Crazy Things You Didn't Know You Could Compost (Plus, Some You Can't), Holiday Edition

turkey-wishbone photo

Sure, it's lucky. But can it can be composted? Photo: CarbonNYC, Creative Commons.
This is a guest article by Sara Ost, editor of, the conscious culture and fashion website.

Fresh on the heels of the pizza box scandal, in which EcoSalon cleared up some mysteries with recyling, we've uncovered more items that you can't compost -- and some surprising ones you can. This being the holiday season, we enter a whole new level of composting controversy. Seriously, Santa, lay off the tinsel. Here's how to navigate the festivities with an eye to the bin and the bucket.

Do Compost:

Holiday catalogs, neighborhood fliers, and charity leaflets.
If the paper is thin and they aren't coated or glossy, shred up that seasonal direct mail and blend it to keep your compost cornucopia from getting too soggy. Don't go crazy with this -- only do it if your compost needs a little wicking. It's very important that the material is not thick, heavily dyed, or coated. (Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, never.)

Brine and bones.
The gravy never lasts, but you may have leftover turkey brine if you celebrate Thanksgiving with a bird. It's safe to compost this salty liquid, just make sure there is no actual meat going into your compost. Oddly, bones are usually fine -- scrape or boil them first, though. (Many people avoid composting bones, and experts are divided on whether or not you can compost meat; while it's not an absolute no, there are serious potential risks, such as attracting scavengers and pests or pets getting into the mixture. And composting meat waste, unless done perfectly, can really stink things up.)

That gift basket from the boss.
We won't tell. The great baskets you keep -- the ones with organic dark chocolate and raw almonds. The red and green "fruit" loaf? The DayGlo orange "cheese food"? Not so much. You can't compost a summer sausage, but hard candies, caramel corn, crackers, chocolates, jams and jellies, petit fours, mints that taste like the mustard they're snuggled next to, those mysteriously edible icing-shellacked hard cookies, and other processed foods will biodegrade in the mix, just in time for next Christmas.

Many composters are purists -- and for good reason. You don't want to attract pests or destroy perfectly good compost with something that won't degrade well. So people often recommend that you not compost pastries, prepared cookies and cakes, and other desserts. But a few extra brownies that have gone stale, or yet another plate of cookies you can't possible stomach without moving up a pant size, are usually safe for the compost this time of year.

Don't Compost:

Plants and Flowers. Think twice before tossing the poinsettia or the wilting wreath into the compost. Aside from the risk to wildlife, store-bought plants and bouquets may harbor germs and bacteria that can ruin your hard-fought rot. Rinse well, and if something looks diseased, throw it away instead.

Some nuts, particularly walnuts, can create a toxic blend in your compost. If you or your neighbors have pets, think twice about composting nuts. Treat nuts like you would meat, and compost with caution. You need to be a compost ace running the hottest mix on the block to effectively degrade these items.

Napkins, forks, plates, tablecloths, centerpieces. Why are you using these anyway, silly? Even eco-friendly, biodegradable disposables like corn-based plates are still more wasteful than using the family china or a vintage tablecloth you love. The commercial holiday industry makes a mint on seasonal decorations for the table, buffet and mantle, but consider investing in an environmentally friendly set of entertaining wares you'll love forever, or scouring the secondhand shops for that perfect red centerpiece platter.

Gift wrapping.
No brainer. Many gift wrap products, especially bows and bags, contain things like foil and plastic, which cannot be composted. And there's really no need to use wrapping at all -- give gifts in furoshiki or reusable bags. Better yet, make a donation to a great green cause on your loved one's behalf.

More green Thanksgiving recipes and ideas!
Weekday Vegetarian: 9 Thanksgiving Recipes, Tried and Tasted : TreeHugger
8 Better-Than-Turkey Thanksgiving Entrees -- Plus Two Guilt-Free Birds (Slideshow) : TreeHugger
10 Green Things To Be Thankful For This Holiday Season : TreeHugger
How to Go Green: Thanksgiving Day - How to Go Green

And don't miss our fabulous holiday gift guide!

2010 Gift Guide: Low-Impact Luxury for High-Impact Giving

Crazy Things You Didn't Know You Could Compost (Plus, Some You Can't), Holiday Edition
Fresh on the heels of the pizza box scandal, in which EcoSalon

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