What to Compost and What Not to: A List of 100+ Items

A woman recycling kitchen and food scraps

Making your own compost is awesome! But, there are a bunch of rules about what can be composted when and in what situation. There's really too much to remember it all for a single person. Luckily for you, we've created a detailed guide on what can be composted and what cannot be composted.

Because we know some of the specifics can get confusing, we've also added a FAQ section to answer your most pressing composting questions. We'd suggest giving the guide a full read your first time around, but if you want to use this as a quick-check reference in the future, you can use one of these handy links to jump ahead:


For those of you coming in brand new to composting, let's start with a few common examples of items that should and should not be composted!


What can and cannot be composted?

What is compostable is organic waste, while inorganic waste isn't compostable. This essentially means any waste that was once, or has come from, living things can be composted. That includes food, plants, and waste from our bodies (such as hair). However, there are some limitations on what can be composted.

The types of organic waste that can be composted depends on many factors, including the method of composting you choose. But, in general, here are some common examples of what to put in compost and what not to throw in your compost bin:


Compostable Items

Non-Compostable Items

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cardboard
  • Paper towel
  • Chicken manure
  • Paper
  • Grass clippings
  • Shredded twigs
  • Dairy products
  • Meat and bones
  • Wax paper
  • Diapers
  • Dog & cat poop
  • Glossy or coated paper
  • Diseased plants
  • Chemical-treated yard trimmings

 

Although everything in that table is organic waste, there are some good examples of what not to compost. Each of those not compostable materials will cause some sort of problem in your backyard composting pile.

For example, meat and dairy products can technically be composted, but they're likely to smell terrible and attract pests that you don't want anywhere near your home. There are also bacterial concerns with meat products you don't want to introduce to your garden beds.

It's also important to remember that some composting methods can compost organic waste that traditional composting can't handle. An electric composter like Lomi, for instance, can easily break down approved bioplastics you'd want to avoid putting in a regular compost heap.


What food scraps can be composted?

Top down view of food scraps in a bag next to produce

Most food scraps can be safely composted, but there are of course some exceptions. One exception we already mentioned is that you can't compost meat or dairy products (at least not traditionally). There are a few other exceptions to keep in mind as well.

For some specifics, here's a table of what food waste can be composted and what food waste you should avoid composting. We’ve also included a column to let you know if the waste is considered green or brown compost. This is important to keep in mind as you need a good amount of both types, but we’ll be discussing that in more detail later.


Food Item

Compostable?

Brown vs Green

Other Considerations

Banana peels

Green

See this article for more details

Coffee grounds

Green

See this article for more details

Tea leaves

Green

Bread

Green

See this article for more details

Corn husks

Green

See this article for more details

Grains

Green

Legumes

Green

Cooked pasta

Green

Cooked rice

Green

Tofu

Green

Liquids

Green

Only use a small amount to not make your compost too wet

Seaweed

Green

Herbs and spices

Green

Old preserves

Green

Watermelon Rind

Green

See this article for more details

Pineapple

Green

See this article for more details

Egg shells

Brown

See this article for more details

Coffee filters

Brown

See this article for more details

Tea bags

Brown

See this article for more details

Orange peels

𝗫

N/A

Too acidic

Lemon Peels

𝗫

N/A

Too acidic

Onions

𝗫

N/A

Can kill good microorganisms in compost

Meat scraps

𝗫

N/A

See this article for more details

Dairy products

𝗫

N/A

See this article for more details

Pistachio shells

𝗫

N/A

See this article for more details

Bones

𝗫

N/A

Can attract pests

Very greasy & fatty foods

𝗫

N/A

Can attract pests 

Fruit pits

𝗫

N/A

Takes a very long time to break down


One exception is that you don't want to compost a bunch of acidic organic waste, especially citrus peels. This will make your finished compost too acidic, which you then won't want to use in your plants.

You'll also want to steer clear of organic waste that will take far too long to compost compared to the rest of the food scraps in your compost bins. This includes waste like hard bones and fruit pits. It's also important to crush scrap like egg shells or they'll also take too long to compost.


 


 

What household items can be composted?

Household compostable items on a white background

Your kitchen scraps aren't the only compostable waste coming from your home. Whether you've thought about it or not, there's actually lots of organic matter all-around your house. Of course, you still have to be careful about what you're composting, as not all of that waste can be composted.

Here's a list of household items that can and can not be composted:


Household Item

Compostable?

