What Not to Compost

Almost all organic material found in and around the average home is appropriate for backyard composting. Here are a few exceptions.

Coal or Charcoal Ashes

Although wood ashes from a wood-burning stove or fireplace can be valuable compost materials, coal ashes and ashes from a charcoal barbecue contain sulfur oxides and other compounds toxic to the soil. Keep these toxic ashes out of the compost pile.

Diseased Garden Plants

Discard any plants that have died or been pulled because they’re diseased. The bacterium, virus, or fungus that caused the disease may survive the composting process and infect the area where you apply the finished compost.

Glossy Paper With Colored Ink

Newsprint, even with color pictures, is an appropriate material for home composting; on the other hand, glossy magazines with color photography are not. The printing industry has made some progress in developing water- or soy-based inks for high-gloss color printing, but most glossy magazines still contain inks that could contribute toxins to the compost pile.

Invasive Weeds

Most weeds are fine additions to the compost heap, but a few exceptions are best disposed of in the trash. Particularly invasive weeds—such as buttercup, morning glory, and quack grass—can survive the low temperatures of a passive pile and live on to infest the composted area. Some weed seeds, such as those of bur clover and cheeseweed, have been known to survive the temperatures of even hot compost piles. The wise course of action is to keep compost free of these tenacious species.

Meat and Meat Products

Exclude meat, meat products, grease, and bones from the compost pile unless it’s hot and carefully managed. See Composting Food Waste for more information.

Pesticide-Treated Plant Material

Exclude grass clippings, weeds, and other plants recently treated with pesticides, unless the plants were soaked by a steady rain after the pesticide application. Although most pesticides break down in the composting process and become harmless, that’s not always the case. Assume that the residual effect of the pesticide will last as long in the compost pile as it would on the targeted plant.

Pet Litter

Do not place cat or dog feces in the compost pile. Cat feces can contain parasites that cause brain and eye diseases in children and unborn infants. A cat, especially an outdoor one, can appear healthy but still carry these microorganisms.

Most dog feces are probably all right to compost, but the feces of an ill animal could transmit disease. Don’t take a chance; discard fecal material.