Composting dates back to around 2320 BC when it was discovered that compost could fertilise and improve soil. Until recently, the general practice of home composting seemed all but lost as the Western world focussed on skill specialisation, lifestyle convenience, consumerism and building an ever-growing number of landfills.
Fortunately, with growing awareness of climate change and global environmental problems, more people are taking matters into their own hands and incorporating sustainable lifestyle habits to address these issues. Composting is one simple way people are taking action and responsibility for the waste they create. By composting, people drastically reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills thereby mitigating climate change (since rotting waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide).
Nature doesn’t waste and neither should we. Anything naturally derived, whether in the original form of a plant or animal, can technically be ‘recycled’ through the use of a home compost bin.
Aside from the usual kitchen scraps, here are 10 things you can throw into your compost bin, some of which may surprise you:
1. Fabric made from 100% natural fibres
If the fabric is made completely from natural fibres such as cotton, hemp, silk and wool, these can be recycled. We generally don’t compost any clothing that is good enough to be donated to charity. When clothing has been used to the point that no mending can save it, we cut these up into rags to use as cleaning cloths. Once they have been used to the point where we no longer need them, we will compost them. We only compost fabrics and materials that are sourced from 100% natural fibres.
2. Wine cork stoppers
Cork is derived from the cork oak tree which grows abundantly in some areas of the world, including the Mediterranean region of Europe and Northwest Africa. Portugal and Spain are the biggest producers of cork, roughly 80% of the world’s cork comes from these countries. Since cork is natural-derived it can be composted. The key to composting cork wine stoppers is to cut it up so that it breaks down much easier when thrown in the compost bin. Be wary of plastic cork stoppers which perform the same function but aren’t the real deal. The best way to discern whether the cork is real or not is by noticing the texture and colour when cutting it. It shouldn’t be a uniform colour and it will also feel a little like wood.
Strange as it may seem to be, you can throw nails into the compost bin.
Whether it’s hair from your hair brush or pet hair, these can go into the compost bin as well.
While we try to grow as much as we humanly can from seed, it’s just impossible to do so with the amount of fruit our orchard and wild mango trees produce. While we leave much of the fallen fruit to just rot on the ground, we do collect some of the fruit from garden paths and walkways to prevent people from stepping on one and accidently slipping and injuring themselves. We haven’t had any issues with composting seeds, even from stone fruits; if you are composting properly, temperatures should get hot enough to kill the seeds. The only issue we find is that it takes a little longer to break down, but eventually they do break down. Another of our workarounds is that we tend to spread these fruits across several compost bins so as not to overload one compost bin (there are roughly six compost bins on site) and doing it this way we find that don’t have any problems.
6. Coffee grounds
If you make your own coffee at home, don’t throw these in the trash. You can do so much with coffee grounds such as make your own body or facial scrub. But if you’re not interested in upcycling it, you can throw it in the compost bin.
After weeding around your footpaths and veggie gardens, you can just throw the weeds into your compost bin; that’s if you haven’t decided to make a weed tea instead!
8. Compostable packaging
More businesses are using compostable packaging than ever before in an effort to become more sustainable. Compostable packaging is made from a number of plant-based materials including corn starch, wood pulp and palm leaf. While there is still an ongoing debate about just how ‘green’ compostable packaging is, the consensus is that in the right compost environment it should break down.
9. Pencil shavings
While many people assume pencils are still made from lead, they aren’t. Companies stopped used lead in pencils in the 1950s and by 1978, it was banned entirely in the United States. Lead pencils actually contain graphite (a form of carbon) and thus pencil shavings are safe to pop into the compost bin.
Good, healthy compost is a mix of the right ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ (check out our basic guide on how to compost here) and leaves make the perfect ‘brown’ layer. So if you’re tidying the front garden or backyard and have some leaves, add these to your compost bin.
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All images taken by author.