Erin Doman on January 18, 2016 1 Comment Simply put, composting is basically when a controlled pile of organic matter breaks down for weeks or months at a time until it becomes suitable for use as a fertilizer for gardens. Not only can compost help gardens flourish, but keeping your composting items out of the landfill helps the environment. Composting is an easy way for any homeowner and gardener to shrink their carbon footprint and boost the growth of their gardens. When you think of composting, you might think of potato shavings, coffee grounds, old lettuce and other vegetable matter. However, a really good fertilizer needs more than the nitrogen-rich materials you’re thinking of. You also have to try to include items that are carbon-rich. Some composting experts suggest that you should strive to have one part nitrogen-rich items to 25 parts carbon-rich. In order to successfully make a quality fertilizer, you should fully understand what all a healthy compost pile requires. You might have the impression that only food items can go into your pile, but this isn’t actually the case. It turns out that plenty of non-food household items and garbage can be beneficial additions to your heap. However, just because some items that you would normally throw away are good for composting doesn’t mean that all trash items are. In this article we have listed 11 items that you probably were not aware that you could compost, as well as a few items that you should be sure to never add to your heap. Non-Food Items Here are a few items that will help increase the carbon in your homemade fertilizer heap: 1. Outdoor Items It shouldn’t be surprising that you can throw hay, leaves, wood, pine needles, alfalfa, grass trimmings and other outdoor items onto your heap. This is an easy way to add common carbon items to your compost pile, especially if you live on a farm or an area with a lot of trees. 2. Houseplants When you trim dead leaves off of your indoor plants or accidentally lose another African Violet, you can throw these items right into your heap. It is important to realize that this type of addition can count as either nitrogen or carbon. If you throw the still green leaves onto the pile, it is nitrogen. If you leave the plant matter to get brittle and brown, it is carbon. 3. Paper Paper, such as junk mail, old documents and post-it notes, can also be added to your composting pile. You want to try to use wholly organic paper, so no envelopes with plastic windows. To get the most out of this item, you should shred it before adding it to your pile. Because paper itself can be used, it is no surprise that paper items can also be added. Use anything made from paper like paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, paper bags, napkins, facial tissues and other such items. The benefit of these items is that they break down faster than their paper and cardboard counterparts. 4. Cardboard That being said, cardboard can still be composted, but it does need a little more time to break down. Cardboard that does not have a glossy finish or a lot of stray tape can be added to the fertilizer heap. When you think of cardboard, you should think of boxes, paper towel rolls, wrapping paper rolls and anything similar. Again, this type of item should be cut into strips before it is added to the pile. This is to help the product break down faster than it otherwise would. 5. Hair, Feathers and Fur Next time you brush your hair, clean the hair from the brush and throw it onto your fertilizer heap. You can also use facial hair trimmings, pet fur, feathers and similar items. These items count as a nitrogen addition instead of a carbon addition. When you apply it to your pile, be sure to sprinkle the hair and fur around rather than add it in one clump to ensure your heap has an even distribution of this nitrogen element. 6. Natural Cloth When your towels get too old to use anymore, you can shred them and get one more benefit from the natural material. You can use anything natural, which means most jeans, linen, hemp, wool, leather, silk and cotton t-shirts can be used. Just be sure to remove all non-organic materials–zippers, buttons, sequins, etc.–before cutting up the old clothing and using it in your fertilizer. 7. Animal Scat If you have hamsters, birds, gerbils, rabbits or other animals that are in a cage, you can use the bedding in your compost heap. The bedding itself is normally made from wood chips, newspaper, grass or other natural material. The scat, or animal droppings, help increase the decay process. You do want to be careful when adding this type of waste because not all animal scat should be used. You only want to use the waste of plant eaters. That means no cat or dog scat. 8. Floor Debris Next time you sweep or vacuum, take out any coins, glass, buttons or other non-organic materials and then throw all the dust, hair and skin cells onto your pile. This is beneficial for your heap because of the small size of the items makes it easier for the heap to break them down. 9. Dryer Lint Similarly, dryer lint can be added to the homemade fertilizer as well, as long as you wash mostly organic clothing. Like with the fur and hair, you should try to sprinkle this on your heap rather than add it in large clumps. 10. Wine Corks Cork is a natural material, so rather than throw all those extra wine corks in the trash, you can use them instead to help your garden thrive. All you need to do it cut up the cork into small pieces and throw it on your pile. Just make sure you are not using any plastic cork in your heap, because these cannot break down. If you just couldn’t finish that bottle of wine, you can also add old wine or beer to your mound. 11. Latex Balloons Latex is a material that is often forgotten about when it comes to composting. However, this is a completely biodegradable material that can do wonders for your fertilizer. You can use anything made from latex, such as gloves, balloons, band aids and even condoms. Adding these items will help you reach the desired ratio of carbon to nitrogen items. Items to Avoid Just because a lot of household items can be added does not mean everything should be. Here are a couple of items to avoid adding to your compost heap as they can either damage the balance of the nutrients or not biodegrade at all. 1. Items that Attract Pests This list includes meat products, cooking oil, rice, bread products and milk. They’re just too attractive to pests. Not only that, but these items will make your compost bin smell a whole lot worse than it otherwise would. It’s best to just avoid them. 2. Diseased Plants If your plant died due to fungal or bacterial disease, do not add it to your fertilizer. A compost pile is the perfect breeding ground for these fungi and diseases to thrive and spread. It is best to dispose of these plants elsewhere to prevent the spread of these diseases. 3. Weeds Weeds have a nasty way of thriving rather than decomposing in a pile like this. If you throw weeds with their roots still attached into the compost pile, they tend to reroot themselves and take out the nutrients of your pile that you were saving for your garden. It is best to simply bag these weeds up and let the garbage truck pick them up. 4. Walnuts Walnuts are one of the few food items that can not go into a compost bin. These nuts actually contain a compound that is toxic to some plants, so adding them to your heap can do more damage than good. It’s best to either eat these or toss them. 5. Stickers The stickers found on fruits and vegetables do not biodegrade. Be sure to remove these from any rotting produce before you toss them into your compost bin. Don’t forget to check old skins and shavings for these stickers as well. These are just a few items that are potentially dangerous or otherwise needless to include in your fertilizer. Just use common sense when deciding what to toss into your pile. Be sure to avoid things that don’t break down easily, things that smell or attract unwanted pests, and things that could cause fungus or other diseases to spread to the rest of the pile. Get Composting Now that you have a better idea of what can be added to your composting routine and what you should stay away from, it is time to get started on your own pile. This is a great practice to get cheap fertilizer, but it is also a great way to help the environment. By following these tips, even someone new to composting will be off to a great start in cultivating a healthy compost heap.