A common question that I get is “What can I compost?” Since the answer depends on what type of composting you are doing, I’ll walk through the different types of materials, called feedstocks, and if / how they might be used in compost.
Composting is great form of recycling. If there is another recycling program for the item like glass, metal, plastic, clean cardboard, and paper, it’s best to recycle those through the other program. If there is not another good home for it, there may be an option to compost it.
Tree branches, leaves, weeds, grass clippings, plant parts, vegetable parts, and even old mulch are great things to compost at our facility! We love them at our Balls Ford Road Compost Facility in Manassas, VA and turn them into a great compost. In general, there’s a good phrase to remember: “if it grows, it goes!”
The exception to this rule for yard waste is highly invasive plants. Unfortunately, they should be put into the landfill out an abundance of caution. For example, water chestnuts are highly invasive and have a really hard seed coat. For the vast majority of seeds, our composting process will easily kill the seed so that it won’t grow in the future. The water chestnut seed is so hard that it requires a really high, consistent temperature to be killed and, while our process is close, it’s just not worth the risk.
In home composting, it is usually best to avoid putting any weeds or plants that have gone to seed in your pile. This is because home composting typically doesn’t reach or maintain the temperatures that you need to kill the seed. If you do add them to your compost pile, just be aware that you might be putting weed and plant seeds back into your garden when you use your compost.
Fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, shredded newspaper, AND, at our composting facility in Manassas, VA, any meats, dairy, eggs, bones, shells, fats, and oils. We can take any kind of food: “if it grows, it goes!”
In most all types of home composting, because of the temperature difference and the potential to attract animals, its good to avoid meats and dairies. This is because home composting doesn’t typically get hot enough to kill any potential pathogens. For example, e coli bacteria, can live for about two years. If this is present in your meat (hopefully not!), is home composted, and then used to grow food, it could get passed to you and cause serious illness. It’s not worth the risk. Industrial composting facilities hit temperatures that can kill unwanted pathogens and test finished compost to check for any pathogens.
Manure—poultry, cow, and horse—can make a good compost, especially if they are mixed with bedding like hay and straw.
At Freestate Farms, we do not currently take these compost feedstocks. Livestock is increasingly given pharmaceutical products and I haven’t yet seen enough information that the pharmaceuticals are killed in the composting process so that it’s safe to use on vegetables and fruits. In the interim, I like to err on the side of caution since a lot of customers use our compost for vegetable gardens.
Manure is the "hidden" majority ingredient in a lot of bagged compost available at garden centers around our area in Prince William County so it’s important for people to understand the potential risks so that they can balance that with how they are using the compost and their individual comfort level. I put "hidden" in quotation marks--it's disclosed on the back of the compost bag under the ingredients section, but the front of the compost bag will emphasize other feedstocks.
Human waste can also make a great compost and this is done by some very prominent compost companies! We are not permitted and do not accept any human waste at our composting facility. The composts made with biosolids can be quite good—similarly to manure--it’s just important to understand the potential risks and make sure your comfortable with them.
Food-soiled paper products
Coffee filters, pizza boxes, and food-soiled newspaper are all great composting materials at our site. These can’t be put into other recycling programs and, as carbon based materials, can become a great compost.
Overall, there are a lot of great things that can be composted and we have a nice graphic to help you decide if it’s compostable on our recycling page. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is, “if it grows, it goes!”
We make premium and local compost, mulch, and topsoil in Manassas, VA. They are specially designed to increase the health and productivity of our local soils, and with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden grow good, together. We sell bulk and bagged compost, bulk natural mulches, bulk and bagged dyed mulches, and bulk topsoil.