Chances are, even if you’re a recycling-all-star, you’re probably new to the wild world of composting. This practice, which turns common household items into all-natural, nutrient-rich mulch, is beneficial to the environment in countless ways: from reducing the need for fertilizer to fighting climate change. While many surprising things can be tossed directly into a compost heap (old latex party balloons, for one), some items might only decompose when placed in advanced composters, and others will cause more harm than good.
Since it’s the new year, and you’re all about making resolutions to better yourself (that is, to eat more whole grains, hit up the gym), why not resolve to improve the health of the earth, too? This tip sheet will help you determine what items can stay out of your trash and become composting treasure.

Compost this

Balloons, as long as they are latex, are fully compostable.
  1. Fruit and vegetable scraps (including banana peels, citrus rinds, moldy lettuce and even jack-o’-lanterns). Tip: Breaking things down in a blender first can speed up the composting process.
  2. Stale or moldy bread, crackers and cereal. Tip: These items can attract unwanted pets, so bury them deep in your pile or use a composter with a lid.
  3. Wine, beer and liquor.
  4. The liquid from canned fruits and vegetables.
  5. Old herbs and spices.
  6. Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters.
  7. Tea and teabags.
  8. Jam, jelly and other fruit preserves.
  9. Balloons, gloves and condoms made from latex.
  10. Hair and nail clippings.
  11. Feathers and fur from pets.
  12. Old ropes and ripped up cloth made of natural fibers, such as wool or cotton.
  13. Cotton balls and swabs made from 100 percent cotton.
  14. Natural corks from wine bottles.
  15. Plant trimmings and clipped grass that’s free from toxins like pesticides or weed killer.
  16. Unwanted potting soil.
  17. Finely chopped wood chips and bark.
  18. Leaves, twigs, pine cones and evergreen needles. (Your Christmas tree can also be composted — provided that you can break it down in a wood chipper first.)
  19. Hay and straw.
  20. Matches, toothpicks and bamboo skewers.
  21. Compostable utensils and dishware. Tip: Break these up into pieces.
  22. Shredded plain paper (think: bills and credit-card-statements), notebook paper written on with pencil or pens with soy- or vegetable-based inks, cardboard and newspaper.
  23. Used paper towels, napkins and tissues, as long as they haven’t been used during an illness, such as the flu or a cold, or used to clean up chemicals.
  24. Dry pet food.
  25. Hamster bedding.
  26. Dead plants and flowers.
  27. Nuts and their shells (except walnut shells, which can be toxic to some plants).
  28. Algae, seaweed and kelp.
  29. White glue (such as Elmer’s), papier-mâché and masking tape.
  30. Cellophane, but make sure it’s the real plant-based variety and not plastic wrap.
  31. Natural loofahs and sea sponges.
  32. Wood ash from your fireplace.


Skip this 

Meats can cause bad odor and pest problems in a compost bin.
  1. Meat, fish and bones, which produce foul odors and attract rodents and bugs. Tip: Your local recycling or composting facility, however, might accept them.
  2. Eggs and dairy products such as cheese, butter and yogurt, which also attract pests.
  3. Oils, grease, salad dressing and peanut butter. These items don’t break down easily and could upset the liquid balance of your compost.
  4. Cigarette butts that are made of plastic.
  5. Store-bought soaps and shampoos, which contain dyes, perfumes and chemicals that will contaminate your pile.
  6. Black-walnut tree leaves or twigs and oleander leaves, which are toxic to plants.
  7. Pet waste or cat litter, which may contain disease or parasites that could be passed on to humans.
  8. Diseased or insect-ridden plants. They can regrow in your compost pile and be transferred back into your garden.
  9. Weed seeds and invasive weeds, which can sprout in your compost pile.
  10. Glossy magazines, colored paper, wrapping paper that may be coated in wax or other synthetic materials and paper that’s covered with inks or dyes (for instance, the ink from Rollerball pens and Sharpies are toxic). Recycle these items instead.
  11. Used personal products such as diapers, tampons and feminine napkins.
  12. Coated cardboard, paper cups, milk cartons and juice boxes, since they’re often lined with wax, plastic or other synthetic chemicals.
  13. Leather goods, including belts and gloves. In theory, they’ll decompose, but it will take many, many years.
  14. Charcoal ash from your grill, which could contain chemicals.
  15. Baked goods, cooked grains, rice and pasta, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria and attract pests.
  16. Dryer lint or vacuum cleaner contents. The tiny plastic or synthetic fibers shed from clothing or carpets could contaminate your compost.