Whether you have a bin under your sink that you empty every week, or a heavy duty composter in your backyard, there are certain things you can compost that everyone knows about… and you’re probably aware of the things that just don’t belong in the compost heap.
But what about the things you didn’t know about.
Yes, there’s a whole list of items that you can toss in the bin to reduce your overall waste or reuse to nourish your own backyard garden. And we bet some of those things will surprise you!
The Benefits of Composting
There are plenty of reasons to compost. Organic wastes, such as food and yard waste, make up as much as 50% of what the average American throws away. That’s a lot! And sure, while you may not be able to compost all of the organic waste you generate, composting even part of it can significantly cut down on your overall trash output.
The other big reason to compost is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When we toss that organic waste in the trash, it decomposes in a landfill and releases methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. That’s really bad for the environment. And yes, most landfills do have technology to capture much of this gas, but eliminating the gas at its source is even better.
There are other benefits, particularly if you’re using the compost for your own garden! Composting:
- Enriches the soil, helping it retain moisture and reduce plant diseases and pests
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers (making your garden safer for you and your family)
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material
So, what else can you add to that nutrient rich compost heap?
10 Things You Can Compost The Might Surprise You
We’re all familiar with the common items that can be tossed in the compost bin: peels, cores, rinds, skins, bones, any food scraps really.
But what about those items you’re currently putting in your garbage can that could actually be composted? We bet some on this list are new to you!
1. Old clothes*
What! Yes, it’s true. You likely have several items in your closet that can be added to the compost pile.
You just need to do a bit of separating first. Only natural fibres can go it – synthetic won’t decompose.
What can go in? Anything made of 100%:
- Pure wool
Give the clothes a thorough once-over before putting them in the compost. Make sure you remove any materials made of synthetic fiber – that includes the tag. To speed up the composting process, shred them into smaller pieces.
These will take a bit of time to compost, but again, they’re saving on your waste output.
2. Pet hair
If you’re a pet owner, this is great news! We have a husky and a German shepherd in our house, so we’re no strangers to pet hair!
Pet hair is considered a “green” compost matter – that means it’s a source of nitrogen – and it doesn’t take long to break down. So, brush, brush, brush, compost, compost, compost.
And yes, that means you can empty that vacuum bag or canister full of pet hair into the compost as well.
3. Tea bags*
Tea leaves are a great addition to your compost bin because they contain nitrogen, tannic acid, and trace nutrients that boost the activity of beneficial microorganisms, increase oxygenation, improve soil quality and create stronger root systems. Yay tea! Toss your tea leaves in.
And some tea bags can go in too. That said, you probably noticed the * in the title. While hemp or cotton tea bags can for sure go in the compost, you’re going to want to empty ones made with plastic mesh. Polypropylene mesh bags don’t decompose very well, and they can release chemicals into the compost pile, which is something you definitely don’t want.
Tea bags, on the other hand, are often made with polypropylene, a heat-resistant plastic mesh that is used to glue the sides of the bag together. So, in this case, just empty the leaves and toss the bags – you’re still reducing your overall waste!
4. Coffee filters (& the grounds of course)
If you make a pot of coffee a day, that adds up to a lot of garbage. The good news is, the filter and the grounds can all go into the compost bin!
Coffee grounds are seen compost matter, so they decompose rather quickly. Paper coffee filters are considered “brown” compost matter – so they are a source of carbon. Brown compost matter tends to take longer to breakdown than green, but that’s ok! You can always shred them if you want to speed up the process.
As a side-note, you can also add those grounds right into the soil. They’re nitrogen rich, so mixing them in can help nourish your plants. We even use them for our indoor plants!
5. Popsicle sticks and toothpicks
Wood is fine for compost, especially small pieces because they’ll break down faster. That includes popsicle sticks and toothpicks, as well as things like skewers or chopsticks, and of course any small twigs or sticks you’ve raked up.
And sure, big pieces are also fine – they’ll just take a little longer. If you’re adding large pieces though, you don’t want them painted or treated with chemicals. Those don’t belong in the compost pile.
6. Wine corks
Wine drinkers rejoice! Cork is a natural product, so it can totally be composted.
A few things to remember. If you want to compost wine corks, just make sure they’re actually cork. Some products look like cork but are actually made of synthetic materials. You can always cut it open to check – a synthetic cork will look really uniform inside, whereas a real cork cop will look more random and look more woody. And of course, remove any plastic or foil packaging.
Why about other cork products? Things like cork board can also go in the compost heap, as long as they haven’t been painted and you’ve removed any other materials beforehand.
7. Old rope and twine
All natural fibre string and twine can go into your green bin for composting. This includes cotton, jute, and hemp. This is sort of the same as the natural clothing we mentioned above.
Watch that it’s chopped, natural, and unwaxed only.
8. Pencil Shavings
Again, when we consider any type of wood can be composted, it makes sense that pencil shavings are good to go in.
Pencil shavings are considered brown compost matter and will break down quickly since they’re nice and thin. Worried about the lead content in pencil shavings? Don’t be. “Lead” pencils don’t actually contain lead!
9. Paper cupcake or muffin cups
Like coffee filters, paper cupcake or muffin wrappers can go in your compost pile. The worms seem to love ’em, so they break down pretty quickly. And the nice thing is, since those muffin crumbs are also compostable, you don’t have to worry about cleaning them out or anything!
Something to watch out for: they are far less common, but sometimes you’ll notice a muffin wrapper has a waxy-feeling, and in this case it probably contains some type of plastic, which you shouldn’t compost. Those can only go in the garbage.
10. Cotton balls and cotton swabs
Last but not least on the list are used cotton balls and cotton swabs. These can also go in your compost heap.
You just need to make sure they’re made from 100% cotton and cardboard only – no plastic. To be sure, check the package to make sure they actually are made of cotton, rather than synthetic fibers. Sometimes what looks like a natural cotton ball isn’t.
One other thing – just make sure about what you’re using ON the cotton balls – if it’s an unfriendly chemical, it might not be suited for the compost.
Things You Can Compost: Dirt for the Earth
Composting offers us an incredibly valuable option to help reduce our waste and limit our carbon footprint.
It also helps to nourish the earth and boost your garden’s ability to sustain itself and your plants to thrive!!
And, in the end, if in doubt, leave it out!