Brown vs Green

Other Considerations

Cardboard

Brown

See this article for more details

Paper towel

Brown

Toilet paper rolls

Brown

Shred first

Cotton balls

Brown

Natural fabric dryer lint

Brown

Newspaper

Brown

Shred first

Egg cartons

Brown

See this article for more details

Burlap sacks

Brown

Cut up first

Used matches

Brown

Cotton towels and sheets

Brown

Cut up first

Old natural loofahs

Brown

Cut up first

Nail clippings

Brown

Hair from your hairbrush

Brown

Wine corks

Brown

Chop up first

Old wool and cotton clothing

Brown

Rip into small pieces first

Bamboo

Brown

See this article for more details

Parchment paper

Brown

See this article for more details

Pizza box

Brown

See this article for more details

Wax paper

𝗫

N/A

See this article for more details

Aluminium foil

𝗫

N/A

Diapers

𝗫

N/A

Used feminine hygiene products

𝗫

N/A

Synthetic soaps

𝗫

N/A

Unless certified biodegradable

Cellophane

𝗫

N/A

Requires industrial composting

Coated cardboard

𝗫

N/A

Contains plastic

Cigarettes

𝗫

N/A

Filled with chemicals

Produce netting

𝗫

N/A

Sticky fruit and veggie labels

𝗫

N/A

Contains plastic

Charcoal

𝗫

N/A

Contains too much sulphur and iron

Bioplastics

𝗫

N/A

Requires industrial composting


To add some context, although many of these household items are made mostly from organic materials, they're not completely organic. For example, while the fruit and veggie labels are made of paper, they're also made with chemicals and materials that cannot be composted. You want to avoid putting anything that can't be composted into your compost pile.

When it comes to bioplastics, the issue with traditional composting is its inability to reach ideal conditions. Approved bioplastics can be broken down in industrial settings or by Lomi because they can create conditions and heat that you can't reach with a regular compost pile. If you were to throw bioplastics in your compost bin, they would take a very long time to break down.


 


 

What office items can be composted?

Front view of a home office set against a brick wall

Whether you have a home office setup or are commuting to an office, some of your supplies can be composted rather than thrown in the bin. Even when commuting, it’s a great idea to bag up the compostables and bring them home with you. You can even ask for your coworker’s compostables if you need to stock up on some brown items.

Here’s a list of the most common office supplies you can and cannot compost:


Office Item

Compostable?

Brown vs Green

Other Considerations

Paper

Brown

Shred first

Pencil shavings

Brown

Junk mail

Brown

Shred first

Bills

Brown

Shred first

Envelopes

Brown

Shred first, and remove any plastic windows

Sticky notes

Brown

Shred first

Business cards

Brown

Only if they’re paper and not glossy

Brown packing paper

Brown

See this article for more details

Colored paper

𝗫

N/A

Can contain heavy metals and other toxins

Wrapping paper

𝗫

N/A

Can contain heavy metals and other toxins

Paper with Sharpie markings

𝗫

N/A

Can contain heavy metals and other toxins

Paper with color printing

𝗫

N/A

Can contain heavy metals and other toxins

Glossy or coated paper

𝗫

N/A

Contains plastic

 


What animal and pet waste can you compost?

A german shepherd walking on grass
Image credit: @themountainshepherd

Our pets are adorable, and we love them, but they also create plenty of waste. With how much of a mess they tend to make, some of that waste must be compostable, right? Thankfully, it is. Some of it anyway, depending on the type of animals and pets you keep around. Here’s what you should watch out for:


Animal/Pet Waste

Compostable?

Brown vs Green

Other Considerations

Chicken manure

Green

See this article for more details

Feces from herbivorous pets

Green

Pets like hamsters, gerbils, and rabbits

Bedding from herbivorous pet cage

Green

Horse manure

Green

Cow manure

Green

Goat manure

Green

Cat Litter

Green

See this article for more details

Animal fur

Brown

Alfalfa hay

Brown

Dry dog or cat food

Brown

Feathers

Brown

Dead animals

𝗫

N/A

Manure from sick animals

𝗫

N/A

Can pass on bacteria and viruses

Cat feces

𝗫

N/A

Can pass on parasites and pathogens

Dog feces

𝗫

N/A

Can pass on parasites and pathogens


You pretty much just want to steer clear of animal feces from carnivorous and omnivorous animals, such as cats and dogs. Unlike herbivores, these animals can easily pass on parasites and pathogens through their waste, which we don’t want getting into our plants later.


What yard and garden waste can be composted?

Close up of pile of dead leaves in a wheel barrow

Your backyard is a veritable treasure trove of compostable materials. The most common compostable yard waste you'll find is dead leaves and twigs. Of course, most of that organic matter is going to be in much larger pieces than your compost pile will be able to really handle.

When it comes to the organic waste you get from your yard, the first step will almost always be to shred or cut it up. You can get specific tools and devices for grinding and cutting up your yard waste if you want to make that easier.

There are, of course, going to be some things from your yard and garden that you'll still want to avoid composting. Here's what to compost from your yard waste:


Yard Item

Compostable?

Brown vs Green

Other Considerations

Grass clippings

Green

See this article for more details

Flowers

Green

See this article for more details

Clippings from houseplants

Green

Pine needles

Brown

Use in limited quantities

Twigs

Brown

Shred first

Rope

Brown

Cut up first

Twine

Brown

Dead plants

Brown

Soil from houseplants

Brown

Sawdust from untreated wood

Brown

Dead leaves

Brown

Chemical pesticide-treated yard trimmings

𝗫

N/A

Can kill beneficial composting organisms

Black walnut tree leaves or twigs

𝗫

N/A

Releases substances that are harmful to plants

Diseased plants

𝗫

N/A

Can pass on diseases

Naturally toxic plants

𝗫

N/A

Big branches

𝗫

N/A

Too large to break down, but can be composted if completely shredded

Tomato fruit

𝗫

N/A

Can sprout in the compost

Synthetic fertilizer

𝗫

N/A

Can kill microorganisms in compost


Much of what you can't compost will be because of chemicals and organisms entering your compost bin that you wouldn't want to transfer to your plants after. Diseased plants, for example, will compost just fine, but you wouldn't those diseases to survive the composting process and infect the plants you're trying to grow. On the other hand, chemically-treated plants could end up hurting the good microorganisms that complete the composting process.


