Have a burning question about compost? Ask a Compost Expert!

Our team member Lynn Fang will be answering questions and posting responses to this page once a month. We will be consolidating questions to prevent redundancy. We will also be choosing one question a month to share community wide via our e-newsletter.

We will not be answering inquiries about starting/joining hubs or programs in this form. To join a hub please visit the Start Community Composting page. Please keep questions to topics relating to the composting process.

Your message will not be answered directly, it will be posted back here at this page for educational purposes. For urgent questions please email info@lacompost.org.

Example: Why does my compost bin smell?

Example: How do I deal with ants surrounding my compost bin?


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Your Questions Answered

Q: He realizado un té de chile con ajo como insecticida natural para mi jardin, a los 5 días el chile y ajo se había fermentando, agarrando un mal olor y atrayendo moscas,
Mi pregunta es si ese mismo chile y ajo descompuesto con mal olor, lo puedo incorporar a mi composta???

2.- ¿Cada cuantos días puedo regar mi composta en un clima tropical (caluroso y húmedo)?

A: (1) Yes, you can put the old chili tea into your compost, your compost will love it! ; (2) If you are in a humid climate you may not need to water your pile - you can do a moisture squeeze test assessment to see if you need to add water to your pile

Q: What about unsalted pistachio shells?

A: Pistachio shells won't hurt the compost pile. Things that are especially hard, like nut shells or stone fruit seeds, may not decompose much in your home compost pile, but it doesn't hurt to throw them in. Even if they don't fully decompose, they help add porosity and air flow to the pile by virtue of being somewhat bulky materials. They can act like a mulch in that sense. Follow that general rule of compost magic - keep a diverse mix of feedstock materials, don't overload your pile with any one thing, and you should be just fine.

Q: Am I able to compost soda can boxes? They're cardboard, but the printing on the outside is rather shiny. My office goes through so many that I'd love to bring them in for composting rather than the landfill.

A: Avoid shiny papers and laser toner, they usually use synthetic polymers to bind the ink or shiny coating to the paper. Paper recycling facilities have to remove the toner from the paper pulp in order to recycle the paper. It's better to put these materials in the paperboard recycling. A little bit may be ok, as long as you don't depend on it as a primary carbon source or overload the pile with it. Personally I prefer putting cardboard in the recycling, unless it is food-soiled cardboard.

Q: Dear Lynn, my compost pile is ALWAYS overrun with pill bugs. They are huge! It doesn’t make sense for me to have a hot pile. What should I do? XO your pal, Delia

A: Pill bugs are our friends. I pay no mind to them, they are everywhere. Make your pile hot, they will come back when it cools. Pill bugs are decomposers, so they are contributing to the composting process. They are capable of taking in heavy metals like copper, cadmium, zinc, and lead, and sequestering them in their bodies. So they can serve as useful indicators of heavy metal pollution.

Q: Hi there! I plan on starting to bring my compost items to this farmers market every Sunday - but this is my first time! I checked out the guide but I have a few questions: Should I include Fruit Pits (mangos)? I read some conflicting info on Onion peels, can I compost those? If you have any other guides I’d love to check them out - I appreciate the help!

A: You can include fruit pits and onion peels, we take all of those things.

Q: I’m beginning saving scraps for composting. Can any shredded paper be composted, or just newspaper? I ask because my office has quite a bit of paper waste that could be shredded and contributed if it will help!

A: For paper, they should be matte (non-shiny), printed with vegetable based inks. So newspaper is best. Office paper printed with laser toner is not ideal, as synthetic polymers are used in the toner to bind the ink to the paper. It's best to recycle office paper!

Q: I'm the owner of a cafe and we're doing our part by switching over to "100% compostable sugarcane fiber straws." These straws, however, still include PLA. I'm told that these "compostable straws" are only able to truly be composted at "commercial compost facilities", but I don't know where in LA that would be. Can you help point me in the right direction?
Thank you!

A: We don't take bioplastics, which would include PLA. These are best sent to a commercial facility. Currently there are no organized collections systems for commercial processing of municipal food waste.