Composting meat is a controversial topic and there are lots of conflicting opinions on the web.
But fear not, there are ways to compost meat if you are dedicated enough. My favorite method for composting meat is to bokashi ‘compost’ it first, before placing it in my traditional compost pile. I give more information on exactly what this is and how to do it later in this article.
So, can you compost meat? Meat can technically be composted, but only if you take precautions and are aware of the risks. Meat increases the risk of pests and odors in your compost pile. An effective way to compost meat is to bokashi ‘compost’ it, eliminating the risk of smells and unwanted visitors.
Can you compost meat?
The general rule of thumb is that anything that was once living will break down into useful nutrients for the earth. Therefore, yes, meat will break down in a compost pile.
So why do you always see advice warning you off composting meat?
Just because something can be composted doesn’t mean it should be. Adding meat to a compost pile can lead to a myriad of problems that your average backyard composter won’t want to deal with.
The main concerns with adding meat to a compost pile are:
- Meat smells putrid as it breaks down. Meat is extremely high in nitrogen and tends to be broken down by anaerobic bacteria. As anaerobic bacteria work, they produce smelly gases such as hydrogen sulfide. If you weren’t aware, hydrogen sulfide smells of rotten eggs!
- The meat is very attractive to all sorts of pests, including flies, rats, raccoons, and even your dog. If you live somewhere with lots of furry creatures around, think very carefully about composting meat.
- Some people worry that if the meat contains harmful pathogens such as E.Coli, it will contaminate the compost. The risk is pretty low, but it’s still worth mentioning.
- Certain parts of meat (i.e. fat, gristle, and bones) can take a very long time to break down.
All these issues can be overcome with a little forward-thinking and effort, but not everyone is willing to take the risk and therefore avoids composting meat.
If you only have a small compost pile, I would lean more towards not composting meat because the smaller your pile, the more potential there is for something to go wrong.
However, composting meat traditionally isn’t the only option. Alternative methods include bokashi. Bokashi is an easy way of ‘composting’ meat without worrying about any extra maintenance.
I go into this in more detail later on. But first, a more detailed explanation as to why meat smells so rotten in your compost pile.
Why does meat smell as it breaks down?
Meat is extremely high in nitrogen, and so bacteria go mad for it. To give you an idea of exactly how high, vegetable scraps have a carbon:nitrogen (c:n) ratio of around 25:1, while meats are closer to 5:1.
The fact bacteria love meat might sound good, but in practice, it’s not so great. Here’s a video explaining why in more detail:
As the bacteria in your compost pile works away on the meat, the available oxygen is quickly depleted and anaerobic bacteria overtake the aerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria produce putrid-smelling gases that leave the whole pile stinking.
As well as smelling bad, an anaerobic pile will compost much slower than an aerobic pile.
Cooked vs raw meat in compost
Cooked meat will rot down faster than uncooked meat and is, therefore, easier to deal with in your compost pile.
Cooked meat is also less likely to be harboring bad bacteria. It’s often recommended that you cook your meat before composting to ensure any bad bacteria is killed.
How to compost meat
If you’re an experienced composter or willing to put a bit of effort into your compost, then you can consider composting meat as long as you take precautions.
It might not be without problem, but after a while you’ll start to learn how much meat your pile can handle.
There are a few different techniques you can use to compost meat. You can put it in your normal compost pile, you can bury it, or you can use bokashi.
Using bokashi to compost meat
The best way to compost meat is to use bokashi composting. Bokashi is a quick and easy method of composting meat without putting in much extra effort. It’s also suitable for small residential compost bins.
Bokashi is an anaerobic fermentation method. You put your food waste into a bokashi bin along with some effective microorganisms (EM), wait two weeks, and then open the bin to find fermented scraps. The system can easily and odorlessly deal with meat, fish, dairy, and fats. All things you’re often advised to avoid with traditional composting.
Once the scraps have been fermented you can place them in your traditional compost pile where they’ll break down in no time.
I recommend the Bokashi Living bokashi starter kit. It includes everything you need to get started. Having two bins is really useful because while one is fermenting you can carry on filling the other one up.
In traditional compost
Here’s some advice on how to go about composting meat in a traditional compost pile:
- Only compost a small amount of meat. Only a tiny percentage of your total pile should be made up of meat. The other ingredients in your pile will help balance out any issues at this ratio.
- Bury the meat in the middle of the pile. The middle of the pile is where the most activity is, meaning the meat will be broken down faster. Also, the more compost around the meat, the less likely it is that scavengers will smell it.
- To prevent anaerobic bacteria from taking over the pile, make sure you keep it well aerated. This can be achieved via turning or through a built-in aeration system in your bin. When turning your bin be careful not to overexpose the meat.
- Add extra carbon to your bin to counteract the mass of nitrogen introduced by the meat. Some high carbon materials include wood chips or paper products. Wood chips will take a while to break down, but they’ll also help aerate the pile by preventing it from becoming too compacted.
- Scavenger-proof your pile by covering it in wire mesh or using a contained compost bin.
- If you’re worried about pathogens, you need to ensure your compost gets hot enough to kill them. I have another article covering how to heat up compost, but one easy way is to insulate the pile. This stops heat from escaping. You can monitor the temperature with a compost thermometer (link to amazon).
An easy way to implement several of these tips is to buy a suitable compost bin. The Jora tumbler (link to Amazon) is a great bin for composting meat.
It’s a tumbler so it’s easy to keep the compost aerated, it’s enclosed and raised off the ground making it off-limits for most critters and it has built-in insulation. The insulation is so good I recommend it in my article on the best compost bins for winter.
Another option is to bury your meat. Dig a hole in your garden, preferably somewhere you plan to plant on later, and bury the meat.
The more meat you’re planning to bury, the deeper you should dig the hole. I would aim for at least a foot deep. That way it’s less likely to be dug up by curious animals.
Once buried, the meat will start to decompose, and after a few months will have disappeared. Anything you plant will benefit from the nutrients that the meat has released, just as if you were to incorporate finished compost into the soil.
To save you digging holes every day, you can freeze your spare meat until you have a good amount for burying.
Can I put meat in my worm bin?
You’ll find lots of advice telling you that you shouldn’t put animal products in your worm bin because the worms won’t like it.
But the worms not liking it doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually break it down – they will. So technically, yes, you can put meat in your worm bin as long as you’re aware of the potential issues and how to avoid them.
The problems you’ll encounter are very similar to traditional compost.
The meat will start to smell, your bin will become majorly more attractive to pests, and you risk introducing harmful pathogens into your compost.
Burying the meat deep in the worm bin and adding some extra bedding on top will help prevent smells and pests. Only feeding the worms a small bit of meat at a time will also help.
If you’re inexperienced, composting inside, or only have a small system, I would advise against trying to compost meat. But if you have a lot of experience and a large outside system, you can successfully feed meat to your worms as long as you follow the above precautions.