The Essential Guide to Composting Food Scraps: By Experts

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Compost is an invaluable resource for gardeners, and an important way to keep food scraps out of the landfill.

It provides important nutrients to plants by feeding the good bacteria in the soil, which also attracts earthworms and other beneficial organisms. It’s good for your plants and the planet!

So you’re ready to start composting, but wondering what food scraps can be composted?

Read on! We’ll cover which food scraps can go in compost bins.

So, which food scraps can I put in the compost pile?

The short answer is ANYTHING!

In theory, any organic matter can be composted. 

This includes all leftovers, eggshells, and even bones.

In practice, things are a bit more complicated. What you can and can’t throw in the compost depends on a number of factors.

Are you wondering if food scraps can go in the green bin? Using a compost bin in your backyard? Starting a compost pile from scratch?

Read on for answers.

Can I throw my food scraps in the green waste bin?

It depends on where you live! 

Many cities only allow their residents to use green waste bins for yard waste: grass clippings, weeds, leaves, tree trimmings, wood, etc.

Trash collectors in these cities won’t take bins that have food scraps! The city will tag the cans and charge extra to come back and pick it up after the problem is fixed.

Some major cities — like Austin, TX — are introducing curbside compost programs. 

These cities are actively encouraging their residents to include food scraps in the “green composting carts.” (Also known as trash cans. Silly Austin.)

Austin allows almost any sort of food scraps:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • seafood
  • bones
  • cheese
  • dairy products
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • pasta
  • eggshells
  • bread
  • baked goods
  • nuts
  • jelly
  • candy
  • snack foods
  • leftovers
  • spoiled food

The only food scraps that Austin asks its residents NOT to include are liquids (including grease, oils, and fats). They also request that people don’t put whole carcasses or animal waste in the green bins.

Once the bins are filled, the Resource Recovery Staff (oh, Austin) collects the material and brings it to the local composting facility. The material is piled high, and microbes begin their work.

These microorganisms break down the food scraps and generate quite a bit of heat. After one year, they’ve transformed trash into treasure.

The bottom line: check with your city, pickup service, or garbage collector to learn which food scraps can go in your bin.

What if I want to make my own compost indoors? What goes in there?

That depends. There are two popular methods for creating your own compost in a small space: vermicomposting and aerobic composting.

Aerobic composting is the main method used outside, as in the example above.

The word aerobic refers to the oxygen-loving bacteria that do the work of composting for you.

If you’re composting in a small space, it’s a good idea to stir it up daily to introduce oxygen — this will help you get compost instead of sludge.

You’ll also need plenty of dry material like twigs and paper to balance out the food scraps — about three times as much dry material as food scraps.

Don’t forget to add soil to introduce those good bacteria!

When composting indoors, people tend to avoid anything that’s likely to get stinky and gross. You’ll probably want to put dairy products, fatty food, bones, and meat scraps in the garbage.  

Vermicomposting means using worms to do the aeration for you! Composting in a small space can get gross quick if there’s not enough oxygen and the wrong sort of bacteria proliferate.

Creating a worm bin is the ideal way to transform food scraps in a small space.

If you have enough worms, they can devour your food scraps every day and convert them to worm castings, a fantastic plant fertilizer that’s extremely expensive!

Worm castings are often called black gold because of how valuable they are to gardeners. 

Adding worm castings to soil results in faster germination, more rapid growth, and healthier plants!

Which food scraps can go in my worm bin?

Do you have stackable bins or an Urban Worm Bag? Did you get it started with good bedding and plenty of red wrigglers? Great! Here’s a sampling of what you can feed them:

  • coffee grounds and paper filters
  • dry leaves
  • egg cartons
  • apple cores
  • melon rinds
  • carrot tops 
  • bread
  • teabags
  • leftovers

What CAN’T go in my worm bin?

You’ll want to avoid adding anything that’s too big. Chopping food waste before adding it to a worm bin increases surface area to allow more good bacteria to grow. 

Fun Fact: It’s the BACTERIA that the worms eat! Not the food scraps themselves. 

Some people also freeze their food scraps first. This causes cell walls to rupture and makes everything easier to break down.

It’s also a good way to save food scraps if you have too many at one time, because you don’t want to feed your worms too much at once. 

Don’t give them more than they can handle at any one time!

You’ll also want to avoid adding too many acidic foods. The occasional orange peel is no problem, but if you put a huge pile of citrus in there, you could upset the pH balance of the bin.

When vermicomposting inside, you may also want to avoid:

  • meat scraps
  • large bones
  • fish guts
  • fatty foods
  • milk
  • cheese

What if I have a compost pile outside?

As we said up top, you can include any food scraps in outdoor compost bins. 

Including a variety of food scraps, like bones and dairy, will only increase the nutritional value of the resulting compost.

BUT! A word of warning before you go.

Smellier food scraps may attract animals, like rats and racoons. If your own animals have access to the compost pile, don’t include any food scraps that could harm them.

If your dog is digging through the compost, don’t include cooked bones or chocolate.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you.

If you have plenty of room and limited pest pressure, consider burying smellier foods to let them compost beneath a tree. 

Happy composting!

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27 responses to “The Essential Guide to Composting Food Scraps: By Experts”

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    […] if you have cooked food scraps, you can bury them at the center of the heap. Rats are more than capable of burrowing in, but this […]

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    […] been created with a mix of nitrogen-rich “green” products (such as grass clippings and food scraps) and carbon-rich “brown” products (such as twigs and […]

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    […] comes out, you need to add dry ingredients; if no water comes out, it’s time to add some wet food scraps such as melon or […]

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    […] kids enjoy learning about how food scraps can be turned into soil, and then reused to boost the richness of the garden. It’s a great […]

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    […] instead refers to the idea that it is green wood, fresh ingredients, etc. Nitrogen is found in food scraps, grass clippings, etc. Carbon is found in dry twigs and sticks, eggshells, nutshells, and things […]

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    […] are rich in nitrogen, and are the wetter, softer materials you might add. Most food scraps are greens, as are grass cuttings and other damp garden waste that will break down quickly and […]

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    […] matter, which is exactly what you want the things in your compost bin to eat. They tend to go for food scraps, and will eat almost anything, including sometimes each other, without […]

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    […] Two) Tip the chopped-up food scraps into the center of the compost heap. It is a good idea to chop them as this will encourage them to […]

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    […] piles can attract vermin in some circumstances, yes. You are adding food scraps to the garden, and this may appeal to many different animals, including pest species that you […]

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    […] you add a lot of onion to your compost, you may discourage worms that deal with other food scraps, so it is not a good idea to do this. Although onion peels don’t have a strong scent, they […]

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    […] something that’s considered bulk, like sawdust, woodchips, or wood pellets. Adding bulk to food scraps will make a better mix with the moisture content you […]

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    […] The biggest danger posed by eating compost is a particular kind of fungus called tremorgenic mycotoxin, which is found in compost that … […]

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    […] Composts may smell like rotting food from time to time, but if the smell is strong or persistent, check what you are putting into the compost. […]

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    […] This totally depends on your composting conditions, but be warned – it will be a long time. Some people say that cherry pits can take up to ten years to disappear completely. […]

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    […] are lots of different types of mold, but most will not harm you just by taking up residence in your compost heap and munching through your food […]

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    […] decomposed compost should be okay, but don’t put any fresh food scraps down on flowerbeds or vegetable patches; they will attract pests and will not decompose in time for […]

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    […] 10: Cut Up Food. Cutting up food and other compost into small pieces will also help to speed things along. This will make it easier to mix and will […]

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