paper
- chopped up twigs and branches
- cardboard boxes (not with glossy coating)
- shredded, non-glossy junk mail
- yard waste
- old ripped up cotton clothing or jeans
- shredded old cotton towels and sheets
- bills and other plain paper documents
- pencil shavings
- old business cards (not with glossy coating)
- envelopes (minus plastic window)
- subscription cards from magazines
- dead houseplants and their soil
- natural potpourri
- used matches
- old rope and twine (natural and unwaxed only)
- cut up burlap sacks
- crumbs from under couches (pick out any inorganic stuff)
- dust bunnies from wood and tile floors
- dry dog or cat food (not too much or it might attract pests)
- soap nuts
- shredded sticky notes
- fish pellets
- alfalfa hay or pellets
- wrapping paper rolls
Alright! Now that you have completed this composting 101 guide you are ready to start with these 125+ household items. That’s 125+ items you can help keep out of the landfill!