Compost is literally the best thing you can plant your vegetables and flowers in.
What is even better is that you can make your own. You only need a compost bin and some of the materials that we will discuss below.
There are tricks to making a healthy compost. Some things break down while others don’t. You also need to know what you can and cannot compost before you jump on board with composting.
You’ll be surprised to find that you have many (if not all) of the materials listed below all over the house.
Below we also specify whether an ingredient is seen as neutral, carbon or nitrogen. Use our handy Carbon to Nitrogen Compost Calculator for guidance on how to create a harmonious compost heap.
- Used coffee grounds and filters: neutral — be sure that they are used as it is less acidic once used. Worms are addicted to coffee too so just throw them right into your compost. If your filters are paper toss them in the compost bin too.
- Paper napkins: carbon — these will have to be torn into small pieces or made wet before mixing them into the compost.
- Freezer burnt vegetables: nitrogen — these can just be tossed right into your compost.
- Freezer burnt fish: nitrogen — you will need to make sure you have more carbon than nitrogen. A good recipe is three parts carbon to one part nitrogen.
- Freezer burnt fruit: nitrogen — it is best if the fruit is cut into smaller pieces.
- Unused or old spices: nitrogen — these can be added as-is.
- Vegetable scraps: nitrogen — these can be added as they are.
- Paper towels: carbon — these should be ripped into smaller pieces to make composting easier and faster.
- Used tea bags and grounds: nitrogen — these can be tossed into the compost as is.
- Eggshells: neutral — these should be crushed before being added to the compost pile. They break down slower, so it speeds up the composting process if they are crushed.
- Fruit rinds and peelings: nitrogen — since these are tougher to break down, it is best if you cut them up into smaller pieces before adding them to the compost pile.
- Corn cobs: carbon — these are another tough one to break down. If you are able to cut them up or shred them before mixing them into the compost pile, you will be better off for it.
- Jell-O: neutral — when you have leftover Jell-O just pitch it into the compost. It is rather easy to break down.
- Cooked rice: nitrogen — rice is already pretty small after cooking so it can be added as is to the compost pile.
- Bread crusts or stale bread: carbon — Be sure the bread is stale and broken up though in order to keep pests out of your compost pile.
- Tofu: nitrogen — since tofu comes from soybeans it is plant-based and easy to break down.
- Paper towel rolls: carbon — these should be broken down before added.
- Cereal boxes: carbon — ditto for cereal boxes
- Stale cereal: carbon — cereal is grain-based and therefore should break down easily.
- Stale crackers: carbon — again, grain-based and easy to break down.
- Used paper plates: carbon — should be broken into small pieces or made wet before mixing into the compost pile.
- Muffin liners: carbon — ditto for muffin liners.
- Pasta: carbon — pasta is grain-based and should break down easily. Be sure to mix into the compost very well as it will attract pests.
- Pizza boxes: carbon — they should be ripped into tiny pieces.
- Paper grocery bags: carbon — ditto for grocery bags.
- Old milk: neutral — should be added in small amounts. Here is a great resource on how to use milk in compost.
- Melted ice cream: neutral — should be treated like milk.
- Old cheese: neutral — ditto for cheese.
- Paper egg cartons: carbon — should be ripped up so it can break down easier.
- Old preserves: nitrogen — preserves come from plants, so they are easy to break down.
- Old snack food that is going to waste: carbon — most of these items will be grain-based and easy to break down.
- Old canned food that has spoiled: nitrogen — these will be easy to break down as they are plant-based.
- Old, dried up herbs: nitrogen — these are also plant-based and easy to break down.
- Toilet paper: carbon — it is recommended to rip up or wet before adding to compost.
- Toilet paper rolls: carbon — ditto for the rolls too.
- Facial hair trimmings: nitrogen — you can just toss these into the compost.
- Fingernails and toenails: nitrogen — ditto for your fingernails and toenails.
- Haircut trimmings: nitrogen — just toss them into the compost bin.
- Loofa sponges: carbon — they must be all-natural and cut up.
- Cotton balls and q-tips: carbon — they must be broken down.
- Hair from your hairbrush: nitrogen — this doesn't have to be broken any further.
- Biodegradable feminine hygiene products: carbon — these will need to be cut up before being added to the compost pile.
- Latex condoms: carbon — these should be handled the same as the feminine hygiene products.
- Dryer lint: carbon — dryer lint adds moisture, so it is great for compost.
- Old cotton clothing: carbon — should be ripped into smaller pieces so composting is an easier and faster process.
