Printable Compost List for Beginners at Home

What is composting, and what can you compost at home? This guide offers everything you need, plus a printable compost list to get you started on composting. 

Composting cabbage

Composting is nature’s way of turning organic matter into natural fertilizer. Many homes build compost piles to reduce waste and for use in their home garden.

However, many people hesitate to start their compost pile, thinking it’s too complicated and a lot of work.

If you’re new to composting, the information can be overwhelming, but this guide offers tips and insights about composting at home. Plus, get a printable compost list to help you start!

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    What Is Composting?

    Composting is a controlled process of using natural decomposition to convert organic materials, like food waste and dry leaves into soil. This soil is so much more nutrient-dense than typical “dirt” or “potting soil.”

    Microorganisms undergo aerobic decomposition and use oxygen to breathe, water to digest organic materials, and nitrogen and carbon to reproduce. These microorganisms are what break down the material turning your household waste into rich, dark brown compost.

    composting brown leaves into black compost tumbler

    The Benefits of Composting at Home

    Here are some of the perks of composting at home:

    Cut Down on Personal Food Waste

    Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and wasted natural resources, with over 30% of food lost or wasted annually. 

    The best way to solve food waste is to minimize food consumption and learn how to shop, prepare, and store food properly.

    Once you do end up with waste in the home, making your own compost is your best option for disposal and can drastically reduce food waste!


    Reduce Emissions From Landfills

    The food waste and other organic materials we throw in landfills get buried by trash. Then, they undergo anaerobic decomposition, a process where organisms break down materials without needing oxygen.

    As a result, they produce biogas, which contains methane and carbon dioxide. These gases are potent GHGs that trap heat in the atmosphere.

    Composting at home prevents increased organic waste in landfills and reduces methane and carbon dioxide emissions. Note that composting applies aerobic decomposition, which doesn’t emit biogas.

    Improve Soil Health

    If you want to grow your garden, backyard, or mini farm, you need nutrient-rich soil for your plants to thrive. Compost contains nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which are primary nutrients for garden crops.

    So instead of using fertilizers and other chemicals, composting offers a greener and safer alternative to improving soil and plant health.

    Aside from compost’s nutritional properties for plants, it improves the soil’s water retention capacity, helping you conserve water.

    Compost Anytime, Anywhere

    You may have seen composting bins in community gardens or large-scale farms, but don’t be intimidated by their professional setup. Remember that you don’t need a large space to start composting. You can create one on your balcony or patio if you have a bin.

    If you are prohibited from having a backyard compost pile for any reason, you can still collect your own scraps at home and deliver them to your local compost facility.

    shredding cabbage

    What Can You Compost at Home?

    You can compost most organic materials as long as they don’t contain chemicals and inorganic materials.

    A proper compost should include the following materials:

    • Browns: Carbon-rich materials (e.g., twigs and dry leaves)
    • Greens: Nitrogen-rich materials (e.g., vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and other plant materials)
    • Water: Compost should remain moist but not soaked
    • Oxygen or air: Compost must be turned, tumbled, or aerated to speed decomposition.

    the basics of composting at home

    Here’s a list of materials you can compost at home:

    • Scraps of food and vegetable (kitchen scraps)
    • Crushed eggshells
    • Shredded egg cartons made from cardboard or recycled paper
    • Nutshells
    • Cooked or uncooked rice or pasta
    • Soy, almond, or coconut milk
    • Stale coffee and beer
    • Coffee grounds and paper filters
    • Dry goods like crackers and spices
    • Dry cereals and pieces of bread
    • Oatmeal
    • Crushed or chopped pits from fruits
    • Corn cobs and husks
    • Spoiled tofu, wine, and juice
    • Expired canned vegetables
    • Lobster, crab, and crayfish shells
    • Yard trim and grass clippings
    • Loose tea and paper tea bags without staples
    • Shredded plain papers
    • newspapers
    • brown paper bags
    • Plant stalks and twigs
    • Old flowers
    • Cooked Pasta
    • Cooked Rice
    • Untreated wood chips
    • Sawdust
    • Toothpicks
    • Chopsticks
    • Dry leaves
    • Human and pet hair
    • Used or clean toilet paper rolls
    • Non-greasy and uncolored parts pizza boxes
    • Seaweed
    • Beddings of chickens, hamsters, rabbits, and other small mammal pets
    • Chopped wine corks
    • Toothpicks
    • Manure
    • Paper Towels (not greasy)
    • Yard waste
    • Cardboard boxes
    • Wood shavings/sawdust
    • Cereal boxes
    • Egg shells

    This list is not all-inclusive, but hopefully it will give you a good start!


    breaking down cabbage

    What Not to Compost at Home

    Generally, avoid putting materials that don’t decompose or take too long to break down.

