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  • Writer's pictureThe Collected Seed

Brown compostables from around the house

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Compost leaves they say. They're a great "brown" they say. I'm in central Oklahoma which isn't exactly know for dense forests. That's not to say that we're tree-less, because we're not. Leaves are available, but not en masse. Like many suburban lots there aren't enough trees to produce the amount of brown I'll need to compost year-round.

Then, in blows the other part of the problem (pun intended), our Oklahoma wind. No slight to Chicago, but Oklahoma City is the windier of the two and when fall arrives the wind tends to take the leaves with it. One has to stay on top of raking and have some way of enclosing raked leaves to hang onto them for long.

To cope, I found other sources around my house, mostly in the recycling. Here are some of the things that used to hit the recycling bin that are now found in my compost.

Toilet paper/Paper towel rolls

I looked at these and wondered if they are compostable! D’uh. They're cardboard! Thank goodness Google doesn't call you out for searching something so obvious. If you're not saving them for a school or craft project, toss these in the compost.


Paper towels

I try to limit our use of paper towels but they're such a staple of modern life that my family uses more than I would like - especially when a puppy gets ahold of a new multi-pack stuck just inside the front door while unloading groceries! Admittedly, there are some things that need to be cleaned with a paper towel so they can be disposed of in the garbage, but when paper towels are used for drying hands or wiping up common household spills (remember water, juice, and wine are okay for compost) they can hit the compost, not the curb.


Paper napkins

If you're invited over for dinner at my house, I hope you're okay using a paper towel as a napkin because that's what you're most likely to get. However, when we do break out the paper napkins, they go in the compost afterward.


Newsprint mailers

I think the newspaper is an obvious source for brown compost material but I get quite a few mailers printed on newsprint. They're usually just mass mailers without PID (Personally Identifiable Data) so they don't need to be shredded, just torn, before hitting the compost.


Shredded bills

This one gets tricky because it adds some work to the shredding process. You'll need to remove any inserts printed on glossy paper and envelopes with the clear window. Shredding then composting is a nice option if you're still using the less-than-secure strip shredder. No one will be able to retrieve your PID (Personally Identifiable Data) once it's compost!


Brown/Craft paper

Whether it's from paper bags, crafting projects, or came as packing material in your latest Amazon order, brown paper can be composted. It's most environmentally sound to reuse these for as long as possible before composting, but once they're no good for toting things in or wrapping presents... tear them up and toss them in the compost.


Expired pantry staples

Expired flours, cornmeal, breakfast cereal, and whole grains like rice or quinoa can be added to the compost. Paper bags like those used for flour can also be composted but leave out coated cardboard boxes like the ones above.


Dryer lint

In my house, we collect lint in a small trashcan next to the dryer. I once emptied the entire thing (about a gallon's worth) into the compost and it matted into a big ball, similar to how leaves can mat. After that I learned to add this a little at a time, not all at once.


Bread, crackers and baked goods

Whether it's the heels or it's gone stale or moldy, many baked goods can be composted. Salt could be a concern with large quantities, which is why I wouldn't collect expired bread from a bakery. However, a few bits here and there don't hurt when offset by the bulk of many other browns.)



This is one of my largest sources of brown material but I put it at the bottom of the list because it seems the most obvious. You don't need to sign up for a subscription to get newspapers. Ask a few neighbors or hit up the Nextdoor app with a request.

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