Creating a balanced compost: get your carbon to nitrogen ratio right!

A mix of green and brown compost materials

The composting process requires a good mix of carbon and nitrogen to properly decompose. Otherwise, you're either going to end up with a soupy mess or a compost pile that just isn't composting at all. Carbon rich material is referred to as brown material, while nitrogen-rich materials are referred to as green waste.

Brown waste is going to be the dry and generally non-food waste. Green waste, on the other hand, is wet and generally food waste. However, there are some exceptions. Here are a few examples of the different waste to give you an idea: 

With a backyard compost bin, you generally want to aim for equal amounts of brown and green waste. Too much of one or the other can result in unsatisfactory compost. The ratio you're looking for can change with the method of composting you're doing, though.

Of course, with Lomi, you don't have to worry at all about whether you're even including any brown or green waste. You can just put whatever organic waste you have, which is compostable, into your Lomi. This is a much easier and faster method of composting than any traditional method. Although it’s important to keep in mind that Lomi’s nutrient-rich dirt isn’t an exact comparison to traditional compost, as the process is different. You’ll want to choose the composting method that aligns with the effort you can put in and your end goals.

 

Lomi by Pela

Lomi

★★★★★

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7 FAQs on composting and compostable items

While we've listed out the most expected potential compostables to help you out, there might be some specifics that are more confusing. Here are some common questions about what not to put in the compost:


1. What foods are not compostable?

Kitchen scraps surrounding a small pile of finished compost

Most foods will be compostable, even more so with Lomi. You can't traditionally compost meat or dairy products, as that would risk attracting pests and transferring unwanted bacteria. You also need to be conservative with the acidic food you're composting, as they can make your compost too acidic.

Aside from that, you should also keep in mind the kitchen scraps that will take too long to compost compared to the rest of the organic material. Kitchen scraps in this category would be scraps like bones and fruit pits.


2. Can rotten food be composted?

This actually depends on what you consider to be rotten. Rotting is generally the start of the decomposition process, which is what you're looking for in compost anyway. Moldy fruit and vegetable scraps are also completely safe to compost. The only rotting you should really be worried about is diseased food.

You want to avoid composting diseased food for the same reason you want to avoid composting diseased plants.


3. Are bioplastics compostable?

A hand dropping plastic cutlery into lomi electric kitchen composter

In general, bioplastics aren't compostable at home. This is because they need industrial environments to properly break down. However, you can compost approved bioplastics at home with Lomi. Because Lomi is an electric composter, it can reach ideal conditions to break down those bioplastics.


Lomi is actually a great solution for home composting because of how easy and convenient it is to use. Not only is it effortless, but it’s also much faster than traditional composting. Instead of waiting months for compost, you can get nutrient-rich dirt in less than a day! With Lomi, you’re also able to break down some waste you wouldn’t be able to compost traditionally, such as approved bioplastics.

Check out this article to learn more about what Lomi can and cannot compost.


4. Is greenware compostable?

Fabri-Kal's greenware products are advertised as compostable, but is that true? In short, it is. The catch is that they're only compostable in industrial facilities. Unfortunately, a home compost pile can't quite reach the same heat and conditions necessary to compost greenware products that an industrial facility can.


5. What plants not to compost?

There are a few occasions where you'd want to avoid putting plants in the compost bin. For one, you should avoid putting weeds that aren't dead in your bin, as you could add weed seeds to your compost pile. Weed seeds that aren't killed during the compost process could then grow in your compost or garden beds.

You also really want to avoid composting diseased plants or insect-ridden plants. Your compost pile may not get hot enough for long enough to kill the disease or insects. In that case, they could be transferred to your garden beds, which nobody wants.


6. Why can't dog poop be composted?

A german shepherd lying in the grass with a food bowl
Image credit: @themountainshepherd

Whether or not you can compost dog poop, or any pet waste, actually depends on what you intend to use that compost for. Because of the bacteria that would end up in the compost, it wouldn't be safe to use the finished compost in a vegetable garden. However, you could use that compost for plants you won't consume.


7. Can you plant directly into compost?

You can grow your plants directly in compost, but we wouldn't advise it. It doesn't work nearly as well as planting in a mix of compost and soil. Compost provides nutrients to plants that soil is lacking, but the same is true the other way around. Plants grown directly in compost also won't be as stable.

 

Alright, that's a lot of rules to know when it comes to composting materials. If you don't want to deal with as much hassle in that regard, you should invest in your very own Lomi. Most of the rules go out the window, and you'll have clear and simple guides for what Lomi can and can't compost. Order yours today and start getting nutrient-rich dirt for your garden beds.


Written by: Sereana Simpson