Getting Started: Adding Organic Material

Compost materials are often categorized as either ’greens’ which provide Nitrogen or ’browns’ which provide Carbon. They are also known as wet and dry materials, respectively. Food scraps, green plants, lawn clippings, and tea bags are all examples of ’greens’; while leaves, straw, and twigs are examples of ’browns’. Standard ratios of one to two (1:2) green:brown gives best results and the quickest decomposition. These numbers can be visually approximated.

Manure from herbivorous animals, such as rabbits and chickens makes a great, nitrogenous addition to your pile, especially in winter when it can be used to jump start the process and heat up the pile during the cold months. 

The list below indicates what materials you should and should not add to your home compost for best results. Municipal composting, such as composting provided by the City of Ann Arbor to its residents, can handle a wider variety of items because the compost piles are professionally managed, get much hotter, and are much larger. 

Materials to Add

  • Most food scraps - like vegetables and fruits (no stickers)
  • Cardboard contaminated with food (like pizza boxes)
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Leaves
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Sawdust and wood chips
  • Straw and hay

Materials to Avoid

  • Animal products - dairy and meats
  • Coal
  • Invasive or diseased plants
  • Cooking oils and very greasy foods
  • Wood ash