Thursday, September 29, 2011

What To Compost

Composting is great because it keeps your trash from becoming stinky. How? By taking anything biodegradable out of the waste stream. Food scraps, yard trimmings, and pet waste can all go into the compost bin and will come out six or so months later as a rich, earthy smelling material that's ready to be fed right back into the soil where it will help you grow more wonderful food for you and your family.

Every time I do yard work I keep a five gallon bucket close by to deposit my yard waste into. Likewise, I keep a smaller bucket under my kitchen sink to collect household compostable waste. I empty the indoor bucket every couple of days, and have never had a problem with fruit flies as long as I stuck to this schedule. Once I forgot to take the contents to the compost bin before a trip and came home a week later to a colony of fruit flies, but these were easily taken care of.

With a good collection system in place you'll be more likely to get that cotton ball, banana peel, or dead flower to the compost bin, rather than just realize all the things you could have composted when you take the trash out. I run a zero waste household, and so only have compost and recycling bins, but putting a compost can next to every trash can you have is a good start.

Anything that breaks down in water, is organic in origin, or is edible by any animal can be composted. These are good rules of thumb to follow, but examples are great too, so here is a list of all the things I like to compost:

  • leaves
  • grass clippings
  • branches (chopped into smaller pieces)
  • weeds
  • dead plants or plant parts
  • plants removed during pruning
  • dog poop
  • unneeded sod
  • dead animals
  • dead trees (chop them up first)
  • moss, lichen, and fungus
  • dropped or rotten fruit
  • inedible food parts like pits, peels, stems, or rinds
  • rotten food, moldy food, expired food
  • cooking experiments gone wrong (I've made things even my dogs won't eat)
  • stale crackers, bread, and baked goods
  • tea leaves and bags
  • coffee grounds
  • leftover wine or beer(I usually save this for cooking, but every so often I throw it in the bin, as the bacteria in wine do wonders for compost piles)
  • rancid dairy products
  • inedible meat bits like bones, gristle, and fat (after I make stock with it, of course)
  • egg shells
  • leftover food from dinner parties (scrape people's plates into your compost can)
  • cheese rinds and wax casings
  • pizza boxes
  • paper towels or napkins
  • paper bags contaminated with food stains or spills
  • take-out containers (make sure these are paper based and coated with wax, not plastic)
  • movie theater popcorn bags (not the glossy kind)
  • bamboo chopsticks
  • used tissue and toilet paper
  • nail and hair trimmings
  • cotton balls used for non-toxic applications (organic makeup and nail polish are fine)
  • kitty litter (not clay, sand, or crystalline based)
  • fish tank water
  • indoor plant trimmings
  • pencil sharpener contents
  • old socks and underwear (only if made of natural fibers like wool or cotton)
  • newspaper and other non-glossy paper
  • poop, pee, and menstrual blood (gross to think about, cool once you do it)
  • pet fur
  • floor sweepings and vacuum cleaner contents
  • feathers
  • natural fibers like wool yarn or cotton thread

I've tried my best to make this list comprehensive, but if you see anything missing let me know in the comments and I'll add it in. Some of these things might not be obvious or intuitive to the new composter, but stick a compost bin in your back yard and you'll be amazed at the things you realize can go in there.

Happy composting!

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