Since I began working at the Solid Waste District last year, I have been more and more interested in what people throw away— even more so when I hear that a large percentage of what makes it to the landfill is made up of paper and food waste.

These are two of the items that feed and build good compost piles. I wonder why people aren’t just composting these items instead of adding them to the mounds and mounds of garbage where they will take so much longer to decompose. Even then, the nutrients they offer will be wasted. It is highly doubtful someone will ever grow a garden on top of a landfill site. But, then again, you never know.

Meanwhile, I will continue separating my waste into recycling, composting and whatever is left over trash. There are so many things you can compost that you may be overlooking.

At home I used to put just my scraps from prepping dinner (carrot tops, apple cores, peels, etc.) and my leaves from the yard into my compost pile. After my first batch that resulted in amazing fertilizer for my garden, I started adding more items to my mix.

Those include:

• All the weeds I pull from my planting areas go into the pile. I just make sure if they have gone to seed that I remove the seed heads and put those in my burn pile.

• All my food scraps from before and after dinner go into the pile — excluding meat and dairy items. I feed those two items to my chickens.

Unless you are using a thermometer for your compost, you won’t know if your pile is truly getting hot enough to sterilize your compost. There is a chance the pathogens that are in the dairy and meat items while breaking down are dangerous to your garden and such — so I just leave them out and let the chickens get an extra treat.

When I clean my stalls or the pans beneath the rabbit houses I add the droppings from them into my pile as well. My leaves and grass clippings go in there too. About mid-summer my pile is usually overgrowing the area that I have set aside for composting. But that could be because I am adding my tea bags, all of my paper towels that we use (my kids love paper towels even though I always keep a few dish towels on the counters), tissues also go in there and now this year I even added the hair that I shaved from the goats when I was giving them their summer haircuts for the fair.

I love to always find other items that can go in there as well. Coffee grounds, dryer lint, sawdust, human hair, cardboard (just cut into smaller pieces), old homework, peanut shells, paper bags, household dust that you sweep up, you get the idea. The possibilities are endless. You can even clear out your freezer of all that freezer burnt food that you have been trying to figure out what to do with for years.

There are items that you shouldn’t compost. Human and animal feces from animals that consume meat shouldn’t ever be added to your pile. Plants that had fungal or bacterial issues are best left out so that you don’t contaminate your new compost. Walnuts are bad because of the chemical juglone that they release making them toxic to most other plants.

The tricky one is rice. You don’t want to add raw rice because just like the reasoning for not throwing it at weddings anymore. We don’t compost it either in fear that birds will eat it and basically explode their stomachs once the rice hydrates and swells. Cooked rice you will want to leave out as well because it almost always breeds bacteria that you don’t want to mix in with your soil. Luckily there are a gazillion recipes out there for making things with your leftover rice.

I encourage you all to take a deeper look at your trash. Look around in there and see just how much you can relocate, whether it be recycling or composting, and you will be amazed at the reduction in what you will be sending to the landfill. If you want, I am always willing to throw on a pair of gloves and help you. But for that you will need to contact me at the Solid Waste District at 326-0014. I would love to hear all the other great items that you all have found a way to compost at home.

Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at sachabrittburns@yahoo.com.

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