With it being compost awareness week (May 2 to May 8th), I just had to write a blog post that highlights the magic of composting! Honestly, composting was the first thing I started doing when I went zero waste. I started by collecting my food scraps in a leftover Chinese food container and storing it in the back of the fridge. Fast forward 4 years later and I have a stainless steel compost pail sitting on the kitchen counter everyone adds their scraps to! If you’re interested in reducing your own waste, chances are you’ve noticed a large majority of it comes from the kitchen (aka food scraps). And trust me when I say, food scraps don’t belong in the trash! That’s why I’m going to be covering what is compostable around the home in this blog post – because there’s actually a lot of things that can be transformed into beautiful compost! Here’s what you need to know.
What is compostable around the home?
First, what is composting + why does it matter?
Composting is essentially when organic matter breaks down and becomes nutrient rich soil that benefits plant life. It’s pretty much the ultimate form of recycling – one nature invented herself.
Trust me when I say composting matters: According to the EPA, a household can reduce their waste 30 to 60% just by composting. For that reason, it’s honestly the one sustainable habit I’d keep doing even if I completely stopped being zero waste (which I won’t, but that just proves how much I love it).
Unfortunately, the sad truth is food waste is a big issue in the United States: 40% of food is wasted in America, and 90% of Americans throw away their food too soon. And mind you, this is going straight into the trash – not becoming compost.
Throwing food into the trash isn’t productive. You might think it’ll decompose in a landfill, but trust me, it won’t. Lots of landfills are capped and this doesn’t create favorable decomposing conditions, considering it creates a barrier between the waste and the earth surrounding it.
When food scraps get sent to landfill, they wind up producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 percent more powerful than carbon dioxide. When methane leaks into the air, it absorbs the sun’s heat more effectively than carbon dioxide does. While this greenhouse gas doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide does, it is initially far more devastating to the climate due to its potency.
Composting our food scraps can help curb the methane gas released into the atmosphere and give your food scraps a second life. But food scraps are just the beginning – there are tons of compostable materials lying around your home!
Difference between compostable vs. biodegradable?
Before you begin composting, be aware there’s a difference between compost vs. biodegradable.
Composting is the process of recycling organic waste for reuse, which can take several months and can be done at home.
Biodegradable simply refers to an item that breaks down – which is nearly every item on the planet. For an item to be labeled biodegradable, it would have to be able to be broken down by microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, then assimilate into the natural environment. However, some “biodegradable” items may take centuries to break down entirely.
Technically, plastic will biodegrade – but it will take much much longer than a vegetable, per say. For example, a vegetable can take 5 days to a month to biodegradable and become compost – but a plastic bag can take 500+ years to biodegrade (and it never becomes compost). It doesn’t enrich the soil and become humus like a compostable item does.
For this reason, it’s always best to acquire compostable items rather than “biodegradable” ones. Also, please be mindful some compostable items may require industrial composting, or bokashi composting (for example, meat and dairy can be broken down by bokashi bins but not in a regular home composting system).
How can I compost at home?
So, I won’t get into the nitty gritty of this, but there are several compost methods you can try out at home. I have a whole post about how to compost in an apartment worth checking out: It talks about vermicomposting, bokashi bins, compost pails – all that good stuff.
If you own a home, and have the means or the space, you can do backyard composting! To start a home compost, consider investing in a compost bin or tumbler. If you’re on a budget or like to get creative, you can also make your own compost heap, compost pile or compost bin with as much or as minimal effort as you like.
The home composting process can get quite complex so I suggest you read up on all things organic waste, and learn about browns and greens. Be mindful that an imbalance of greens and browns can create odor problems that attract unwanted pests!
Of course, there are tons of hands off compost methods too, of which I avidly partake in. I talk more about this in my apartment composting guide, but I just take my food scraps to my local farmers market where they accept the scraps and turn it into compost. If that’s not available, I give them to my community garden – which I did all throughout the pandemic when my farmers market’s composting budget got slashed. Someone recently called me the compost queen for my determination to compost during covid19 and I approve of that title. 😉
Regardless of your composting method, here’s a list of all the amazing stuff you can compost you might not have thought of!