    Here are examples of materials that you shouldn’t compost:

    • Meat, fish, seafood, and bones
    • Cheese and dairy products
    • Fats, oils, and greases
    • Large amounts of cooked food
    • Citrus peels (too acidic)
    • Onions (too acidic)
    • Compostable bags and food service ware
    • Pet waste and cat litter
    • Dryer lint
    • Treated wood
    • Rock, glass, metal, plastic, and other inorganic materials
    • Glossy papers and other coated paper products
    • Pest-infested or diseased plants
    • Herbicide treat plants
    • Invasive weeds and weeds with seeds
    • Coal fire ash
    • Large branches
    • Synthetic fertilizer
    dumping compost

    How to Do Backyard Composting for Beginners

    Start composting at home in five easy steps!

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    1. Collect, Prepare, and Store Your Compost Materials

    Consider how you’ll collect your compost materials. You can store greens like food scraps indoors using closed containers or a kitchen pail, and keep browns like leaves in another container outside your home. You can also use a simple hotel pan like I use to collect my kitchen scraps.

    Some people choose to use compostable liners in a bin, but I just feel like it is unnecessary and potentially even more wasteful. I personally have not experienced fruit flies in my home using these bins, as long as I empty the bin regularly.

    Before adding them to your compost pile, break or chop up these items into smaller pieces to help the materials break down quicker.

    2. Build or Buy a Bin

    You don’t need a container if you have enough space in your yard for a compost pile. However, if you have a small space and prefer to keep it clean, you can use a bin made from wood wire, barrels, tumblers, or cinder blocks. However, I have had my compost tumbler for 3 years and I love it!

    spinning compost tumbler

    3. Create Your Compost Pile

    Start by putting your “browns” at the bottom of the pile and layering them with the “greens” alternately. You can add water to keep the pile damp (just be sure it is not soaking!).

    When layering, add more brown material than greens to ensure enough air circulation in your pile. The right ingredient proportions will help the microorganisms thrive and decompose your compost.

    Types of at at-home compost Piles

    • Compost Heap (can be directly on ground or in a contained area surrounded by wire/mesh): Use a shovel or rake to “turn” your pile regularly. This is the cheapest method and great for creating a large amount of compost.
    • Worm Compost (vermiculture): The worms will do the work for you! This is the fastest composting method, you just have to be okay with touching worms!
    • Plastic Bins, 5-Gallon Bucket or Trash Can: When using plastic containers, be sure to shake the container, roll it, or tumble after each material addition. This is a great cheap option for when you need to hide your compost and potential smells.
    • Compost Tumbler: While it is the most expensive option, a compost tumbler is great for anyone who is looking to create a small amount of compost with ease. Simply give it a spin each time you add new compostable materials. This is much less labor-intensive than turning a compost pile by hand.

    Click here for more Composting Tumbler Tips!

    4. Take Care of Your Compost Pile

    While your compost decomposes, maintain it by turning and mixing your pile to aerate it and quicken decomposition. It’ll also reach high temperatures, which helps reduce pathogens and weed seeds.

    Maintain its moisture, odor, and temperature by adding water, browns, and greens.

    5. Harvest Your Compost

    If your pile stops heating after mixing and no longer contains visible food scrap, let it cure for four weeks. After curing, it’ll shrink a third of its original size.

    Check out this post to learn how to tell when your compost is ready!

    How Long does it Take to Create Compost at Home?

    It can take anywhere from 1 month to a year to create compost at home depending on the newness of your pile, chosen method, and climate conditions. A good compost pile will be ready in three to five months, while unattended compost can take a year to decompose. Your pile should look and smell like fresh soil and have no undecomposed material left.

    To speed up your composting, Arboretum suggests the following:

    • Make a larger pile (create more heat)
    • Have the proper ratio of brown materials to green materials
    • Shred everything
    • Turn your pile over and aerate
    • Keep your pile moist

    Sift your finished compost before using it to filter out the items that didn’t break down.

    6. Using Your Compost

    Once your compost is ready, it will look just like deep, nutrient-rich garden soil. Use this nutrient-dense soil in your own garden at home, just like any other dirt product. You can protect your garden and prepare in advance by layering compost on top of your garden beds before winter.

    I add my compost right on top of my small raised-garden bed to amend the soil each winter!

    gardening onions in raised bed

    Try Composting at Home

    Whether it’s your backyard or balcony, consider building your composting pile to reduce food waste, use good soil, and clean the environment.

    Remember to use our printable compost list as your guide on what to decompose and start your home compost pile ASAP! Stop putting money and nutrient-rich soil down your garbage disposal!

    If you are interested in maintaining your compost throughout the winter, checkout this post with winter composting tips!

    Looking for more ways to create a sustainable home?

    Pin Your Printable Compost List for Later!

    Printable Compost List at Home Pin

    About the Author:

    I’m Brittany, totally modern and mainstream turned crunchy mama!

    Read more here about how I went from a totally incompetent cook and hyper-consumer to striving to live a more meaningful life from scratch.

    I can’t wait to share my modern homesteading journey with you and I hope I inspire you to join along!

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