what materials can i compost

What Materials Can I Compost?

We all love gardening and taking care of our environment, but when it comes to composting, many of us are left wondering, “What materials can I actually compost?” It’s a common question that often leaves beginners feeling a bit overwhelmed. In this article, we’ll shed some light on the matter and help demystify the world of composting materials. So, if you’ve ever found yourself unsure about what materials you should toss into your compost bin, worry not – we’ve got you covered!

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Organic Matter

Composting is a fantastic way to reduce household waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. When it comes to composting, organic matter is key. This includes a variety of items that can easily break down, such as fruit and vegetable scraps. Instead of throwing leftover produce into the trash, save them for your compost pile. Not only will you be reducing waste, but you’ll also be giving your soil a healthy boost.

Coffee grounds and filters are another valuable addition to your compost. These can be added directly to the pile or bin and will help add nitrogen to the soil. Plus, the earthy smell of coffee in your compost will make you feel like a true gardening enthusiast. Don’t forget to include your eggshells as well. Crushed eggshells add calcium to the soil and help prevent blossom end rot in plants like tomatoes. So instead of tossing them away, save them up for your compost.

Tea bags are another handy item to include in your composting routine. These biodegradable bags can be torn open and added to the pile. They provide essential nutrients for your plants, and their natural fibers will help improve soil structure over time. Just be sure to remove any staples or strings before adding them to your compost.

Grass clippings and leaves are excellent sources of “green” materials for your compost. They are high in nitrogen and will help balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio in your compost pile. Make sure to mix them with “brown” materials (like wood chips or shredded paper) to ensure a good balance of nutrients. Similarly, plant trimmings and prunings can be chopped up and added to the pile. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will break down.

When it comes to weeds, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the majority of weed plants can be composted. The bad news is that weeds with seeds should be avoided, as they can still germinate in your compost pile. But fear not! By removing the seeds and only composting the weed itself, you can safely add them to your pile without worrying about unwanted plants popping up all over your garden.

Straw is another great organic material to include in your compost. It can help improve moisture retention and air circulation in the pile. Straw breaks down relatively quickly, making it an efficient addition to your composting routine. Just be sure to use straw and not hay, as hay is typically full of seed heads that can sprout in your garden.

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Paper and Cardboard

If you’re looking for ways to reuse your paper and cardboard waste, composting is the answer. Newspaper is a great material to incorporate into your compost pile. Tear it into small pieces and mix it in with other organic matter. The ink used in most newspapers is now soy-based and safe for composting.

Cardboard is another treasure for composting enthusiasts. It provides structure and can help aerate your compost pile. Tear or cut your cardboard into smaller pieces before adding it to the pile. The paper bags you use for grocery shopping can also be composted. Just be sure to remove any plastic liners or handles before tossing them in.

Used paper towels and napkins can be composted as well. They are typically made from unbleached paper and will break down fairly quickly. Shredded paper is a fantastic addition to your compost pile. It helps maintain airflow and provides carbon-rich material that balances the nitrogen-rich materials from your kitchen waste.

Yard Waste

Your yard can be a goldmine of composting materials. Grass clippings are a wonderful addition to your compost pile. They provide nitrogen and can help create heat in the pile, speeding up the decomposition process. Be sure to mix them with other “brown” materials to maintain a balanced compost.

Leaves are another valuable organic matter for composting. They are rich in carbon and help create a loose, well-draining soil structure. Collect fallen leaves in the fall, shred them, and add them to your compost pile for a boost of organic matter.

Just like with grass clippings and leaves, plant trimmings and prunings can be composted as well. Chop them up into smaller pieces to speed up the decomposition process. Be sure to remove any diseased plant material, as composting may not kill the pathogens. Also, avoid adding invasive plants, as they can spread through your compost.

Straw and hay are excellent sources of “brown” materials for your compost pile. They are carbon-rich and help balance out the nitrogen from your kitchen scraps and yard waste. Just remember to avoid using hay that contains seed heads, as they can sprout all over your garden once the compost is added.


Wood may not be the first material that comes to mind when you think of composting, but it can play a crucial role in creating nutrient-rich soil. Wood chips are a fantastic addition, as they help with aeration and moisture retention in your compost pile. Avoid using treated wood, as the chemicals used in the treatment process may harm your plants.

Sawdust from untreated wood is another composting gem. It adds carbon to the pile and can help balance the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Just be careful not to add too much sawdust, as it can compact and limit airflow in the pile.

Wood ashes are yet another surprising addition to your compost. They contain essential nutrients like potassium and calcium, which promote healthy plant growth. Be sure to use only wood ash and avoid adding ashes from coal or charcoal, as they can be harmful to plants.

Bark pieces, whether from trees or shrubs, can also be added to your compost. They improve aeration and break down slowly, providing a lasting source of organic matter for your soil.

Plant-based Fibers

You might be surprised to learn that everyday items like cotton balls and swabs, dryer lint, and even hair can be composted. These plant-based fibers are biodegradable and will break down in your compost pile. Just be sure to avoid adding anything synthetic, like nylon or polyester.

Plants, particularly those you may have around the house like potted flowers or herbs, can be composted when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan. Simply chop them up and add them to your compost pile. This ensures that their nutrients are returned to the soil, completing the cycle.


Animal manure can be a rich source of nutrients for your garden. Cow manure is readily available and provides a good balance of carbon and nitrogen. It helps improve soil structure and promotes healthy plant growth. It’s important to use well-aged cow manure to avoid burning your plants.

Horse manure is another excellent choice, especially if you have a local stable willing to share. It contains fewer weed seeds compared to cow manure and can help heat up the compost pile, aiding in decomposition.

Chicken manure is prized for its high nitrogen content. However, it’s essential to compost chicken manure properly, as it can be hot and may contain pathogens. Composting allows the temperatures to rise and kills off any potential pathogens, making it safe to add to your garden.

Rabbit manure is often referred to as “gardener’s gold” due to its high nutrient content. It doesn’t need to be composted before use and can be applied directly to your garden. Rabbit manure is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to enrich your soil.


Composting is a simple and rewarding way to reduce waste, improve soil health, and promote sustainable gardening practices. By incorporating a variety of organic materials into your compost pile, you can create a nutrient-rich soil amendment that will benefit your plants and the environment. From kitchen scraps to yard waste, there is no shortage of materials that can be composted. So start composting today and watch your garden thrive!

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