Avoid the Compost Nightmare: How to Deal With Meat and Dairy

Before you start throwing EVERYTHING into you composter, we should probably pump the brakes just a tiny bit.  Technically everything that comes from nature can go back, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy or pleasant to do.  You can compost meat and dairy, however it is a little more involved and it honestly depends on how committed you are.

What are the down sides?

There are a few downsides to composting meat and dairy that you’ll have to be prepared for.  Firstly, the smell.  HOLY COW the smell.  Have you ever left a jug of milk in your car or accidently went on vacation without cleaning out your fridge? 

I can’t be the only one that is that unlucky.

The smell of decomposing meat and dairy is…a lot. 

If you’re throwing it into your composter, you’ll have to brave the bouquet of smell every time you open the lid.  If you live in tight quarters, keep your neighbors in mind.  They may be a bit grumpy with you if you’re stinking up their back yard as well. 

To add to this point, you will definitely want a lid.  Meat and dairy is going to attract the local scavengers.  An open-air compost bin is going to attract rats, mice, raccoons and other wildlife to your backyard.  If you think you’re in the clear if you have a compost tumbler, keep in mind that racoons have thumbs and are terrifyingly smart.  Most likely, you’re going to have to tamper proof your composter.

The big concern (at least for me)

What about salmonella and other foodborne bacteria? 

Yes, you should be aware of the potential of foodborne bacteria being an issue if you decide to compost animal products.  How do you avoid this? 


Some recommendations include cooking all your food product before you throw it in the compost.  Others recommend that you need to make sure your compost reaches 140-160F for at least a week to kill off any potential harmful bacteria. 

How do I compost it?

I’m not saying DON’T compost meat and dairy.  I’m saying, it’s going to be more involved and be prepared.  There are some good suggestions if you are on a path to zero waste or want to compost the difficult stuff.

Dig it and Forget it

Honestly, one suggestion you might consider is to bury it.  I know, I’m not giving you a link to some great contraption to buy.  If you have the property to be able to trench compost and the sheer will, it might be a good option for you.  I remember my mother taking fish scraps and guts to her garden after a big family dinner.  She would trench down and bury the fish along side the plants.  Within a couple weeks, I could walk out and see EXACTLY where the fish had been buried, because the nearby plants had gotten gigantic. 

If you do decide you’re going to bury your meat and dairy scraps, make sure the hole is a couple feet deep and don’t leave it open for the wildlife to find.  To cut down on the digging, throw your scraps into bags in the freezer until you’ve accumulated enough to justify a trip. 

If digging holes in your backyard seems a little too much for you, then you are not alone.  There are a couple of other options.

Invest in a tamper proof composter

There are several options available, including plans for a DIY version, but the main focus is it needs to keep the critters out.  Once you’ve got the composter, You’ll need to keep it aeriated and hot.  This will help break down the animal products and kill of the potential bacteria.  You can add worms to help with this or monitor temperature and add browns.  If you’re nervous about the bacteria, just use the compost for your ornamental flowerbeds and trees!

Invest in a Bokoshi Composter

A bokoshi composter is an interesting option.  It uses bokosi bran and a specific air tight container to break down food scraps (including animal products) quickly.  When I say quickly, It can break down a full composter bucket in approximately a week!  Is it as easy as it sounds?  Things are rarely as easy as they sound.  There are entire books dedicated to this composting method and troubleshooting issues you may run into.   

What are the benefits to adding meat and dairy product to my compost?

There are benefits to adding meat and dairy products to your compost.  Your plants will most likely love it!  Meat and dairy products are energy rich and the bones can add important minerals like calcium and phosphorus back into the soil.  We buy bone meal for our roses, well now you can make your own.

What is the easiest (laziest) way to compost animal products?

Now you’re speaking my language!  As much as I love the idea of diving right in and composting EVERYTHING, it is going to overwhelm me.  I want to be able to stick to the sustainability habits that I start so I’m aware of what I’m able to handle before I commit. 

There isn’t really a super easy option in my opinion.  Sorry guys.  It’s going to be more involved than what you’re used to, which is why most people discourage the practice.  It’s going to depend on your level of commitment and your personal habits and lifestyle.  If you’re in tight quarters, in an apartment or have a small back yard, I’d do some serious research into the bokoshi composter.  It doesn’t tend to smell and it is compact enough to keep on your patio.  If you have a big back yard, I’d probably consider a combination of trench composting and a tamper proof tumbler that is set a good distance away from your back porch. 

You see what I mean when I say composting animal products is more involved than what most people are willing to do.  We are all on different paths and some of us barely remember to pay the electric bill, so adding complexity to our lives is the absolute last thing we can deal with.  On the other hand, some of us are on a passionate path to zero waste.  No one said this path is going to be convenient, but it is a worthwhile pursuit.

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