Make Kitchen Compost: Let's Breakdown Your Shopping List

Food scraps for composting, vegetable peelings and egg shell.

Many people are interested in reducing the amount of waste produced by the household, and a kitchen compost system can help. Composting is one of the easiest ways to take steps toward a greener environment, and compost helps your own garden as well. However, not everything in a kitchen can be put in the compost pile, not even all food waste.

You first need to set up a collection system for compost and then carefully note what items can go into a kitchen compost pile.

Make an Outdoor Pile

While you will collect food scraps in your kitchen, you don't want to complete the entire composting process in your kitchen. So you need an outdoor bin.

This can be a simple wood structure, a round wood and wire structure, or any other combination that creates a contained place for your composing materials.

Another reason you need the outdoor pile is to add the “brown” compost material to your pile in order to have complete compost. Compost needs “green” matter, like that found in fruit and vegetable wastes, but it also needs the drier, denser “brown” matter like leaves, hay, twigs and shredded paper. Brown compost material helps with aeration and is high in carbon, while the green material adds moisture and nitrogen and attracts compost-producing microorganisms.

Choose a Kitchen Container

In the past, you may have had a bowl that you filled with eggshells and banana peels and other waste, and emptied it each night.

While this method may work, it is not attractive to many people. Powerful odors can emanate from an open compost bucket, and fruit flies are attracted to the container.

Now that composting is becoming a suburban and even urban way of life, there are other options. One is to use any tight sealing trash can as a compost bucket. This can work fairly effectively. You can use a diaper pail with a sealing lid as well.

For a smaller, counter top solution, look for a compost crock. These may be traditional crocks made of ceramic, or they may be aluminium or bamboo. What they have in common is a tight sealing lid and often a carbon activated filter in the lid to control odors. Fill this container with your compost-safe kitchen scraps and empty it into your outdoor pile when it gets full.

Tip: Remember: the smaller you cut it up, the faster you have useable compost!

Things to Collect for a Home Compost Pile

Things to collect in the kitchen include vegetable and fruit peelings, rinds and leftovers, tea bags, eggshells, coffee grounds, bread, and shredded newspaper, paper, or cardboard. (Don’t pile in the stacked, dense newspaper, or it won’t break down).

Tip: Eggshells are a great additive to any compost pile. However, egg residue can attract insects and vermin alike. To prevent this, rinse out eggshells before crushing them and adding them to your pile.

Things to Avoid in a Home Compost Pile

While commercial composting facilities can break down most any kind of organic matter, there are some you want to avoid in a home bin or pile.

First, never compost human, dog or cat waste. Although it seems strange because we deliberately put manure from other animals on plants and gardens, this type of waste doesn’t work as a fertilizer.

Tip: Some of the preservatives and chemicals in the foods we eat as well as our pet's food can be toxic for a garden when translated into compost. Also, pets and humans alike can carry microbes or bacteria that could devastate your garden.

The reason you should avoid most of the following items in a home compost pile is not that they cannot be composted, but the amount of time it takes for these items to break down.

Home piles work slowly, so these items tend to rot and/or attract rodents and vermin before they compost. This is a problem neither you or your neighbors want, so steer clear of items such as dairy products (cheese, sour cream, egg yolks, butter or yogurt), meats, lards, oils, meat bones, and meat scraps. In addition, steer clear of plastic, metal, glass, ceramics, and used kitty litter.

Tip: Also avoid adding the roots of garden plants, weeds, or plants that have gone to seed. If the compost pile does not get hot enough to kill off these plants, they will grow again in your garden. In the case of annoying weeds, this can be a serious problem indeed. Dandelions, kudzu, and ivy are just a few examples. Avoid adding diseased or insect infested plants. It is possible for diseases to contaminate your compost and your garden.

Avoid Chemicals

You want to include yard waste like grass clippings and bush trimmings in your compost pile, but avoid grasses treated with pesticides or any pesticide treated wood.

Chemically treated wood can often be recognized by its greenish color. This includes avoiding glossed paper such as magazines and catalogs as well as wrapping paper and coated cardboard such as juice boxes.

Tip: NEVER compost: pizza boxes, saran wrap, styrofoam, shipping envelopes, tires, medical or hazardous waste, diapers, or batteries!