What Can Go in the Compost? Here Is Our Ultimate Guide

By Sophie Hirsh | Image source: Istock

The longer you’ve been living a zero-waste or sustainable lifestyle, the easier composting gets. But at first, it can be a bit overwhelming — suddenly, so many things that you used to put in the garbage or even the recycling bin can now go in the compost pile. I remember when I first found out that paper could be composted, my mind was blown!

A rule of thumb for composting is that pretty much anything that comes from nature is compostable — since it came from nature, it can return back into nature. However, if you’re composting at home — whether you have a backyard compost setup, a worm bin, or anything else — certain things may not break down in those settings. For example, anything made from plant-based bioplastic can typically only break down in commercial or industrial compost environments. 

Composting is such an important and easy way to reduce waste. The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash every day, according to the EPA — that’s about 1,600 pounds per person each year. That number can significantly be reduced by simply putting all of your organic waste in the compost where it will return to nature, instead of in the trash, where it will take years to break down (while releasing greenhouse gases in the process).

What can go in the compost?

Here’s a list of items that will break down in pretty much any compost setting.


  • Fruits and vegetables, and their peels, pits, etc.
  • Nuts and nut shells
  • Seeds
  • Grains
  • Beans and tofu or tempeh
  • Bread, pasta, baked goods, and snack foods
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags that are certified compostable

Basically, all foods — except for certain animal products — will break down in a home composting setting. However, many people opt not to put meat, animal bones, and cheese in their compost bins, because they will emit a smell as they rot and attract garden pests. However, many commercial composting settings will accept these items.