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:
- dairy products
- baked goods
- snack foods
- 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
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
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.
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.