Compost bins: can you really put everything of organic origin into them?


Lucinda Flynn, from Hurstbridge, is the owner of Going Green Solutions, a local company that sells eco-products.

This is effectively a video version of the article below.

We are one of those families that believes that we really can put everything that has an organic origin into our compost bins , and so our compost gets the lot. On top of the usual food scraps, we throw in natural fibre clothing, straw hats, meat scraps, hair, cotton buds, old feather down quilts, cardboard and even disposable cotton menstrual pads.

But what is the actual end result? As I started to dig out our compost the other day, ready to spread it around the garden, I started discovering some residual items, and thought I’d share them with you.

Our compost results are not perfect – but we are still thrilled with how much we can successfully compost.

Pictured right is one of our beautiful compost bins. We have three, so once one is filled, we can stop adding and give it time for the worms to break it all down.

The first discovery – a wooden spoon. Wood is, of course, biodegradable over time, but not officially ‘home compostable’ because it does not break down in a typical composting time frame. This doesn’t bother us so I just fish the spoon out and chuck it back in for the next round – it is on the way to breaking down already.

This is the plastic stick from a cotton ear bud. We usually only ever use (and compost) the bamboo and cotton ones (of which there is no sign in the compost). At one point, however, we inherited a box of plastic sticked ones and this one has obviously slipped through. All the cotton is gone, leaving the indestructible stick.

Another inadvertent addition is this soy-sauce fish – someone must have thrown in a paper bags with one of these in it. They should be banned really.

Here’s another one a bit like the wooden spoon – a mango seed. We know that it will take a few rounds to compost, but we are still never going to put them anywhere than the compost bin.
Here’s one that surprised me, composted bin bags that we collect our scraps in. I had thought this would all be gone at the same rate as the food scraps, but obviously not. It is ‘almost’ composted and more time would surely do it, so I can live with that; like the wooden spoon and mango seed, back in it goes.
Egg shells go into the same basket – they just need more time that other things to compost. In the case of the eggshells, I am happy to just add the compost with them in it, to the garden beds as is.
This one was an eye opener for us – it took us ages to work out what it actually was. We finally figured out that it was remains of palm leaf plates. Leaf is obviously a biodegradable material but, as this shows, it doesn’t biodegrade very fast. Rather, it’s ended up being more like a mulch that you could lay around your plants. My guess is that the fibre is quite tough (a bit like coconut husks) and not so easily edible by microorganisms, which means it will take a lot longer to be turned into dirt. Again, I’m not bothered by it and will either fish it out and use it as mulch, or just leave it in for the next round.

Here is a bone. I’ll probably leave that in the compost when I lay it in the garden. It’s no different to a rock being in the garden.

This one has been fascinating for me. With three women in the house, we’ve always kept a good stock of Natracare pads, which are completely plastic free, and composted them (I can’t see the difference between composting pads and using blood and bone, which I also use).

Recently, we started trialling Tsuno pads, which are ethically amazing (they are a social enterprise that gives 50% of profits to charities focused on empowering women, in partnership with ‘One Girl’). Their pads are individually packed in a ‘biodegradable plastic sleeve’, but from what I can see, these are not compostable at all. In contrast to the partial breakdown of the green compostable bin bags, I found both wrappers for the pads in the compost plus the absorbent part of the pad. The absorbent part of the pads would presumably have broken down except that they were surrounded in this ‘biodegradable film – this is the same issue as can happen when you try to compost ‘biodegradable disposable’ nappies. One option is to tear open the nappy/pad to compost the absorbent inner and dispose of the outer. But for us – we’ll just go back to using the Natracare pads, of which there is not one trace in my compost.

And last but not least – what happens when you compost natural fibre material thing – clothing, hats, cloth, etc? Often, you’ll be left with just the synthetic thread that was used to hold it together.

Here’s one I found in the compost.

And for my very favourite picture last – here is all that is left of a pair of pants that we added to the compost – just the waist band, zip and inner pockets, which were obviously synthetic. I love how every other part of them has just disappeared and will now be nourishing my veggies!

  8 Responses to “Compost bins: can you really put everything of organic origin into them?”

  1. It is great to hear that someone else puts everything (of organic origin) in their compost bin! Like Lucinda, sometimes the ‘everything system’ just means that, when turning or using the compost, some stuff gets thrown back in for another round (and sometimes another and another and another!). It doesn’t really bother me if it takes a bit longer to decompose, or if it requires a bit of sifting, or if the compost has chunks in it … good things generally take time and it’s all waste reduction in the end!

    We also have what I call a ‘contaminated’ bin. It’s compost that I won’t use on food plants and generally just composts itself down to nothing eventually. But it’s where I put items like paper waste that I’m not entirely sure if it has a plastic coating or not … or the fabric from an op shop t-shirt that never had tags so I’m not quite sure if it’s cotton or not. When I turn the contaminated bin, I usually discover bits of synthetic thread/fabric from the clothes and small sheets of soft plastic from those questionable paper products – the worms have eaten all the paper off and left the film of plastic (which then gets thrown out if unsalvageable or, if I can clean it up, popped into soft plastic recycling). I grow comfrey around the base of the bin with the idea that it will help to clean up some of the nasties that might leach into the surrounding soil.

    • Hi Sammy, that is a really great idea! I love that it gives you even more capacity to ‘trial’ composting things and yet keep them a bit separate so they are easier to sort out afterwards. Thanks for sharing this awesome idea. Lucinda

  2. I put in some pairs of ‘cottontail’ ladies undies and was impressed to find, after not all that long, a very, very fine mesh with the waist and leg elastic. I guess there was also elastane with the cotton fabric.

    • Hi Olwyn,
      That’s a good result – I quite enjoy fishing out threads and elastic – as it reminds me of all the rest of the garment that is no longer there 🙂 Lucinda

  3. This is a great inspiration! Do you also compost gum leaves? I have been looking for more carbon material to balance our compost and we have plenty of gum leaves and bark always falling but the information is a bit confusing about how you can use them in compost. Just curious if it makes it into your compost? Thanks

    • Hi Ally,
      Hmm … I definitely add some gum leaves to the compost bays (the longer term, garden waste compost) … I have never added them to the black bins, but I reckon you could get away with adding some, as long as plenty of other carbon goes in there too. Have you discovered coffee grounds as a source of carbon? Sometimes cabinetmakers also give away free sawdust which would be a great addition

  4. Thank you so much Lucinda.
    I have had similar results in my composting experiences. But now I know some more things NOT to compost.

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