Wondering what you can put in a compost bin? Here’s what you can compost at home, from food waste and organic matter to the surprising items that are home-compostable. I’ve also dished the dirt on what CAN’T be composted at home to help keep you right.
Whilst many of us now have access to kerbside composting facilities, run by our local councils, composting at home is growing in popularity among home gardeners. And for good reason. It’s a simple process that reduces landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions, while also providing a great free source of nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
But when it comes to composting, you might be wondering what you can actually compost at home. To make things easier for you, let me dish the dirt on the items you can and can’t compost. I’ve also got some top tips on how to get the most out of your compost.
Let’s dig in!
What You Can Put In Your Home Compost Bin
Composting seems like it should just be a case of chucking everything in your bin and hoping for the best. However, making good quality compost is actually a fairly exact science.
The composting process works the most effectively when you get the right balance of materials in your bin. Get it right and you’ll be rewarded with the best quality compost. Get it wrong and you’ll end up with a slimy smelly bin, or a bin full of matter that breaks down very very slowly.
As a rough guide, you should aim for 25% to 50% of your bin should be ‘green’ material, and the remaining 75% to 50% should be ‘brown’ material.
But just what are greens and what are browns?
Here’s a full explainer, alongside all the green and brown materials you can compost. Plus I’ve added a handy bonus section on what NOT to compost at home to help keep you right.
Green materials for composting consist mostly of wet or recently growing materials. These types of materials are known as greens because, as a very general rule, they are often green in colour. However, this isn’t always the case, so don’t get too hung up on the colour.
To keep you right, here are some common (and uncommon!) green items you can compost at home:
Aquarium water and plants
If you have a freshwater aquarium at home, then the next time you are aquascaping, any plants you need to remove can go straight into your compost bin. Just make sure they are not invasive species.
Aquarium water can also be added to your compost bin as it’s full of beneficial nutrients that will benefit the soil. Simply add a little to your compost heap to make it damp, not wet to get the full benefits. The only time you shouldn’t add aquarium water is if have a marine aquarium and/or don’t use an aquarium dechlorinator that contains sodium thiosulfate.
Beer past its best
It might sound surprising, but a little beer is beneficial to your compost bin. It’s all thanks to beer’s high yeast content. You don’t want your compost bin to be too boozy though. Just add a little beer – enough to make the compost moist, rather than soggy – to avoid bringing the composting process to a halt.
Citrus peels – including oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits – are all home-compostable. However, they do take a long time to decompose. To speed up the process, make sure you tear or cut the peels up into small pieces before putting them in your compost bin.
You can use coffee grounds as a natural slug repellent or as a natural fertiliser in your garden. However, coffee grounds can also be composted at home. And for good reason. It turns out coffee isn’t just good for perking you up in the morning. As coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, they give the bacteria that turn organic matter into compost the energy they need to work effectively and efficiently.
The next time you sweep crumbs off of your chopping board or worktops then don’t bin the detritus. Chuck it into your compost bin, so that you can turn those crumbs into compost!
Dead bunches of flowers or houseplants
Provided your flowers or houseplants aren’t invasive species then you can put them straight into your home compost bin. In a true circle of life, your dead flowers and plants will then nourish the ground and new plant life.
Eggshells are a great addition to your compost bin or heap, as they are rich in calcium. Studies have found that it’s best if the shells are crushed or ground down before adding them to your bin, to give them a head-start on the composting process.
Expired cooking and baking supplies
Things like sugar, dried yeast, and flour (all types) can all be added to your compost bin. Flour is best added in small amounts at a time, and mixed in with kitchen scraps to avoid slowing down the composting process. If your flour has weevils in it, then pop the bag in the freezer for at least days. After a few days of hanging out in the freezer, you can then slowly add the flour to your compost bin.
Expired dried herbs and spices
Next time you find yourself cleaning out your spice rack, don’t forget that even those bay leaves that expired way back in 1998 can be added to your home compost bin. Even hot spices, like pepper or chilli powder, can be composted too. Your compost bin won’t mind!
If you keep chickens, then it’s worth knowing that any natural feathers can be composted. Incredibly rich in nitrogen, they are very beneficial to the composting process. Try soaking them in water for 24 hours, before adding them to your bin, to stop them from blowing out of your bin, and to kickstart the decomposition process.
