Composting through the holidays for the first time can lead to a slew of questions. From dealing with even more food waste through this time of year through seasonal changes, your compost pile has changing amounts and changing needs.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Americans waste 25% more food than the rest of the year and that doesn't even account for any Halloween goodies. Knowing ahead of time the four most commonly asked questions can help you get through the holidays with a little less stress and a little less waste in your trash can.

Can I compost candy?

Yes! All candy, from hard sour candy to sweet chocolate bars, can be composted.

First, you will want to remove any non-compostable packaging or wrapping. Then, if your candy is larger than a small business card, you will want to break it into smaller pieces to have it break down more quickly.

Chocolate specifically has been found to help plants grow by containing important nutrients such as calcium and potassium. Chocolate is considered a "brown" compostable material similarly to sawdust or newspaper because of its high potassium content. Because it is a brown material, make sure to add in an equal amount of "green" material such as vegetable scraps or yard trimmings when you add it to your pile.

How can I use fall leaves for longer?

After composting for a while, you will find that it can be hard to find enough brown material, especially during late spring and summer. Dead leaves are one of the best sources for brown material, but can be difficult to find during that time of year.

As the leaves begin to fall around us you can plan ahead now by creating a good storage system. Choose a time to collect your leaves that has allowed them to dry for a couple of days as that makes them easier to work with. Then collect them and store them in a breathable container with a lid.

If you have a large enough area, mesh or chicken wire topped with a weighted-down tarp works particularly well. While some decomposition of leaves will occur, it will be minimal due to the container only being filled with brown material. If you need a smaller storage solution, burlap or potato sacks work well as the material is still breathable.

Can I still compost after the first frost?

Compost is slower in the cold winter months but it can still be active and work well. Those leaves you stored come in handy in winter as a way to insulate your compost, and you will want to keep the top layer covered with a layer of leaves or straw.

Inside the compost, you will want to make sure there is as much air as possible by puffing it up while turning it. If possible, make sure your compost bin has the south side open to maintain the highest heat from sunlight possible. When the temperature begins to warm up again, pay careful attention to your compost's brown material as the moisture of spring can make the compost slimy if there is an imbalance.

Can I compost my decorations or gift wrap?

Some holiday decorations can be composted. If you use any wool or cotton to create a snow effect, that can be broken into small clumps and then composted, just make sure it is not actually made from plastic as that will not break down.

Leaves and needles from trees and wreaths, wilted poinsettias, dry popcorn and potpourri can all be thrown in the compost bin. Plain paper gift wrap and tissues that have no waxy, metallic or glittery surfaces can be shredded and placed in the compost bin as a brown material.

The process of composting slows down in the winter, but that doesn't mean you have to. Knowing the answers to these common questions helps keep you on the go this season without having to stop and search for the answer to each thing. Once you learn it for one holiday season, you'll also be ready for all the holidays to come.

Amy Hartline is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have a recycling question? Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or

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