- Old blue jeans: carbon — same goes for denim.
- Old wool clothing: carbon — and ditto for wool clothing as well.
- Shredded bills: carbon — must shred or make wet before mixing into the compost, so it is easier to break down.
- Envelopes: carbon — the same goes for envelopes.
- Pencil shavings: carbon — they are already so small that they require no extra attention.
- Post-it notes: carbon — these should be shredded, so they are easier to break down.
- Business cards: carbon — business cards are fine as long as they are shredded and do not have a glossy finish.
All Over The House
- Houseplant clippings: nitrogen/carbon — if tossed while still green, then it is great nitrogen. If it is dried out, then they are considered a carbon and should be mixed with other dry items like leaves or dried grass clippings.
- Dust bunnies: carbon — every time you sweep your floors or dust your home, pitch what you collect in your dustpan into the compost pile as is. Now your dust bunnies serve a purpose beyond making you crazy chasing them out of your house.
- Dirt from the floor: carbon — ditto for the dirt from your floor.
- Cat or dog food: carbon — you should be able to pitch the pet food directly into your compost.
- Pet hair: carbon — be sure to spread it out so it won’t clump up.
- Contents of your vacuum: carbon — sprinkle as evenly as possible so the hair inside the vacuum contents won’t clump up.
- Wood ashes: carbon — these are pretty broken down so just dump them in your compost pile.
- Dead houseplants and soil: carbon — try to break the plant up as they can be difficult to break down once they are dead.
- Shredded newspapers, junk mail, or magazines: carbon — be sure to shred these items so they are easier to compost.
- Plants from your fish tank or aquarium: nitrogen — as these are living you can just pitch them in your compost pile.
- Matches: carbon — wet these so they are easier to break down.
On the Farm
- Feathers: nitrogen — these need to be shredded because they are terribly slow to break down on their own.
- Contents of nesting boxes: carbon — this depends on what you use, but most items are carbon. They can just be thrown into the compost bin or pile as is. Save yourself the trauma of sifting poop if you can help it.
- Droppings from rabbit hutches: nitrogen — rabbit droppings are great because they are herbivores.
- Cow manure: nitrogen — cows, and rabbits have this same quality in common.
- Chicken manure: nitrogen — and so do the chickens.
- Goat manure: nitrogen — goats do too!
- Contents from cleaning up animal living quarters: carbon — again this will depend on what you use in your animal quarters, but it will most likely be carbon. With the exception of hay.
- Rabbit pellets: carbon — these are so small you can just add them as is.
- Hay: nitrogen — this can be added as is too.
- Old plants: carbon — since most of these plants will have died then they will now be carbon. For this reason, they might be harder to break down on their own so try to break them up as much as possible.
- Weeds: nitrogen — these can be added as they are.
- Cardboard: carbon — this should be broken down into much smaller pieces so it will be easier to break down.
- Garden soil: carbon — just add this as is.
- Clippings from grapevines and other plants being pruned: nitrogen — these will need to be shredded and broken down.
- Tree bark: carbon — these will need to be broken down too.
- Peat moss: carbon — this requires nothing special. Just toss it into your mix.
- Spanish moss: carbon — ditto for the Spanish moss too.
- Leaves: carbon — if these can be shredded they will break down much faster.
- Wood chips: carbon — since they’ve already been ‘chipped’ they are good to go.
- Pine needles: carbon — shredding these will speed up the process.
- Seaweed: nitrogen — seaweed is usually goopy and wet. It is okay to leave it as is.
- Grass clippings: nitrogen — they can be added as is too.
- Sawdust: carbon — be sure not to use treated wood or to add too much.
- Fish meal: nitrogen — this is a great option for compost.
- Bone meal: nitrogen — so is this!
What You Should NEVER Compost
- Cat litter: This could contain diseases, so it is never a good option.
- Dog droppings: There is a specific way to compost dog poo, which we share in How To Compost Dog Poop.
- Meat: This attracts critters.
- Fat: This attracts critters and has a way of preserving food rather than breaking it down.
- Grease: The same concepts apply to grease.
- Oils: And the same goes for oils too.
- Bones: And bones belong to the same group.
- Ashes from coal or charcoal: The chemicals in these types of ashes are harmful.
- Human waste: The issue with diseases is why you shouldn’t compost human waste or urine. Some people do it by using composting toilets, but it still ruled as a safety hazard, don't use it unless your friends left you on Mars.
As an alternative, consider Bokashi Composting where some of the no-no items above, such as dog poop, cat litter, meat, and bones can be composted.