Compostables in the kitchen
- Veggie + fruit peels (like potato skins and banana peels)
- Seeds and nuts
- Coffee grounds
- Loose leaf tea
- Tea bags (as long as they’re paper, not plastic)
- Corn husks
- vegetable and fruit tops and ends
- Citrus rinds (avoid adding these if vermicomposting – worms don’t like them)
- Fruit pits and cores
- Corn cobs
- Veggie stems + stalks
- Leftover or old oatmeal
- Melon rinds
- Stale energy bars, bread, popcorn, chips, cereal, crackers, tortillas, pretzels, candy and pitas
- Dried herbs and spices that lost flavor
- Spoiled nut milks
- Cooked plain rice + pasta
- Cooked foods (no meat or dairy)
- Wine corks
- Paper towel cores
- Used paper towels + napkins
- Pizza crust
- Nut shells (not walnut shells – they’re toxic to plants)
- Stale beer and wine
- Cardboard egg cartons
- Parchment paper (as long as it’s just paper, not waxed)
- Paper cupcake or muffin liners
- Used paper plates (not with waxy covering)
- Cardboard boxes from pizza, pasta, cereal, etc. (as long as you remove the plastic window + it’s not waxy)
- Paper bags for flour + sugar
Compostables in the bathroom
- Nail clippings
- Hair from hairbrush or caught in drain pipe
- Toilet paper cores
- Compostable floss (like floss made from silk)
- Natural loofahs
- Cotton balls (as long as they’re 100% cotton)
- Plastic-free cotton swabs
- Trimmings from shaving
- Natural soap scraps
- Plastic-free pregnancy test
- 100% organic tampons and pads
- Menstrual blood
- Paper wrapping around toilet paper
- Old cotton towels + sheets
Compostables from garden and yard
- Grass clippings
- Deadhead flowers
- Spent bulbs
- Weak plants you’ve thinned
- Weeds who haven’t seeded
- Fall + dead leaves
- Green leaves
- Alfalfa, straw or hay
- Dead plants including roots + soil (as long as they didn’t die from infection or insect infestation)
- Shrub and bush trimmings
- Paper seed paper pouches
- Sticks and twigs broken into small pieces
- Sawdust + woodchips (untreated wood only)
- Pine cones + needles
- Outdated potting soil
- Abandoned birds nests
- Cutup burlap sacks
Compostables from pets
- Animal fur or feathers
- Dry dog or cat food
- Herbivore manure (like from rabbits, chickens, hamsters, etc)
- Bird droppings
- Rodent pet bedding from herbivores (like sawdust)
- Newspaper cage liners
- Fish or rodent food pellets
- Worn out hemp or bamboo dog/cat collars
- Hemp, cotton or bamboo dog or cat toys
Compostables from holidays
- Floral arrangements
- Decorative gourds
- Jack o’ lanterns
- Natural non-plastic wrapping paper
- Crepe paper streamers
- Real Christmas trees
- Real wreaths and garlands
- Popcorn or cranberry garlands
- DIY salt dough ornaments or dried citrus
- Natural twine, string and thread (unwaxed)
- Paper cards (no glitter, embellishments, bows, or plastic coating)
- Wrapping paper rolls
Compostables from around the home
- Newspaper print (torn or shredded good)
- Junk mail, bills and envelopes (without glossy paper or plastic window)
- Subscription cards from magazines (non-glossy)
- Pencil shavings
- Cardboard mailers and boxes
- Sticky notes + paper scraps
- Worn out clothes from 100% natural fabrics (like cotton, wool, hemp)
- Spent matches
- Dirt + dust bunnies (from the broom, not from synthetic carpets)
- Natural potpourri
- Old business cards (non-glossy)
- Natural clothing scraps
- Shredded paper
What items are you excited to start composting around the home?
Into composting? You’ll love these 12 zero waste gardening tips.
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