Composting is a way to recycle organic waste and create rich soil for plants. It’s also an economical, sustainable solution for reducing the amount of garbage you throw away and contribute to ever-growing landfills. However, a significant challenge of composting is knowing what items you can place in your composting bin to result in safe, rich soil.
The safest, most convenient, and common items placed in compost bins are:
- Vegetable peelings
- Non-acidic fruit peels
- Grass cuttings
- Plant prunings
- Stale foods (ex. cereal)
However, there are a handful of items that members in the composting community can’t seem to agree on if they are safe and compostable.
While the items stated above are a nice general overview of what you can compost, it is far from an all-encapsulating list and doesn’t include those you can’t compost, which is why we’re going to list more later on.
Most Common Items You Can and Can’t Compost
There is a vast array of everyday items, foods, and plants that anyone could safely place in their compost bin to create an effective fertilizer successfully. However, it isn’t always easy to know which items can undoubtedly be placed in the compost bin or should be avoided at all costs.
To help, we’ve compiled quite the extensive list of items below that most people have in their homes or environments and can or can’t put in their compost bins.
If the item you’re thinking of isn’t listed below, hang tight. We might be saving it for a more in-depth discussion later on.
You Can Compost
- Vegetable peelings
- Non-acidic fruit waste
- Plant prunings
- Grass cuttings
- Printer paper
- Avocado pits
- Black and white newspaper
- Non-coated cardboard
- Wood shavings/ sawdust
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves
- Nutshells (excluding walnuts)
- Seaweed, kelp, or nori
- Corn husks and cobs
- Broccoli stems
- Dried herbs and spices
- Stale seeds (cut to prevent sprouting)
- Jellies, jam, and preserves
- Paper cupcake or muffin cups
- Used matches
You Can Not Compost
- Animal fat or grease
- Baked goods
- Diseased yard waste
- Oily salad dressings
- Peanut butter
- Treated sawdust
- Any paper or cardboard covered in a plastic or foil coating
- Fruit stickers/labels
- Coal ash
- Human or animal feces
If you’re new to composting or are looking for more items to add to your bin, see how many of the items listed above you already use and have readily available at home. All of these items are consistently supported by fellow composters or advised against, so there’s no guesswork here for you.
Here’s a good video explaining why certain things compost better than others, with lots more info below:
Items the Composting Community Can’t Seem to Agree On
As you can see, there is quite a lengthy list of composting items members within the composting community can agree should or shouldn’t be placed in compost bins, and the ones we listed above aren’t even all of them.
However, there are a select few items that many people want to put in their compost bins but don’t know if they will compost successfully, and the internet doesn’t seem to help answer the question.
The items listed below are those that constantly seem to swap back and forth on lists of items you should or shouldn’t compost. We’ve detailed the general argument of both sides to help you better decide for yourself if you want to put them in your compost bin or leave them out.
Raw and Cooked Eggs
Eggs are a great composting item because they provide both “brown” and “green” material for your mixture. While eggshells are always deemed safe for composting, people can’t seem to be on the same page regarding what lies inside the shell.
Many say both raw and cooked eggs are completely safe to place in compost bins as they are a great “green” item, but others deem them unsafe, particularly in raw form because they emit a strong odor during decomposition that might draw unwanted invaders to your compost bin.
This is the same reason why meat and dairy products are advised against composting despite them being biodegradable.
Citrus Fruit Peels
Individuals who like to create freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning or eat citrus fruits regularly might have a large pile of peels they’d like to toss into their compost bin.
Citrus fruits and their peels are considered a “green” item and, therefore, a great source of nitrogen that will also help your compost heat faster, effectively speeding up the composting process. However, many composters state that these tart fruits and their peels can actually ruin your compost.
For one, citrus fruits have high levels of acidity that can prevent a balanced pH in your compost, which slows the overall decomposition of its material.
So, while it might increase the heat, it prevents other items from breaking down as they should. These fruits in of themselves take longer than most items to degrade, and they can even kill helpful bacteria or worms (in the case of vermicomposters) that will further inhibit the composting process.
Teabags and Coffee Filters
It is usually widely accepted that coffee grounds and tea leaves can be placed in compost bins without issue, but these morning beverage ingredients are rarely used without their bags and filters. This leads to the burning question of whether you can toss the whole tea bag and coffee filter into the compost along with the grounds and leaves or if they have to be separated.
The answer to this question depends on what the filters and bags are made of. For instance, most coffee filters are made of paper and aren’t covered in any plastics or films, making them a highly beneficial “brown” item for your compost bin, especially when added moist.
If your coffee filter is made of plastic or material that isn’t compostable or biodegradable, then it shouldn’t be in your compost bin.
- Tea bags are a little trickier.
- While the typical tea bag looks like it’s made from a thin type of paper, many are actually made with food-grade PET or preservative nylon fibers.