Fruit and vegetable pulp from a juicer or food mill
If you like to juice fruit and vegetables, then you can use the leftover pulp in a variety of recipes, such as these juice pulp muffins. Alternatively, you can pop the pulp in your compost bin so that you’re not just enriching your body, but your soil too.
Grass is a useful source of nitrogen, so can be added to your compost bin. However, it can be tricky to work with, as if you add too much grass your compost bin can become a stinky putrid slime pit. To avoid this pitfall, slowly mix clippings in with a good mix of the brown materials listed below to create balance in your bin.
Human or pet hair
Human hair or pet hair might sound like a wild thing to add to your compost bin, but it’s a great source of protein for your compost. Plus the addition of a little hair can help your compost bin to retain moisture. Just don’t add it in if your hair is dyed. Do bear in mind that hair can be slow to degrade – some estimates say it takes up to a month, and some say two years – but it will break down eventually.
If you thought hair was the wildest thing you can compost at home, then hold on to your hats! Wait until you hear that human urine can also be composted!
Yes, urine is completely safe to make compost from as it’s completely sterile (but should be avoided if you are on any medication). Plus, as it’s high in nitrogen, so is great at kickstarting the compost bin if the composting process seems to have stalled or is going very slowly, or for starting new compost heaps.
Much like beer, you don’t want to add too much – just enough, now and again, to add moisture to the bin or heap.
Moving swiftly on from urine, and getting straight back into the kitchen, another foodstuff that can be composted at home is any expired jam. Jam’s high sugar content is appreciated by the bacteria in your compost bin.
Leaves trimmed from houseplants
Much like those dead plants and dried bunches of flowers, any leaves trimmed from your houseplants can go straight into your compost bin to help nurture new life.
Provided your nails aren’t painted, then nail clippings can be composted. Even your pet nail clippings can get the composting treatment too. Providing a slow release of nitrogen, nails can be beneficial to your compost pile.
While tea bags that contain plastic or PLA (an industrially compostable bioplastic) shouldn’t go in your home compost bin, the tea leaves can. Simply rip open the bag, and empty the leaves into your compost bin. Your garden will love you for it – tea is naturally rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Spoiled fruit and vegetables and uncooked food
While minimising food waste is always the best way to go, sometimes we can drop the ball. It happens to the best of us. When that happens any spoiled fruit and vegetables, and spoiled uncooked food can go into your compost bin.
Sweets & Chocolates
It’s not just your sweet tooth that likes chocolate. Your compost bin does too, thanks to the high sugar content which bacteria thrive on. Any type of old chocolate or sweets can be composted – including chocolate bars and chips. Meanwhile, any type of sweets, including gummy sweets and boiled sweets can go in the compost bin too.
Vegetable peelings can be used to make tasty zero-waste crisps, but if that doesn’t sound like your thing then worry not. Pop them straight into the compost bin where they’ll break down into nutrient-rich compost incredibly quickly.
If you’ve been weeding your garden, then it’s useful to know that you can compost most weeds at home. Just make sure you’re not composting anything particularly invasive, and that anything you are composting has no flowers or seed heads on it. To be completely safe that you’re not going to spread unwanted weeds around your garden, it’s best if you can dry your weeds out in the sun for two to three weeks before composting them to ensure the weeds are dead.
Wine past its best
Whilst it’s best to use up leftover wine, then like beer, any wine past its best can be composted. The sugars in wine will benefit your compost heap no end. But like any liquid, add a little to make your compost moist rather than soggy. All alcohol in moderation, after all!
Brown materials for composting tend to consist of dry or woody plant material. Again, as a very general rule, these materials tend to be brown in colour, which is why they are called browns. However it’s a very fast and loose rule, so don’t get too hung up on the colour.
Here are some of the most common browns you will want to add to your compost bin, for the best results:
Ash from your fire/wood burner
As long as you haven’t used any charcoal, synthetic starter logs or burn treated or painted wood, then the ash from your fire or wood burner can be added to your compost bin as a brown. Exercise common sense though – ensure the ash has fully cooled before adding it to your bin. As a minimum, leave it overnight before adding it to your bin to avoid bin fires. Do note that as ash is very alkaline, it’s best added in small amounts to avoid making your soil too alkaline.
Autumn leaves are a great source of carbon. Shred them up if you can, to help them break down quickly. If that isn’t possible, then mix in a small amount of leaves each time you add in green materials, to help maintain a good nitrogen balance.
