Green Frugality

How to compost almost anything

jeff yeager and his compost, gomer pile
(Photo: Denise Yeager)

Composting is the ultimate act of green frugality, turning unwanted organic material into rich humus for use in the garden rather than sealing it in plastic trash bags to spend eternity in a landfill. But for some of us, composting is something even more special — a hobby, a passion, almost a religion. I’ve even named my beloved compost pile; “Gomer,” as in Gomer Pyle (get it?).

As compost enthusiasts say, “A rind is a terrible thing to waste.” But composting fruit and veggie rinds and other trimmings, along with leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, and cardboard is only the beginning.

Here are some compostable items you might not think about:

Dryer lint
If you must dry your clothes in an electric clothes dryer (it significantly shortens the lifespan of many garments, plus wastes energy and money) instead of using a clothesline, at least compost the lint.

Hair and fur
With my receding hairline, I don’t have a lot of my own hair to share with Gomer, but our four cats shed enough to make up for it. Hair adds nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients to compost.

Fireplace ashes
Wood ashes (including ashes from charcoal made from wood) help to retain moisture in the compost pile. Wood ashes also contain potassium, a major plant nutrient that can be beneficial depending on the soil type.

Jell-O (gelatin)
“There’s always room for Jell-O.” I recently found a bowl of old, rubberized Jell-O in the back of the fridge and decided to give it Gomer as a special treat.

Cotton, wool, and silk clothing/fabric
After a long and productive second-life as dust rags, worn-out clothing made of natural fibers will decompose faster if you shred them before composting.

Full vacuum cleaner bags
Paper vacuum cleaner bags and their contents — as well as all species of non-synthetic dust bunnies — are welcome in the compost pile.

Nail clippings
The byproducts of pedicures, manicures, and even pet nails — are all compostable, provided that they’re polish-free.

Rope and string
Rope and twine made out of natural fibers (e.g., cotton, hemp, jute, and manila ropes) will decompose in the compost pile.

Leather goods and clothing
From leftover lederhosen to a leather glove that lost its mate, natural leather products will decompose (albeit slowly) in the compost pile.

Skunky beer, wine, and corks
Gomer likes a brewski once in awhile. Leftover alcohol (if such a thing exists) can be added to the compost pile, as can the corks from the bottles.

Pet food leftovers
Dry dog, cat, and fish food is OK for the compost pile (bury it in the pile to deter rodents and other unwanted pests), and even too-chewed rawhide dog chews can be composted.

Spoiled milk and dairy products
Meat products are generally a compost pile no-no, but spoiled dairy products like moldy cheese, sour milk, and yogurt are okay.

jeff yeager's compost, gomer pile

White glue and masking tape
Check for toxic ingredients, but most white glues (like Elmer’s brand) and paper masking tape can be composted. (by the way, Post-It-Notes can be, too.)

Teabags and coffee grounds
Of course at our house, we use them at least twice before they’re ready for the compost pile. And remember that paper coffee filters can be composted too.

Latex condoms and cotton/cardboard feminine hygiene products
Yes, it’s true. Yes, it’s gross.

Cotton balls and Q-Tips
Just make sure that your cotton swabs like Q-Tips are 100% cotton and have cardboard or wooden sticks (NOT plastic).

If you live on an ocean or other waterway and your shoreline is being invaded by washed up seaweed or kelp, add it to the compost pile — it’s often used in organic fertilizers.

Eggshells have many great uses around the house and garden, but composting them is an eggcellent idea, too, since they add calcium to the soil.

Stale bread and other grain products
Of course, I have too many other uses for stale bread to go feeding it to Gomer, but leftover grain-based food products, including pasta, rice, cereal, crackers, pizza crusts, etc., can be composted (again, bury them in the pile to deter unwanted pests).

Organic holiday decorations
If you’re not going to eat your Halloween jack-o-lantern like I do, it can be composted, along with wreaths and pine boughs from Christmas, latex balloons from birthday parties, and that long-dead bouquet you paid too much for at Valentine’s Day. Next year, try planting a rose bush for her instead, using the compost from your own Gomer.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches and the forthcoming The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is Follow Jeff Yeager on Twitter and friend Jeff on Facebook. Friend TDG on Facebook and follow TDG on Twitter.


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