- These plastics are unlikely to degrade and could contaminate your entire compost bin.
- Therefore, if you want to place a teabag in your compost, make sure it is made from all-natural ingredients like 100% cotton or hemp.
Here’s another video with even more ideas of what to compost:
Frequently Searched Compost Items
There are a number of items that people frequently search when starting to fill their compost bins. Many of these are items the community can’t agree upon as a whole, or their inclusion in a compost bin strongly depends on what is in the item and whether it is cooked.
However, a few items have very cut-and-dry yes or no answers when it comes to composting, which is why we’re taking the time to discuss them in detail below.
Generally speaking, composting rice, pasta, or other grains depends on if they are cooked and the quantity you are adding to your bin. But there is a large amount of debate over these items regardless. On the other hand, banana peels are absolutely safe, as well as (surprisingly) moldy bread and unused toilet paper.
Now, let’s dive into the specifics of why you should or shouldn’t use these items in your compost bin.
Can I Compost Rice?
Rice is an extremely tricky compost item as it is another one of those infamous foods that composters can’t seem to agree on. Some say you can compost rice in any form and any quantity, others stand firm that cooked rice is a no-go, and a few will go as far as saying uncooked rice is the worst thing you can compost in general.
If you ask us, rice in any form is a difficult item to compost successfully and should only be included in the compost bins of individuals who are very experienced with composting and the science behind this process.
We recommend this because there are so many ways using rice can go wrong for a composting bin.
- Rice is inherently filled with high bacteria levels, particularly Bacillus cereus, which is a common cause of food poisoning.
- This bacterium is present in higher levels when the rice is raw but can still linger even after cooking.
Because of these high bacteria levels, uncooked rice is an item you can place in a compost bin, but it should be done in moderation and should not be the predominant component. The bacteria could harm beneficial nutrients in the compost, so most people use cooked rice with lower levels of bacteria.
However, bacteria aside, rice is another item that emits a strong odor while decomposing that could attract rodents and other animals to your bin. For this reason, experienced composted using rice will often bury their compost bin deeply in the ground to limit the risk of invaders.
Ultimately, rice is a decent “green” component most compost after it is cooked and spoiled, but it should really be left to experienced composters and used in moderation to limit its odor and bacteria levels.
Can You Compost Pasta?
Here we go again with a controversial compost item. The answer to composting pasta is more or less the same as rice.
While pasta doesn’t have nearly as much concerning bacteria as rice, it is another item that can get really smelly really fast and will undoubtedly attract rodents and other pests. This occurs regardless of if the pasta is cooked or not.
For the most part, cooked and uncooked pasta can be placed in a compost bin and is another decent “green” item, but it too should be left to more experienced composters and added in small quantities.
Can I Compost Banana Peel?
You sure can! Banana peels are one of many fruits peels you can add to a compost bin and yield fantastic fertilizer. In fact, banana peels are so beneficial that some people will even use them as direct fertilizers, although they work best when composted.
There is a wide range of things bananas will add to your compost, including:
On top of that, they are a great source of organic material for your compost and degrade quickly, making them one of the most highly recommended compost items.
Can I Compost Moldy Bread?
The answer to this might surprise you, but yes, you can indeed compost moldy bread. One of the wonders of composting is that it allows you to repurpose food and items that are otherwise useless to you, and moldy bread is no exception.
While many people like to use stale bread in their compost, moldy bread is actually better. The mold on bread indicates that this item is already decomposing, which is a key process in composting. Therefore, adding moldy bread to your compost bin can actually help speed the decomposition process of other items you’ve already added.
Now, instead of feeling as if you’ve let a perfectly good loaf of bread go to waste, you can toss it into the compost bin instead.
Can I Compost Toilet Paper?
Toilet paper is one of the few items you can find in nearly every home worldwide, and yet, many people are unsure of its composting status.
In its clean, basic form, toilet paper can be composted, and its adjoining toilet paper roll. The answer changes, however, if the toilet paper is soiled with something. If you’ve used toilet paper to wipe your nose or fecal matter, it’s best to flush it down the toilet rather than place it in your compost bin.
Both of these bodily products could attract pests and are filled with pathogens and bacteria that might not break down safely during the composting process. If there are small amounts of urine on the toilet paper, most agree it is still safe to compost as long as the individual and their urine are healthy.
Composting is a relatively easy and environmentally beneficial process nearly anyone could learn and incorporate into their daily lives. The best place to start is by learning the items you can safely place in your compost bin (source) to create rich fertilizer. There are thing you shouldn’t compost (source) so be aware of that.
Take another glance at the list we provided above and see what items around your home you can use for compost instead of wasting. Not only will you feel better repurposing these items, but it will also save you money on garden soil/ fertilizer down the line.