Composting Guidelines: Not Everything Can Go in the Compost Bin

Compost Bin

Composting food and yard wastes is easy, especially when using a purchased compost bin. Building a compost structure on your own is certainly an option, but compost bins on the market come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and often make the process of composting much simpler. No matter how you choose to compost your organic wastes, the advantages of composting are undeniable. Composting helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that would be generated as a result of simply throwing organic wastes into the local landfill or incinerator. Composting also saves money by providing you with free fertilizer for your garden. Finally, compost puts nutrients back into the soil, making your garden soil richer and plants healthier.

What Goes In?

Once you have selected your compost bin, it’s time to begin filling it with organic matter. But can you put any kind of organic matter into a compost bin? Unfortunately, no. The general recommendation is to fill your compost bin with a mixture of 50 percent “browns,” and 50 percent “greens.”

The Browns

The “browns” add carbon to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Dried leaves
  • Straw
  • Chopped cornstalks — Shred or chop into very small pieces first
  • Shredded paper
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Paper towels

The Greens

“Greens” add nitrogen to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Grass clippings
  • Garden trimmings
  • Most kitchen wastes (see list below for exceptions)
  • Fresh hay
  • Poop from non-meat eating animals — Your pet bunny or bird, for example

What Can Go In After Some Preparation?

Some organic matter shouldn’t go into a compost pile as is.  Here are some examples of items that need to be prepared properly before they can become part of your compost heap:

  • Diseased plants
  • Grass clippings with chemicals
  • Hedge trimmings
  • Nut shells
  • Peat moss
  • Pine Cones
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Sod
  • Soil
  • Weeds
  • Wood ashes
  • Wood chips

For information about how to prepare these types of organic matter for composting, visit the website of your local agricultural extension office.

Don’t Even Think About Tossing This Stuff In

Some organic matter should never find its way into compost bins. Here are the main offenders:

  • Bones
  • Cat litter
  • Charcoal and briquettes
  • Cooked food waste
  • Dairy products — (butter, cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressing, milk, yogurt, sour cream)
  • Dishwater
  • Fatty, oily, greasy foods
  • Fish scraps
  • Meat
  • Glossy, colored paper
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet poop
  • Human poop
  • Sludge (biosolids)

Maintaining your compost pile depends on the type of compost bin you have chosen.  With some compost bins, you need to mix the pile periodically, but some compost bins require no mixing. Refer to the compost bin manufacturer’s instructions for details.

By purchasing or building your own compost bin that meets your specific needs, and by following a few simple guidelines, you can create your own money saving, earth friendly, plant loving compost.

One thought on “Composting Guidelines: Not Everything Can Go in the Compost Bin”

  1. recycled park benches

    I do need a compost bin somewhere in the backyard. Thanks for all the information. I used to think bones and cooked food waste is fine for composting. I remember that I did throw some fish scraps in my compost bin some years ago. That must have been the reason why some plants did not grow where I used the composted product. I appreciate the facts in your post. Thanks, again.

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