Day 133: Backyard Compost Etiquette

compost-veggiesI’ve been receiving some composting questions as of late, and, not being a compost expert myself, I did a little online research and eventually decided to go to the source of all things compostable: the compost hot line.

Yes, here in Vancouver, we have a compost hot line where you can ask your burning compost questions and gardening experts will give you the dirt on how to turn your fruit and  vegetable kitchen scraps into black gold.

A Little Background

compostWe have a regular, backyard compost which is really just a large container of some sort (mine is black plastic, but it could be wood) in which you layer your kitchen scraps with other material such as dead leaves little by little.  You turn the compost regularly to add oxygen, and, over time with the help of a few worms, it breaks down into soil.

Ideally, you are looking for the perfect mix of carbon and nitrogen in your compost that will produce a great fertilizer.  I found a great compost calculator that will help you get your C:N ratio correct.  If you are intimidated by calculating C:N ratios, don’t worry, we have 6 people throwing in kitchen scraps at random, and our composter still seems to do a good job.

You can also get a worm composter which is a  much smaller container with a lid and some holes in the bottom filled with, you guessed it, red wiggler worms.  It can even be kept indoors (great for apartments).  You do have to be careful not to overfeed or underfeed the worms or give them moldy veggies.

My sister has one of these and reports that she and her roommates often have too much compost for her worms, and she has to bike her excess food waste over to her friend’s back yard composter.  I’d guess one worm composter could serve 2 people maximum.

If you want to be composting things like meat, check out the bokashi bin which is slightly more elaborate and expensive option, but worth it if you’re not a veggie.


snotCan you compost tissues?  This was the burning question that spurred this post.  We definitely compost paper products, but there is some talk about how copious amounts of snot can breed bacteria that can transfer to your soil and somehow leach into your veggies.

The Official Word

telephoneAccording to Janice at the compost hot line, they don’t recommend lots of paper scraps in your compost at all, but she agreed that plain tissues are probably ok.  She recommended that your flush snotty tissues because she said they couldn’t guarantee that the temperatures in a backyard composter would get hot enough to kill bacteria like an industrial composter would.

Hmm, maybe I should be throwing them in with my yard waste to go the the big industrial, city compost.  (just kidding, I know that’s illegal)

Over at Chili Chews, where much research was conducted, a decision has been made to keep the tissues out of the composter.

Despite this great advice, here at the Clean Bin Project, we’ve decided to live on the edge and compost our snot unless we are terribly sick in which case flushing is acceptable.  We figure we’re ok, because we’re following the lead of people like burbanmom and ecogeek, who are popping tissues in their composters like crazy.  They seem pretty healthy so far.

If you want to be really safe, you could just use your compost on ornamental gardens and not on your veggie patch.   By the way, the Vancouver compost hotline is 604-736-2250 or check them out at



Filed under composting

4 responses to “Day 133: Backyard Compost Etiquette

  1. I just started a backyard compost pile this summer. Living in Wisconsin, I am not sure how it will go this winter. I am hoping Santa will bring me worms for Christmas so I can compost in the basement.

    I tagged your blog in my Monday post. Check it out to see what it’s about.

  2. Jon

    I, too, have been looking into this problem lately. Found about the same mixture of reports online. Personally I don’t have many qualms about just tossing the odd tissue in the bin (maybe not if I’m really sick). But for the extra-cautious I have an idea (I leave the research up to others):

    If you generate a large number of tissues in a short time, how about soaking them in a bucket of boiling water and plant-based soap for a while? It seems that would suffice to kill of most of the germs, and that maybe the composting process would help with the mopping-up.

    Of course, this generates at least two problems: 1) boiling water requires energy, 2) it’s probably not a good idea to store a whole bunch of tissues together for a long time until you have enough for this to be efficient. The first should be no problem if you’re using some form of clean power (or if your wood-burning stove radiates a lot of heat). As to the second, it just seems common sense that you don’t want to keep all your snotty rags together for a month, especially in some place like a pantry.

    Still, I think with a little bit of experimentation and imagination you could come up with a good process that would remove all doubt from the snot-composting debate. It might be worth a shot.

  3. Jen CleanBin

    I think you’re right Jon, the boiling water would probably do the trick, although filling your house with snot steam could be a bit unsavory. I laugh at the image of someone hoarding their tissues until they get enough to fill a pot and boil them over their wood burning stove – how’s that for fulfilling the image of crazy eco-freaks! Thanks for your ideas!

  4. Sharon

    Whenever I’m sick, I just use cotton hankerchiefs and throw them in the washing machine with my laundry when they get dirty. No waste there!

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