Composting - Green and Brown Materials

July 28, 2019

Often times I am struggling to find enough brown to use for my compost pile and then am surprised to find out that I had something compostable right in front of me that I didn't realize could be used in my compost pile.

If you are fairly new to composting, I thought I would compile a list of items for reference for anyone trying to reduce their waste and create great compost.

    Brown Compost:

      • Fallen dry leaves
      • Pine needles
      • Twigs, chipped tree branches/bark
      • Straw or hay
      • Sawdust or wood chips
      • Corn stalks
      • Paper (newspaper, writing/printing paper, paper plates and napkins, paper bags, coffee filters)
      • Dryer lint
      • Corrugated cardboard (without any waxy/slick paper coatings
      • Hair (animal, human etc)
      • Old 100% cotton clothes (especially whites w/ no dyes)
      • Floor sweeping
      • Torn/shredded cardboard: brown boxes, brown packing tubes, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, tubes, egg cartons (avoid printed, glossy or refined looking boxes. For example, cereal boxes would be bad, generic brown shipping boxes are good)
      • Small quantities of wood ashes, NO barbecue charcoal ashes 
      • Shredded junk mail
      • Nutshells
      • Eggshells
      • Old potting soil
      • pencil shavings
      • latex gloves
      • Feathers
      • Nail clippings
      • Stale Bread/ stale chips
      • Dry dog or cat food
      • old uncooked oatmeal
      • Matches, toothpicks, wood skewers
      • Uncoated bamboo, bamboo items

     I find that green is easier for me to come by because my grass grows so quickly, but I do try to add different types of green as some materials have a very high nitrogen level.

    Green Compost:

      • Fruit and vegetable peelings/ fruits and vegetables
      • Coffee Grounds
      • Plants and plant cuttings (without disease)
      • Fresh manure from cows, chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats and bats (do not use dog, cat or human!)
      • Seaweed
      • Fresh grass clippings
      • Teabags
      • Soy, rice, almond or coconut milk (no dairy)
      • Cooked rice/ pasta
      • Spoiled tofu/ tempeh
      • Flowers
      • Blood/Bone meal



    Materials to Avoid

    Coal Ash – Most ashes are safe to mix into your compost pile, but coal ashes are not. They contain sulfur and iron in amounts high enough to damage plants.

    Colored Paper – Some paper with colored inks (including newsprint) contain heavy metals or other toxic materials and should not be added to the compost pile.

    Diseased Plants – It takes an efficient composting system and ideal conditions (extreme heat) to destroy many plant diseases. If the disease organisms are not destroyed they can be spread later when the compost is applied. Avoid questionable plant materials.

    Inorganic Materials – This stuff won’t break down and includes aluminum foil, glass, plastics and metals. Pressure-treated lumber should also be avoided because it’s been processed with chemicals that could prove toxic in compost.

    Meat, Bones, Fish, Fats, Dairy – These products can “overheat” your compost pile (not to mention make it stinky and attract animals). They are best left to large-scale anaerobic digesters and avoided entirely (with certain exceptions) at home.

    Pet Droppings – Dog or cat droppings contain several disease organisms and can make compost toxic to handle. (Can you believe the state of Alaska actually spent $25,000 on a study to determine the effects of composting dog poop? – PDF)

    Synthetic Chemicals – Certain lawn and garden chemicals (herbicides – pesticides) can withstand the composting process and will remain in the finished compost. Don’t put anything recently sprayed in your compost heap.


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