Meat in Compost?

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to compost.  I’m not a composting expert, and don’t want to pass myself off as one, but I do understand the basics and I like to think of myself as a proponent of composting.  Having said that, there is a composting practice which I’m asked about frequently that I never know quite how to answer.  Should you put meat into your compost?

The easy answer to the question of whether meat belongs in compost is that it is an organic material which will break down just fine along with all of the vegetable matter in your compost.  But there’s more to it than that.  I’ve been to some areas that specifically forbid meat in compost because of the vermin that it will attract.  And it’s true, at least to some extent, that meat attracts vermin.  Rats, raccoons, and other mammals will go after meats.  It’s the high protein content.  How can they resist?  While leaves and grass can have as much as 4% nitrogen, meats will typically have between 5 and even as high as 16% nitrogen.  Of course they go for it! 

Besides the vermin issue, if raw meat is placed in a compost pile it tends to stink, especially if it isn’t mixed into the pile.  Cooked meat (table scraps) breaks down a little bit more slowly than raw meat and doesn’t stink as much.  Because of the high nitrogen content of meat it will get a compost pile to compost a little bit faster.  Personally, I’m in favor of using meat in compost piles as long as you’re careful to turn the pile frequently to keep it inside the pile where it can’t do as much harm.  If you’re a casual composter then you might want to avoid using meat because of the potential problems.  So there it is – in my mind the answer to whether you should put meat in compost or not comes down to how closely you like to monitor your pile, whether there are laws against it in your area, and also the likelihood of mammals getting into it where you live.  Also, at most meat should be a small component of a compost pile — not the main component.

9 thoughts on “Meat in Compost?”

  1. Last month I went on a compost facility tour arranged by Cornell Cooperative Extension and a few other organizations. Several places did “Mortality Composting” to dispose of carcasses and blood. It’s not the usual compost pile, the carcasses are put a thick bed of wood chips and then thickly covered with more wood chips.

    “It is recommended to reuse finished compost as the base for the next pile. The remaining bones add structure to the base material for improved aeration. The composted material can also be used on hay, corn, winter wheat, tree plantations and forestland. Applying this compost to “table-top” crops directly consumed by people is not recommended at this time. In the future, testing and quality assurance standards may enable expanded uses or sale of the finished compost product. Nutrients in carcass and butcher residue composts are higher in N, P and K than compost containing only plant material, giving it more fertilizer value on and off farms.”

  2. I have always been concerned that introducing meat and dairy into my compost might also produce pathogens which I shouldn’t put into my veggie garden. My pile doesn’t get very hot and consequently I worry that such pathogens wouldn’t be killed off. Is this an unfounded worry?

  3. Hi Kristi. No, it is not an unfounded worry. If your
    compost doesn’t get very hot then there is the potential for certain pathogens to linger. For example, E coli can last for 2 years if improperly composted (though I’d hope there was no E coli in anything you threw in the compost in the first place).

  4. Seattle now allows meat in our green recycling barrel, where it’s taken for composting elsewhere. It’s nice that we don’t have to throw away chicken scraps, etc. any more. I don’t buy compost so I don’t know what the finished product is like, but I am curious…

  5. We always threw meat in the compost . . . until our major rat infestation. Hearing them gnaw at our floorboards night after night and having them destroy any number of containers designed to keep them out made us ultra-cautious.

  6. I’m in agreement- but I live in an area where norway rats are not frequent intruders. I don’t turn my compost pile and instead use a truly disgusting technique of throwing everything in large garbage container (at least 32 gal.) and covering each weekly deposit of kitchen waste with wood chips or other material that will compost without attracting flies. The garbage accumulates for up to nine months until I run out of containers and then I dump them all into a pit- that’s the disgusting part- smells like rotting corpses.

    At this point the garbage is partly composted and crawling with anaerobic thriving red worms. I cover it all with a lot of wood chips and loam and let it set for a few more months and it’s ready to go-mostly digested by a huge population of common earth worms by then. Why wouldn’t rodents be as attracted to them as raw meat? If I was worried about E-coli I just wouldn’t use it for vegetables that sit on the ground and are eaten unskinned and raw- but I don’t worry about it. I’ve only heard of food poisoning in the vegie garden coming from raw, fresh manure and that was in an ag business setting of large scale. I figure if it represented a real threat I’d read of people getting sick from poor composting practices on a regular basis.

  7. We usually don’t compost meat products, but we are having an outdoor wedding on our property with the goal to have little to no trash/recycling and everything reused or composted. This means that plates are compostable and will potentially have steak and chicken scraps. This will be a one-time large load of meat products into our compost bin in the beginning of September. The bin is far from the house, large and open to the air but protected on four sides and does get hot. Is this a bad idea?

  8. Thank you for explaining. My local waste collection company sent around a flyer “reminding” us to put all meat, bones, dairy, waste as well a cardboard with waste on it such as a gooey pizza box into our green waste can. I was shocked as I had always heard and read that compost piles should be green waste only. I was temped to write them a “nasty-gram” reminding them of the well known rule about never putting meat, cooked or raw, dairy, etc. in compost piles, for health reasons especially, but you saved me from embarrassment and gave me a whole new understanding of all composting rules. I do compost most of my own yard waste and will continue to do so, but I will not put meat in mine. I will pass that honor on to Waste Management. I just keep thinking about how my green waste container will start to smell in warm weather after a week in the sun waiting for pick up. I guess I could freeze it until the day of pick up, but that seems silly.

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