What Can And Cannot Be Put in a Composter?

Last updated on October 21st, 2023 at 10:26 pm

When you think of the word compost, what comes to mind? Composting is similar to recycling and contributes to a healthier planet. Composting is easier than you think… and yes, it can be done at home!

However, a few questions will certainly come to mind if you are ready to start down this eco-friendly path. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start composting.

What Can And Cannot Be Put in a Composter?

Compost is decomposing organic material that breaks down into organic and inorganic compounds through a method known as composting. It is made up of material that is considered waste and transforms it into rich plant nutrients to support the growth of beneficial organisms.

Because it is rich in plant nutrients, it is of great importance to gardeners, which is why many call it black gold. When you compost, you help reduce the huge amount of waste that goes into landfills. When organic material is landfilled, it takes up space and releases a powerful greenhouse gas called methane, which accelerates global warming.

Composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint without doing much. Did you know that garden and kitchen waste accounts for 30% of what we throw away on average?

Composting is a process that promotes the decomposition of organic material by micro-organisms. Once your compost pile is ready, you can return it to nature and help complete the nutrient cycle.

Composting requires certain factors and elements to be done properly. The organic waste should be mostly kitchen waste, leaves, twigs, etc. Microorganisms must also be introduced into the system, and this is done using soil. Water and air help the decomposition process, mainly by providing oxygen. Once all the elements are in place, composting begins.

The mechanism of composting is essentially the breakdown of carbon-rich material by microorganisms that break it down into smaller components. A fiber-rich product derived from your compost pile, called natural humus, also contains some percentage of inorganic nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

The method used by microorganisms to decompose is aerobic respiration, which involves breaking down organic material in the presence of oxygen to obtain energy. Water is added to the compost bin to create an environment for rapid multiplication of the decomposing agents. Respiration releases carbon dioxide and heat as by-products, and these increase the temperature of the composter by several degrees.

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If the compost bin is treated with care and managed properly by making sure it is watered and turned regularly, the compost can form the desired product in as little as two to three weeks. If not, it can take several months.

For beginners, the general rule of thumb is that anything organic is compostable. However, many organic materials require some thought before being added to the compost pile. There are multiple ingredients that collectively make up your compost pile, and these are divided into three categories:

Browns: The brown part of the compost is made up of dried leaves, twigs, and branches.
Greens: The green category of compost includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings and organic waste, as well as coffee grounds.
Water: Water is a necessary aspect of your compost pile, as it acts as a medium for all reactions to take place.
Your kitchen is an excellent source of organic material for your compost. Ideally, all material should be cut into small pieces to speed up the decomposition process. Fruits and vegetables are an exceptional category.

From their skins to their seeds and even their cores, all parts are compostable. Some fruits, like strawberries, come with leaves. These leaves also qualify for the compost pile, as do leaves that fall from trees.

Coffee grounds are part of the green part of the compost. It is an excellent source of nitrogen in your compost pile. Coffee grounds contain 2% nitrogen and have a neutral pH. It helps the growth of acidic plants like blueberries and inhibits the growth of plants like asparagus fern.

Garden waste contributes to the brown part of the compost bin. Grass clippings are a very important part of garden waste. However, it is recommended that you do not add a lot of grass to the compost, as it gives the compost bin a bad smell. Of course, there are also branches, pine trees and leaves. Sometimes there are also weeds or straws in the yard, which can be added to the compost pile.

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Newsprint can be safely composted because it is a type of paper made from wood pulp. Newsprint is considered the brown part of the compost pile balance. Like all other materials in the compost, excessive addition of newspaper disrupts this balance.

An important point to remember is that colored newspapers and glossy pages cannot be composted, as they may be composed of heavy metals that are not suitable for compost. On average, newspapers take about two months to fully decompose into black soil.

Other materials that can be composted include seaweed and kelp. Believe it or not, if you have access to a water source and are legally able to extract them, they make an excellent nutritious addition to your compost.

Simply rinse and soak them to get rid of the excess salt, and they can then be introduced into the compost pile. Sawdust also has an excellent carbon content so it can be composted.

There are many materials that should not be put in a compost bin because they can interfere with the decomposition process:

Pet feces or litter. It is not a good idea to add feces or pet litter to the compost. Both tend to cause disease, as they contain bacteria and parasites. Not to mention the unpleasant odor they give off. However, if you are someone who can stand the smell, it has been proven that livestock droppings are a very good fertilizer.

Infected garden plants. They affect the breathing process, which can cause problems with the end result.

Invasive weeds. The seeds or even spores of these plants have mechanisms that allow them to survive the decomposition process. When you apply compost to your plants, they will grow on them and harm them.

Charcoal ashes. It cannot be used because it is harmful to the micro-organisms responsible for decomposition.

Pesticides. They are harmful to the micro-organisms and can cause changes in the final compost product.

Your compost is ready when instead of decaying material, you have a rich, dark brown substance that smells and looks like soil. If you use a compost bin, your compost could be ready in less than three weeks to three months. Once your compost has reached the stage where it has a granular texture and meets the appearance criteria mentioned above, it is ready to be applied to your plants.

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In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, compost is also very beneficial to your lawn.

Once compost is applied to your lawn, the positive results will be visibly apparent. The visual benefits are seen in the growth of your lawn plants and their lush appearance. Compost also reduces surface crusting and makes general lawn maintenance easier.

Nutrients added to the lawn not only help with growth, but also with the health of older plants. Adding compost is also known as topsoil, and this process naturally fertilizes your lawn for healthier grass and plants.

Fertilization also helps strengthen the root system so it can absorb nutrients and water during the quiet winter months. A well-nourished plant has the ability to retain water longer, which is beneficial in hot summers when evaporation rates are higher. Applying compost definitely improves the luster of your landscape and ensures a healthier lawn.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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