Biodegradable Packaging Peanuts
Whilst not everything that is labelled as biodegradable is compostable (see here for the difference between biodegradable and compostable), those foam packaging peanuts you find inside parcels are increasingly home-compostable.
To check if yours are compostable simply run one of the peanuts under water. If it dissolves it can go right into your compost bin. As they tend to be made from either wheat or cornstarch, it’s a great source of brown material.
Provided they aren’t printed on glossy cards, then business cards can be composted. Tear them up into small pieces to help move things along faster.
Cake or muffin cases
Once you’ve enjoyed a lovely cupcake or muffin, the case can be placed in your home compost bin. Don’t worry about removing any excess bits of cake – cake in very small quantities like this is fine to compost.
Cardboard egg boxes
Cardboard egg boxes make for a truly egg-scellent brown compost material. Simply tear the boxes up into small pieces so that they break down quickly.
Cardboard tampon applicators
If you use applicator tampons then the cardboard applicator can be placed in your compost bin to help minimise waste. Like most cardboard, tear it up to help kickstart the decomposition process.
Contents of your Hoover bag/cylinder
Provided that your carpets and rugs aren’t made of synthetic fibres, then you can compost the contents of your hoover bag or cylinder. As your hoover is mostly picking up dust, crumbs and dirt – this is all organic matter that’s perfectly safe to compost.
If your cotton buds are made from 100% cotton and the stick is made from paper or wood, rather than plastic then most cotton buds are fine to compost. Avoid composting them if you have used any substances on them, such as makeup remover or nail polish remover.
Cotton wool balls
As long as you haven’t soaked the balls in nail polish remover, make-up remover or other similar chemicals then these beauty supplies are safe to compost.
Crepe and tissue paper
Both crepe paper and tissue paper are compostable, just as long as they don’t have any foil or glitter elements. Shred it up if possible first before adding it to your bin for best results.
Paper or cardboard envelopes
Any paper or cardboard envelopes can make for a good source of brown material for your compost bin. Just make sure you remove the window first, if there is one, and tear them up into small pieces.
Hankies and tissues
Paper hankies or tissues can be composted if you’ve used them for mopping up tears or saliva. If you have a cold or flu, then snotty tissues shouldn’t be composted as most home compost bins won’t get up to a hot enough temperature to kill off any germs. Pop these in your general waste bin instead.
Kitchen roll and paper napkins
As long as they aren’t greasy then kitchen roll and napkins are generally fine to compost. Greasy ones can attract rats and other rodents you probably don’t want hanging around your compost bin.
Latex condoms, balloons and rubber gloves
Items made from natural latex, such as latex condoms, latex balloons and latex rubber gloves apparently can be composted (although there are disagreements).
Latex is a natural product derived from trees found in equatorial regions. Here, trees are “tapped” for the liquid latex, similar to the harvesting of maple syrup. As it is of natural origin, it should break down in your compost heap – try chopping them up into small pieces to encourage the decomposition process.
Letters and bills
Provided these aren’t printed on glossy paper and have been shredded then any old letters and bills can go into your composter when you’re done with them.
Lint from your tumble dryer
The lint from your tumble dryer can also be composted, as long as you haven’t dried any synthetic clothing in there. This includes clothes made from polyester, nylon, acrylic, and lycra. These types of clothing shed plastic, including microplastic, which you don’t want in your lovely compost.
Unused matches have chemicals on them that can harm your plants, but spent matches are completely fine to compost. If you have unused matches you want to compost, try either lighting them or soaking them in water for a little while to remove as many of the chemicals from the match heads as possible before adding them to your bin.
Natural fibre clothing
Clothing that is made from 100% natural fibres, such as cotton, linen, wool and hemp can technically be composted when it reaches the point of no repair. Do beware though – there are many pitfalls when it comes to composting clothing.
Some natural fibre clothing can be made using synthetic threads and care labels, which can make them unsuitable for composting. Some clothing items can also be blended with synthetic materials, such as lycra or elastane to make them stretchy, but renders them uncompostable.
Meanwhile, if synthetic dyes have been in clothing may also be harmful to your compost. Unless you know that your item has been dyed using eco-friendly – preferably natural – dyes then it’s best not to compost it.
Finally, if your clothing was labelled as water-, stain- or crease-resistant, or as anti-microbial, or anti-static then these are not compostable. These chemical finishes can contaminate your compost.
