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Composting At Home: A Guide To What You Can (and Can’t) Compost

 Note  •  Published on: 20 Nov 2020

Starting a home compost is easy, but it isn’t fail-proof. That’s because not all organic material is suitable for the home compost. Some level of care needs to be taken to ensure it has the right qualities to enrich your garden soil. So, what can and cannot be thrown into the compost bin? Let’s ‘break down’ the dos and don'ts of home composting. Some are sure to surprise you!

What to throw in your compost bin

Most people are aware that they can compost their veggie scraps, but that’s certainly not all that can be composted at home. Let’s take a look at what you should be throwing into your compost bin:

Food scraps

Vegetable food scraps: Fresh, frozen or completely rotten – vegetable scraps are perfect for home composting no matter what stage of life they’re in.

Coffee grinds, tea bags, loose leaf tea: Tea and coffee are rich in nitrogen and balance your compost’s carbon materials.

Fruit waste: Most low-acid fruit is compostable; however, peels and cores may need to be chopped into smaller pieces to aid the decomposition process.

Paper and packaging

Paper: Black and white newspaper, white printer paper and paper towels are great for home composting. To speed up the decomposition process, shred your paper before throwing it in the compost bin.

Cardboard: Torn up cardboard will break down in the home compost when paired with a balanced mix of carbon material (greens) and nitrogen material (browns).

Compostable packaging: There are many types of compostable packaging, each with a different decomposition rate. Compostable packaging made from palm fibre pulp, for example, will decompose in the home compost in as little as 90 days. Recyclable and biodegradable products are not the same as compostable products, so be sure to check for the compostable symbol.

Garden material

Wood cuttings: With a good supply of kitchen waste and other green material, wood cuttings make an excellent bulking agent to home compost. However, you will need to ensure the wood is small enough to break down (ideally wood-chip size) and allow more time for decomposition.

Grass clippings: Feel free to empty your lawnmower hatch in your outdoor compost because grass clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen and help break down the rest of your compost’s contents. With the right balance of clippings and waste, compost can be achieved in two to four months.

Tree leaves: Leaves from fruit and nut trees are the best types for fast composting and balanced nutrition, and most tree leaves can be composted with varying rates of decomposition.

Manure: There is some confusion around whether manure can be added to home compost. Manure is great for composting as long as it is added moderately and has come from a herbivorous animal.

What NOT to throw in your compost bin

While plenty can be put into the compost bin without much thought, some items could attract rodents, introduce disease pathogens, or throw off the nutritional balance on your compost. Here’s what you should be throwing in the trash or recycling bin, instead:

Food scraps

Citrus and onions: The acidic nature of citrus and onions has the potential to kill the good bacteria needed to break down your compost. Citrus peel also takes a very long time to break down, delaying the decomposition process and disrupting the nutritional balance of your compost.

Animal products: All animal products, including fat, meat, bones and dairy should be kept out of your home compost. These products can quickly form disease pathogens that can be harmful to soil. Meat products can also attract rodents to your garden.

Fish products: Like animal products, fish products can quickly become rancid and odorous, attracting rodents to your garden and damaging the nutritional balance of your soil.

Paper and packaging

Plastics: Simply put, plastics won’t break down anywhere, especially in your home compost.

Colour printed paper: Paper from magazines and advertising material are often printed with metal-based ink which has toxic properties. While they may not be great for your home compost, they’re perfect for the recycling bin!

Garden material

Diseased plants or clippings: If you have removed a plant or cluster of leaves due to disease or insect infestation, don’t put these into your compost. The disease or insects can rapidly multiply in the warm, decomposing environment and ruin your efforts for composting as a whole.

Chemically treated plants and grasses: To retain your compost’s organic properties, keep chemically treated plants and grasses out of your home compost heap. The chemicals will transfer to the compost, which will then transfer to your soil and garden.

Creating a healthy garden is a rewarding experience, and your home compost is a key feature in the growth of your plants. Get the most out of your home compost by putting the good stuff in and keeping the bad stuff out.


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