25 Things You Should Start Adding to Your Compost Pile

Woman scraping food scraps onto a compost pile

Francesco Vaninetti Photo / Getty Images

If you've already started composting at home, you probably have the basic idea of what goes onto the pile. You’re already dumping your peels, cores, leaves, clippings, and coffee grounds. You’re already thinking about your browns and greens, gathering them from your kitchen and yard.

But if you want to take composting to the next level and reduce your household waste even further, here’s a list of some less-discussed items that can also get tossed in your composting bin or tumbler.

1. Shredded Newspaper

Glossy magazines don’t make for good compost, but thin printed paper can go on the pile. Help it break down faster by shredding it.

According to composting guidelines from the Cornell University Waste Management Institute, most newspapers today are printed with non-toxic inks and pose no health risk.

2. Paper Towels and Napkins

But only if you’re cleaning up food with these items—if you’re sopping up anything that might have chemicals don’t put them in the compost to avoid any possible contamination.

Paper towels cannot be recycled, so composting is really the most environmentally friendly alternative to dispose of them.

3. Wine and Beer

If your wine has gone vinegary or your beer has gone flat, don’t fret—just pour it onto the pile.

4. Expired Spices

Both fresh and dried herbs and spices can be composted, even hot spices like chili powder. You can also throw salt, sugar, and pepper in your compost bin.

5. Bedding from Hamsters, Rabbits, and Guinea Pigs

Small pet bedding made out of natural materials such as straw, paper, or wood shavings can go in your compost bin, even if it's contaminated with animal feces and urine. The key, however, is that the animal in question should be fed only herbivore foods.

6. Cotton and Wool Fabrics

Clothing and fabrics made from natural materials can be composted, including cotton, wool, silk, linen, bamboo, hemp, cashmere, and burlap.

To help the process along, be sure to shred or cut your fabric into smaller pieces and remove anything that won't biodegrade, such as zippers and buttons.

7. Jam, Jellies, and Fruit Preserves

The bacteria in your compost pile will love the sugar in these sweet treats.

8. Used Matchsticks

Matchsticks are, after all, just small pieces of wood. As such, they can be added to your compost as part of your brown materials. The small amount of phosphorus left on the heads after the matchsticks have been used is safe as well.

9. Leftover Brine or Canning Liquid

If you’re not using those juices to cook with, you can add them to your compost bin.

10. Jell-O (Gelatin)

You can compost your leftover prepared gelatin as well as your leftover powder.

11. Expired Yeast

You might not want to risk a bad batch of bread with a packet of yeast that’s past its expiration date, but it may still have some microorganisms that can help your compost along.

12. Dry Pet Food

If that old bag of cat food is hopelessly stale, or your puppy refuses to taste a new brand of kibble, you can throw dry pet food into the compost bin. Pet treats, rawhide, and catnip can also be composted.

13. Bamboo Skewers

Bamboo is a natural material and is fully biodegradable. For faster results, break them up into smaller pieces before adding them to your compost pile. Wooden skewers can also be composted.

14. Wooden Chopsticks

They may take a long time to biodegrade, but it will eventually happen. Consider breaking them up a bit to speed the process.

The most environmentally friendly option would be—of course—reusable chopsticks, so ask for the disposable kind to be left out of your take-out order.

15. Wood Ash

As long as the wood you burned is untreated and unpainted, its ash can be added to your compost pile in small quantities—think thin layers. Keep in mind that ash is an alkaline material when looking to balance your compost's pH.

16. Tea Bags

Tea bags and loose tea leaves can both be composted. Note, however, that some tea bags are made with a non-biodegradable food-grade nylon or plastic material (that slippery fabric); if this is the case, cut the bag open and compost its contents, but dispose of the bag in the trash.

17. Candy

All types of candy and chocolate can be composted, including hard candy, gummies, baking chocolate, licorice, marshmallows, and more. Be sure to remove all packaging and wrappers before placing them in your compost bin.

18. Hair

Hair and pet fur can be composted as part of your nitrogen-rich green materials. It may be slow to degrade, though, as it's mostly made of keratin, a very strong protein.

Studies have also shown that hair can be an effective fertilizer on its own.

19. Feathers

The feathers of backyard chickens and even old down pillows can be easily added to your compost pile with the rest of your green materials.

20. Nail Clippings

Your pet's and your own nail clippings can be composted, as long as they’re polish-free. Nail clippings are actually a great source of slow-release nitrogen for your compost pile.

21. Cotton Balls

Cotton is a natural fiber and can be composted, but be mindful of what you used your cotton balls for—if they're contaminated with chemicals they should be disposed of in the trash.

22. Toothpicks

Wooden toothpicks and popsicle sticks can be composted, as well as wooden and bamboo cutlery.

23. Natural Wine Corks

Cork is a 100% organic material extracted from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber), grown mostly in southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa.

24. Sawdust

Sawdust is a great brown material to add to your compost pile. However, make sure that the wood your sawdust comes from hasn't been chemically treated.

25. Eggshells

Eggshells are a calcium-rich addition to your compost. Be sure to crush them thoroughly—or better yet, grind them—before adding them to your bin to facilitate their breakdown.