If in any doubt, avoid composting your clothing. Instead, see my guide on what to do with old clothes that cannot be donated. And if you are certain your site, of clothing can be composted, remove any buttons, zips or embellishments, and cut it up into small pieces for best results.
Natural potpourri that has been scented with pure essential oils makes for a good brown material for your compost bin. Try refreshing it first with a few drops of essential oil before putting it in the compost bin – it might just need a scent boost rather than a trip to the compost bin.
Old newspaper makes for a great source of brown material for your compost bin. Shred it up first and you’re on to a winner.
In a nutshell, all types of nut shells can be composted, apart from walnut shells. Walnut shells contain a chemical compound called juglone which can inhibit plant growth.
Old loofahs and natural sponges
Natural loofahs, konjac sponges and other types of natural sponges are home-compostable when they reach the end of their life. Tear or cut them up in little bits for best results.
Old paper bags that you can’t reuse make for a good source of brown material. Just tear them up into small bits first to bag a composting win.
Paper coffee filters
We’ve already learned that coffee grounds are compostable, but did you know that paper coffee filters are too? Just tear the used coffee filters apart first and you’re good to go!
Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, if your pencil isn’t coated in paint or plastic then the shavings are good to compost.
Pine needles are compostable, but be warned, they do take a long time to break down. It’s best if you compost a very small amount at a time.
Takeaway pizza boxes can be hard to recycle, but thankfully they are compostable (provided it doesn’t have a plastic or wax coating). Simply tear the boxes up into small bits, and avoid composting any particularly greasy bits or bits with pizza stuck to them to avoid attracting rats.
Raffia is a great eco-friendly alternative to ribbon as it’s completely home-compostable. If you can’t reuse it again, then pop it straight into your compost bin where it will quickly break down.
Provided they aren’t printed on thermal paper, then receipts can be added to your compost bin when you’re done with them.
Recycled newspaper pots
If you like to make recycled newspaper pots to plant seedlings in then the good news is that these can go in your compost bin when you’re done. Alternatively, you can transplant your seedlings straight into the soil still in the newspaper pots.
If your pads or tampons are made from 100% cotton then, perhaps surprisingly, these can go in your home compost bin. Check for certain that the string in your tampons, or the pad, is completely free from synthetics before composting.
Whether it’s sawdust that’s come from cleaning out your pets, or from DIY projects, sawdust can be composted at home. Just make sure it came from wood that hasn’t been chemically treated and isn’t plywood or MDF.
Shredded paper is another good source of carbon-rich material for your compost heap. Just avoid composting glossy paper or magazines.
Toilet roll tubes
Toilet roll tubes are very easily composted. Tear them up into small bits and you’re good to go!
Used paper plates
Provided they don’t have a glossy or plastic coating on them, then most plain paper plates are compostable. Like most paper-based products, tear them up before composting them, and avoid composting any greasy bits.
Provided the cork is made from natural cork, it can be composted at home. Carefully chop it up into small bits to help it break down faster.
Wooden or bamboo cutlery
Whilst reusable cutlery is always a better option environmentally, wooden or bamboo cutlery is a better choice than single-use plastic cutlery as it is home compostable. Simply snap them up into smaller bits to speed up the composting process.
Wooden or bamboo skewers
After a barbecue, break the skewers in half before adding them to your bin.
Wooden lolly sticks
Similar to wooden skewers, make sure you break the lolly sticks in half so that they break down faster.
Wooden toothpicks are easily compostable, and due to their small size, there’s no need to break them in half. Just pop them in your bin and go.
Whilst some types of wrapping paper are compostable, not all wrapping paper is created equally. Brown kraft paper is the top-tier stuff. Shred it up and it’s a brilliant source of carbon for your compost bin. Anything brightly dyed is dubious – unless you know the dyes are eco-friendly then I’d avoid adding it to your bin to avoid contaminating your soil.
Meanwhile, anything laminated foil based, or glittery is evil and should be avoided at all costs. If in any doubt, try the scrunch test. Anything that passes the test can be composted – just make sure you remove any sellotape, bows or tags first.
Wrapping paper roll tubes
Wrapping paper roll tubes are normally made of cardboard and are easily compostable. Tear it up and you can pop it in your compost bin. If the tube is quite solid and can’t be torn up, then it’s always better to put it in your recycling bin.
The Things You Shouldn’t Compost At Home
Now we know what we can compost, it’s useful to know the things that you can’t compost.
Baby wipes, including the ones labelled as fine to flush, generally shouldn’t be composted. Some are made from synthetic fibres, which will leave microplastics in your soil. Others may be free from synthetic materials, but the wet bit of the wipe can be problematic. Many wipes contain moisturising lotions, perfumes or detergents, which you don’t want to introduce to your compost. Finally, you don’t want to introduce any faeces to your compost. Put them in your general waste bin instead.
Biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably to describe a product’s end of life. However, they actually mean very different things.
Biodegradable means something that breaks down or decays naturally without any special scientific treatment. Meanwhile, compostable means capable of being used as compost.
What this means is that all compostable items are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable. Confused? A plastic bag may be labelled as biodegradable as it can eventually break down over a very long period, however, you wouldn’t dream of using it to make compost.
Unless an item is specifically labelled as home compostable then omit it from your compost bin.
Whilst completely fine to go into your kerbside collection bin, cooked food – including pasta, bread and cake – generally shouldn’t be composted at home. It can attract rats and other vermin to your compost bin. Place it in your kerbside food waste bin instead.
Coffee cups or other packaging labelled as industrially compostable
Increasing numbers of compostable coffee cups and food on-the-go packaging are offered by cafes up and down the country. However, the majority of these are industrially compostable only, and should never go in your home compost setup. This is because most home composting facilities don’t reach high enough temperatures to break down these types of materials.
Don’t put them in your kerbside food waste bin either as most councils can’t compost these types of materials. If the cafe has a collection agreement with an industrial composting facility, then dispose of it at the cafe. If they don’t, or you can’t get it back to the cafe, then these cups should go in your general waste bin.
Find out more about the problem with compostable coffee cups.
Dairy products – including cheese, cream and yoghurt – aren’t suitable for composting as, like with cooked food products, they can attract rats to your compost heap. These should go in your kerbside food waste bin instead.
Items tarnished with paint, grease, cooking or engine oils
Any tissues, rags or cardboard that have paint, grease, cooking or engine oils on them should not be composted. Some of these can contaminate your compost, and others can attract rodents. Pop them in your general waste bin instead.
Similar to cooked food, meat isn’t a good item to add to your compost bin as it can attract unwanted visitors to your compost bin. Bones, such as chicken or turkey carcasses should also be avoided – as they would take far too long to break down, and would also attract rats. Do pop it in your kerbside food waste bin instead.
Poo (human, dog, cat or otherwise)
Faeces should never be added to your compost heap. This is because a home compost bin is unlikely to reach high enough temperatures to break down the pathogens and bacteria found in excrement, and could present a health risk.
Your compost bin would also stink to high heaven – making you unpopular with the neighbours – and attract unwanted pests. It’s best to use a composting toilet, which is specially designed for the task at hand if you want to compost your poo.
While things like sugar, flour and spices are fine to compost, salt should be avoided. This is because salt is bad for the health of your soil. Composting certain foods that have salt in them is fine in moderation – you just want to avoid placing large quantities of salt in your compost bin.
Teabags made from PLA or plastic
Teabags made from plastic or a bioplastic known as PLA shouldn’t be placed in your home compost bin. PLA teabags need very high temperatures to break down, and it is hard to achieve these temperatures in a home composting set-up. Meanwhile, teabags made from plastic will leave microplastics in your soil.
Do rip the teabag open and compost the tea leaves though.
If your teabag is made from PLA then you can place it in your kerbside food waste collection bin. And if your teabag is made from plastic, then this should be placed in your general waste bin.
Thermal receipts – the ones printed on shiny paper – should never be composted as the paper is impregnated with chemicals that could contaminate your soil. Don’t put them in your paper recycling bin, as they are not recyclable either. Instead, put these receipts into your general waste bin when you’re done with it.
To Sum Up
Composting at home is a great way to reduce waste and help the environment, whilst creating something beneficial for our gardens for free.
From coffee grounds to kitchen scraps, and newspapers, there is a long list of materials that can be used to create healthy compost. But there are also several items that don’t belong in a compost pile. This includes dairy products, meats and bioplastics. By taking a little bit of time to understand what can and can’t be composted, you can create healthy soil that your flowers and vegetables will thrive in.