Things You Can Compost That You Didn’t Think You Could

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

While writing the composting section for the new book, it occurred to me that my list in book one was rather incomplete and only covered some of the things we compost at home. There’s a surprising number of common, everyday items that are fit for the compost, yet many gardeners tend to stick to the basics such as kitchen scraps and dead plant waste. Adding just a few more items to the bin can drastically reduce the size of your weekly rubbish bag.

  • Gum
  • Hair
  • Toothpicks
  • Pet bedding (Rabbits, hamsters, and other herbivores only!!)
  • Paper egg cartons
  • Tissues and paper toweling (Depending on what was on them)
  • Cotton balls (Depending on what was on them)
  • Paper bags (I shred these for use as bedding in my vermicomposter)
  • Toilet rolls
  • Shredded paper, newspaper, receipts and documents (non-glossy)
  • Wine corks
  • Matches
  • Dry dog food (Be careful about attracting vermin but makes a good compost activator for getting your pile rocking.)
  • Cardboard
  • Old spices and herbs from the cupboard
  • Nut shells
  • Wine (Another decent compost activator)
  • Felt, old wool, bamboo or cotton socks
  • Dust from sweeping and vacuuming
  • Old pasta
  • Spoiled flower bouquets and their water


Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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36 thoughts on “Things You Can Compost That You Didn’t Think You Could

  1. How exciting–hints towards a follow up? I’m so very ready! Not only does it mean I can keep learning, but now I’ll have a no-brainer gift for everyone I’ve given the first book to!

  2. Thanks Renee. I shouldn’t hint because it’s another year before it will be out yet but.. hard to keep quiet when you work on something day in and day out for so long.

  3. That’s…amazing! Thanks for sharing this. Another excuse for me to get another bunny rabbit for a pet. I wouldn’t have thought of most of these!

    Quick question, should the pasta be rinsed off first if the sauce used meat?

  4. Van: Wash off well or don’t compost it. The meat will attract vermin.

    I really only meant plain cooked pasta or uncooked stuff that’s been in the cupboard for decades.

  5. Great list! Someone once told me I can compost small amounts of styrofoam. It might help with consistency (my soil is clay), but the chemicals?! I’m skeptical…. I’m putting some rancid OJ and dryer lint in mine today. Coffee filters are another thing I’ve been wondering about.

  6. I bought some kitty litter from Trader Joe’s that said it could be composted. Would cat manure be okay in the compost pile? The little litter pellet things are suppose to completely break down.

  7. JgH: Coffee filters are fine. As are used coffee grounds.

    Renee: Definitely no used cat litter! No litter from carnivores should be used as they carry pathogens.

  8. I’d avoid styrofoam in my compost as different grades of plastic biodegrade differently and may release toxins into the mix. This poses only a small risk (the solution to pollution is dilution) but I try to be as organic as possible. To lighten clay, add carbon.

    I do compost meat sauces, bones, pizza, etc. On the northern prairie we have no vermin except birds and they can’t get into my bin. I keep meat and dairy covered with soil to reduce the smell.

  9. I think composting is my favorite new hobby. I love watching my garbage output shrink between composting & recycling. I realized I can almost always compost the entire contents of my vacuum cleaner bag. Don’t forget used tea bags, stale bread, edamame shells.

  10. Wicked awesome. Some are definitely things I’d not considered (socks!) but it makes sense that anything strictly organic-based should be compostable.

    Imma need a bigger kitchen compost bucket.

  11. Cool, We just started doing our guinea pigs bedding. We recyle egg cartons by giving them back to the farmer but so many on this list I never thought of,. Thanks

  12. If dog food is okay, how about cat food? My cat was increasingly picky through his last months, so I have a variety of half-used bags of dry kitty kibble (at this point, too old for me to feel comfortable passing on to a rescue).


  13. Warning about composting pasta!!! Our dog had a seizure episode and according to the vet, they were due to her getting into our compost bin (some was leaking out of the bottom of the bin). Apparently pasta breaks down into a mold that is toxic for dogs.

  14. I knew some of that stuff was okay, but not all. Thanks for the list! I dunno, I think if I was raking compost into a garden bed and found a clump of un-broken-down hair, I would kind of have to vomit.

  15. Mark S-A: I didn’t add it since it is really a compost activator… but yes, human urine.

    Miranda: I’ve never tried but am assuming the spandex might not break down very easily… and am afraid to know what chemicals are released as it does.

    Chair & Sarah: Cat food is fine. No idea why I focused on dog only.

    Sara: Interesting about pasta!

    Urbankitty: Yes, dryer lint!

  16. Great list and nice to see a post here! Summer of ’08 was my big “paper & cardboard in the compost” experiment and it’s worked out tremendously well.

    Our family goes through a lot of eggs and we actually keep the empty shells in the carton and just toss the whole thing in the backyard composters when it’s “full” of empty eggs. A carton full of egg shells breaks down in just a few weeks at the height of the season and I love thinking about the good stuff it’s doing for my garden…


  17. Wow! This list is great! I’m also happy to hear about a second book.
    Just clarifying–this is all safe for worm compost? I have an outdoor compost bin and a worm compost and I tend to reserve things I’m not sure of for the outdoor compost. (I’m paranoid about poisoning the worms.) However, it is cold and the outdoor compost is getting full.

  18. Kara: Yes, keep black walnut shells and plant bits out of the bin.

    Sarah: This list wasn’t really meant for vermicomposting. Keep out the compost activators (wine and urine), dog food, pasta. Anything big should be shredded up.

  19. Gum, seriously? Then I think my mom lied to me—I remember being told if you swallowed it, it would stay in your stomach FOREVER. Hah! Take that, Mom!

  20. sorry I haven’t read the first book… but can I add the weeds I pull from the yard to the compost bin? I always wonder if I will end up ‘planting’ them by doing so…

  21. Supposedly putting hair (human though i’d imagine that dog or cat fur would help, too) directly into your garden and pushing it into the dirt will help discourage moles and those stupid gophers. I dont know how effective waiting for the compost to break down would be against moles, but I’m willing to try it in spring! Of course, I’m also using some nastier means this spring to get rid of the little terrors, too, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant.
    OH! and I always put my tea grinds into my compost. Makes it smell fruity and pleasanter.

  22. In Toronto you’re not supposed to put some of these things, like hair (human or pet), cloth, gum, etc. in the green compost bin for collection – I wonder why that is? Maybe it complicates the processing. All the more reason to compost at home I guess!

  23. A quick note about products that say they can be composted on the label: These products are not necessarily meant to be composted at home (i.e. the Trader Joe’s Kittie Litter). Some things refer to industrial composting, which gets super-duper hot.

  24. Say, Ms. Gayla, maybe you should do a section on regional composting. KT’s comment intrigues me. And industrial vs home composting.

  25. Just a note: you can only compost wine corks that are made of actual cork. A lot of companies are now using plastic “corks”. I don’t think these “corks” would be problematic, might even help with aeration, but they won’t break down. Not in out lifetimes anyway.

  26. Thanks for the post. I love your book and am giving folks copies for the winter holidays, as well as directing them to your blog. Thank you for all that you share.

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