Saturday, August 4, 2012

15 Non-Traditional Things to Compost

Let me just start out by saying, I heart compost. Love it. You are making the best soil on earth, supporting an ecosystem, and reducing the amount of garbage you send to the landfill. Total win-win.

However, as much as I love composting, I am often disenchanted (or downright alarmed) by the advice given online for things you can and cannot include in your compost pile. We all know the common things you can compost: egg shells, coffee filters, kitchen scraps, garden waste, etc. But some people get so excited that they encourage others to compost all sorts of things that won't work for all gardening situations.

For example, I disagree with some common guidance like composting pizza boxes because the grease is sure to attract critters that I DO NOT want in my garden (raccoons, anyone?). Same goes for old bread products and left over cooked rice. You could compost wood ash but my soil is already too alkaline, so I don't want to make it worse. In my situation, more pine needles would be helpful (but if you have acidic soil, stay away from these).

Here are some things you may not have thought about composting but should be safe in nearly every compost pile. Most of these would be considered "brown matter" items:

  1. Dog or cat hair (finally put that stuff to use! Grab the hair from the swiffer or the vacuum and throw it in)
  2. Your hair (grab the hair off your brushes)
  3. Finger and toe nail clippings (yours and the dog's too)
  4. Cardboard tubes from toilet paper, wrapping paper or paper towel rolls (ripped up into smallish pieces)
  5. The contents of your paper shredder (as long as it is mostly normal paper and not cut up credit cards or glossy things)
  6. Brown paper lunch bags (we make our own microwave popcorn using lunch bags and organic kernels and whatever doesn't pop gets composted along with the bag--again rip it up into pieces)
  7. Paper egg cartons (break into small pieces)
  8. Tissues (if they have no lotion/aloe)
  9. Some paper towels (if they were just used for light kitchen clean up and don't have cleaner or lots of grease on them--use your best judgement)
  10. Wooden toothpicks (did you put in a toothpick to see if your cake was done? Compost it!)
  11. Cotton balls (depending on what they were used for--again, use good judgement)
  12. Cotton Q-tips (not the plastic center kind) 
  13. *Dryer Lint from your whites load (avoid lint that has absorbed dye) *This is only suggested for folks who don't use dryer sheets because the dryer sheet chemicals impregnate the lint otherwise and probably shouldn't end up in the garden
  14. Yarn scraps from natural fibers like wool, cotton, or bamboo (Keep all those little end snippings in a bag and throw them in the compost once in a while. Just make sure no acrylic or synthetics get in there)
  15. Vacuum bag contents (again, use your best judgement--if it is just dust and dirt you are good to go)
What not to compost: Since this post may have you looking at everything with an eye to composting, here is a great post from Mother Nature Network on some things you should NEVER compost. 

Good general rule of thumb: Beware of composting anything that could attract critters you don't want, anything with a lot of ink or paper that is glossy, anything that may have come in contact with chemicals you wouldn't want near your plants, and anything that is likely to throw your soil ph in a direction you don't want it to go.  (While Joan Dye Gussow composted a woodchuck in her book "This Organic Life," I personally wouldn't chance it).

What are some non-traditional things YOU compost?

Featured on Simple Lives Thursday and Frugally Days, Sustainable Ways.

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