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What to Compost (It’s so easy!)

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One of the first things people wonder when they begin thinking about composting is “what can I put in my compost bin?” Well let me be the first to tell you that leftover meatloaf from last week is definitely not a contender for the compost pile. To be honest, there are several different trains of thought when it comes to what breaks down in compost, but in general, you want to have a good combination of “greens” and “browns.” Say what? If that seems like Greek to you, then let me take a moment to tell you what you can compost.


What to Compost

A healthy compost pile will contain a good mixture of both green and brown materials. A good combination of these biodegradable materials will ensure that your compost pile is active and thriving.

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Greens (Nitrogen-rich materials):

This will be your

  • veggie scraps
  • coffee grounds
  • tea bags
  • grass clippings
  • egg shells

Many composting greens come from your kitchen. These are things that come to mind when people think “composting.” And while they’re great, they’re not the only thing necessary for a successful compost pile.

Browns (Carbon-rich materials): 

A lot of these materials are well… brown.

  • dried leaves
  • foliage trimmings
  • paper bags
  • cardboard (don’t forget toilet paper and paper towel tubes)
  • shredded newspaper and paper. (Not the shiny sales papers, but just the black and white print)
  • wood shavings

No-No’s- Meat or meat products (Spam anyone?), oil or foods cooked in oil, bones, diseased plants or leaves. Trust me on this; you do NOT want these to go in there. They’ll mess up the mojo of your compost pile. For a complete list of what NOT to compost, see my post, or click the image below.

what not to compost infographic

Why the combination? Just like I need a delicate balance of coffee and chocolate to function, you balance out your compost pile with this combination that keeps the pile doing its job and breaking down all of those kitchen goodies you’re putting in there. So if you want that “black gold” useable for your garden, then just make sure you’re putting in both greens and browns equally. 

Your pile will also need to be turned and kept moist, but not soaking wet. Find all of the details of getting your pile up and running in my post How to Start Composting

Do I just dump materials in my compost?

Basically, yes. The one thing you want to keep in mind is that the larger a piece of material is, the longer it takes to break down, so here are a few tips:

  • Crush egg shells (by hand or in a blender if you’re fancy.)
  • Chop up any large scraps (I do this while I’m still doing my chopping on the cutting board.)
  • Rip newspaper (When I’m done with the paper, I rip it into strips before putting it in my “brown bag”.)
  • Ask for paper bags at the store, then use them to hold your newspaper shreds. You can shred the bag too and put it in the compost.
  • Here’s a great printable to post up on your fridge as a reminder of what can and cannot be composted:

what to compost image

Have tips to share about what’s worked with your compost pile? Be sure to comment below and share them!

Other Composting Articles:

Deb Hawkinson

Sunday 27th of September 2020

Do I keep adding compost to an outside site all winter???


Monday 28th of September 2020

Hey Deb! I do keep adding compost all winter, but we are in zone 8, so that's doable. If you're in a place that has a very cold winter with lots of snow, then you can certainly take a winter break from composting.


Wednesday 1st of April 2020

Hi, I was composting until early last year when I realised I hadn’t put enough browns in and then completely forgot about it, would it be ok to add some now? Or would I be better to empty the compost bins out and start again?


Thursday 2nd of April 2020

Hi Claire! If there's still material in your compost bins, and it hasn't been overtaken by mold, then I think you'd be fine to add a good portion of browns and get it ramped back up again. Hope this helps!

Mariluann Croft

Thursday 27th of February 2020

I want to thank you for this article I have started composing last summer and trying hard to get it right this really helped me again thank you.


Thursday 27th of February 2020

You are so very welcome! I hope your compost is breaking down beautifully!

ED Durivage

Saturday 15th of February 2020

Is it possible to use too much of something , ie; I have coffee grounds everyday, and some unused coffee too, can they go into the bin? It just seems to me that eventually the grounds would overwhelm the mixture. Also I save coffee grounds separately in coffee cans, but they are starting to get moldy, are they still good to use?


Saturday 15th of February 2020

Great question! Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, like coffee grounds which are high in acid. But if you also have access to a good amount of dried leaves, then you may be able to compost all of your grounds. Try to stick to a 3-1 ratio of leaves to coffee grounds; this will give you an idea of about how much you should be using in your pile. As far as the mold goes, if it's just a bit, then I wouldn't worry about it. Hope this helps!

Sharon Oliver

Monday 14th of January 2019

OI have heard that composting citrus peel or fruit is not good for the garden. Comments?


Monday 14th of January 2019

Hi Sharon, in the past, this was a pretty common idea; however, the most recent info states that citrus fruit peels are perfectly fine (even beneficial) in compost. Thanks for stopping by!