What Can Be Composted? Your Composting Cheat Sheet

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

When you're starting your family's compost journey, it may be overwhelming. What bin should you get? How much space do you need? Can you compost eggshells? What about grass clippings? There's really only two things you need to get started: knowledge of what can you compost and a place to gather and let your compost do its (decomposing) thing.

We've explored the location decisions and options for housing, such as bins, rotating drums, and piles. Knowing what can be composted and what can't is all you need to take the plunge! By composting your waste, you will be cutting down how much your family pulls to the curb. Congrats on reducing your landfill waste!

This lists covers what can be composted in traditional "hot compost," which is the easiest backyard compost method. Remember that you want to have a mostly even ratio of greens to browns for the heap to heat up and decompose.

muddy man brushing dirt off hands

What Can Be Composted


  • Any fruit or veggie including the core, rinds, stems, peels, seeds, husk, and pit. All of it!
  • Recently cut or pulled weeds
  • Garden clippings
  • Whole grains like rice, quinoa or wheat berries
  • Tea bags with the staples removed and used loose leaf tea
  • Alcohol with a low sugar content
  • Beans, lentils, etc.


  • Nut shells
  • Small sticks from the yard broken into pieces the size of your thumb
  • Sawdust
  • Dryer lint
  • Cat and dog hair
  • Shredded paper/ newspaper
  • Paper napkins and paper towels that aren't heavily soiled (but you really should try out cloth napkins and rags instead for a greener alternative!)
  • Compostable take out containers
  • Dead grass in small quantities
  • Last year's fallen leaves, preferably mulched with your mower as newly fallen whole leaves decompose very slowly
  • Dry pasta
  • Paper bags

I like to call these neutral instead of green or brown, but it's an unconventional idea. No matter what you call them, they are a great addition to your compost:

  • Spent potting soil
  • Coffee grounds with the filter

What Can't Be Composted

  • Any sort of meat or bone, including pet food
  • Food that contains a lot of oil, including veggies that have been cooked heavily in oil
  • Foods that contain a lot of sugar
  • Dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, or pudding
  • Used cat litter or dog waste
  • Used tissues (some bacteria or pathogens won't break down, and many tissues contain fragrances or lotions)
  • Weeds that you wouldn't want to spread in your garden
  • Starchy foods with many ingredients like bread, pretzels, chips, or couscous
  • Plant-based silverware that says it can be composted won't break down in a backyard system. It needs to be on a much larger, hotter scale.
  • Whole, recently fallen leaves
  • Nut butters
  • Glossy magazines

large metal compost drum

After a year or so, you'll be left with dark, crumbly compost that your vegetable garden and house plants will love! It will be a quicker process if you turn or agitate your compost pile often. You can turn it over with a rake, or buy a bin that rolls or spins with a crank.

For more questionable items, you can check out Can I Compost This? If you need help finding a bin, The DIY Network has a thorough roundup, from wooden frames to plastic tubs and barrels. Some states will even give you one for free to promote reducing waste at home.

How does your compost grow? Do you have anything to add to our compost list? Let us know on Twitter!

Image source: Unsplash | Unsplash | Morguefile

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Composting is the circle of life in your garden: grow vegetables for your family, compost the scraps and dead plants, then use that compost to feed your plants the next year! Composting reduces waste and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfills.