Why Can’t You Compost Meat?

Why Can’t You Compost Meat?

♪♪♪ If you have a composting service at work or
school, you might have noticed an odd pattern. They can take as many apple cores and paper
towels as you care to give them — but they will not accept meat or dairy. And if you compost at home, you might avoid
adding these things to your pile. But the problem isn’t that it’s hard to
break these things down. The problem is that it’s easy — too easy. Composting is a way to convert things like
food scraps and yard trimmings into fertilizer, instead of sending those things to landfills. So it might seem annoying that you can’t
toss all your leftovers in. And it turns out you can—if you’re careful. Some of the problems with composting meat are practical. It can attract pests, and you probably don’t
want to have to fight off a bunch of rats and raccoons in your own backyard. Plus, some folks worry about disease-causing
bacteria being able to grow in home compost piles. But the solution there is just to make sure
the pile reaches a high enough temperature to kill those pathogens off. Temperature is a super important factor
in composting anyhow — one any home composter should be keeping an eye on. But the weirdest reason it’s tough to compost
meat and dairy is how delicious soil microbes find animal protein. And even though composting is all about getting
friendly soil organisms to break stuff down for us, we don’t want them to get too excited. Good composting relies on the ratio of two elements: carbon and nitrogen. Carbon makes up the chemical foundation for
practically all of life’s favorite molecules, including proteins. But proteins also contain a lot of nitrogen. This means that animal products, which are
more densely packed with proteins than veggies, contain more nitrogen. Experts have determined that the best ratio
of carbon to nitrogen in compost is somewhere between twenty and thirty to one. Veggie scraps are generally in that sweet
spot at twenty-five to one, but something like a chicken carcass is more like five to
one. And when bacteria see all that nutritious
nitrogen in a compost pile, they go a little bonkers. They start to grow really fast. That uses up oxygen, and when the bacteria
use up all the oxygen in the pile, that favors the growth of other bacteria that don’t
need oxygen to live. Basically, the pile switches to anaerobic,
or oxygen-free, decomposition. And the chemical products of this process
are very smelly. Like hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten
eggs. So if you just casually toss your meat and
cheese into your compost pile, you’ll probably end up with a slimy, putrefied mess instead
of lovely fertilizer. And putrefied compost can actually contain
chemicals that are toxic to plants — though you might be able to salvage it if you dry
it out and try again. To avoid taking those extra steps, expert
composters might add extra wood chips or paper products to the pile, since they have a lot
of lignin — a tough component of plant cell walls which doesn’t contain any nitrogen
at all. Bacteria can still eat lignin-packed materials
— so they just slow down those overly- enthusiastic microbes. And if you really want to compost meat at
home, you could plan ahead. One way is to use a method known as bokashi,
which relies on anaerobic processes on purpose. Basically, you add cultures of friendly anaerobic
bacteria instead of bad, smelly ones. Once things like meat scraps have been treated
with the bokashi method, they can be added to a compost pile with less risk of the whole
thing going stinky. So just because your municipal compost service
won’t take meat, that doesn’t mean it can’t be composted — you just have to know how to rein in your bacterial buddies. Thanks for asking, and thanks to our patrons
for helping us bring you these answers. You guys are the best. If you want to learn more about joining our
amazing community of supporters, you can head over to patreon.com/scishow. ♪♪♪

100 thoughts on “Why Can’t You Compost Meat?

  1. We use to mulch chicken manure for 2 or 3 years before using it as fertilizer. My dad said otherwise it was to "hot" and would burn the plants. Now, mind you, this is the man the told me pea vine grew becauce a bear had pee'd there. When, at 6, he told me the white crystals on the winter trees were called hoar frost, I told him I wasn't repeating that in front of mom or the aunties or a teacher. So "nice try!" Even though my older cousin confirmed authenticity, like the word "damn" i thought i shouldn't push my luck.
    So, is this something my dad was messing with me on, or is a similar or oposite process going on with the meat.

    PS There has been episodes of your show that tackled subjects my dads sense of humor. . . corrupted? My husband says he can always tell by me watching intently and muttering, "son-of-a-bitch". I attribute my long legs to the fact he was constantly pulling them. Really i should be much taller

  2. "2 parts brown to 1 part green keeps everything smelling fresh and clean!" This is a good ratio of compost feed stocks to prevent odors.

  3. Even better. Only buy the amount needed and finish it before it gets bad. Why the fyluk throw away food. Have too much donate it. Not for compost but to people or animal

  4. Black Soldier Fly Larvae. The fastest way to compost ALL leftovers, including meat and dairy. BSFL are not only voracious, they are self harvesting (great for domestic fowl or pork, or insectivorous wild birds), and eliminate the larvae of houseflies, fruit flies, or any other insect foolish enough to try to share their food bin. Their bin needs to be kept ideally in the low eighties, but their rapid voracious eating (their own weight in 12 hrs under ideal conditions) will generate some heat themselves.

  5. My city has a green bin program that allows all food scraps and pet waste as well as lawn and garden waste in the bin. They take it away to a special building and noone has to worry about it after that (except that we pay too much for it)

  6. I compost to my backyard. Cold compost, my chickens get whatever they want to eat, the rest rots into the soil and attracts earthworms. Easy protein for my chickens.

  7. You CAN set up a separate box just for meat composting that has little holes in the bottom with it mounted a few feet off the ground…right above where chickens run. The bugs drop out and are a higher nutrient content for the chicks per peck. It still will smell-even with ventilation holes, though!

  8. Or just use Black Soldier Flies to eat it all up first… Then add their waste to your normal compost pile. You get compost and grubbies for your pets. Win win!

  9. What's this?
    checks compost bag
    Nope, it even specifically asks for meat, butchery waste and cheese.
    Milk is still a no go though, too soggy.

  10. sooooo…what about nature? Out in the wild compost is made naturally from whatever dies, plants, leaves dying and dropping off the trees and animals, lots and lots of animals, so why is the leaf mulch out in the wild so nice and not all smelly?

  11. I use bokashi in the kitchen for everything before taking to the outside compost bins. When one is filled up it goes under the second. Then when the second is filled the first goes outside and the second goes under.

    I still have to mix in leaves though, as heavy nitrogen can leave even plant compost smelling like poo.

  12. Or you can also compost with the bokashi method. Compost Meat, fish, oranges, lemon, etc. Indoor in no time without any smell, neither flies.

  13. Wow. That is interesting how that works. My family used to keep a compost pile when we lived back in New Mexico. We call it the "mulch pile". We did have a rule of not putting in meat or dairy. The one exception was egg shells. The main reason was to avoid rats. We already had a mouse problem. So the one compost rule prevents the situation from getting worse. In later years, we got cats in yard. It was awesome. It was the best pest control ever. This eliminated the mouse problem. The cats do like to go to the compost pile and scavenge. I have just figured something out. If there are cats, then it would be okay to put meat and dairy products out. It is a good combination. The cats would love to gobble up such products. They will happily eat up any rats that come over. If this is done, than one should be careful about the timing. There is a special rule about cat food. The same rule should be applied to compost. Compost is like cat food in that both would be eaten by cats and other meat eaters. The rule is that the stuff has to be taken out early in the day. The ideal time is early morning. This gives cats enough time to eat up everything before nightfall. Putting food out in the evening or night is a bad idea. It would attract skunks. Skunks are very annoying and very stinky. If they eat cat food when given the chance, then they would probably eat meat and dairy in the compost. The video mentions racoons. I have never seen racoons in person. I think that they might be better than skunks. I bet raccoons smell good.

  14. My trick is to have a Labrador, and an unattended plate of meat and dairy scraps. I must admit, this process also ends up with a sulphurous smell.

  15. The EcoFascist community thanks you for educating folk on environmental topics with your recent wave of ecological videos

  16. Swede here. Most homes here are equipped with food scrap bins, and the scraps go to bioreactors to make heat, bio gas and electricity. There's a future waiting for you America.

  17. As a compost enthusiast, I everything that is bio-origin into a place ( a large bin) and cover it by dirt or dry leaves. Simple like that and it stacks as time goes by. Usually after 2-3 months, it is ready to mix with soil+stuff for plantation

  18. One solution is to use a waste to energy plant and throw meat into that which then incinerates it to ash and then you can cleanly use it as fill. Don’t land fill garbage but instead clean ash.

  19. The future of burying your dead is composting your dead. For me, there's a sense of peace in knowing i'll be food for critters and eventually compost for plants.

  20. It's better than throwing it out. My trash is food free. All food goes to the backyard pit. It's not perfect, but I hate to throw food out. So there.

  21. Ummm, my family has been composting meat scraps for decades, never had a problem. Of course, we always turn and mix the compost with grass clippings and distribute the meat throughout the pile. Although we aren't exactly loading pounds of dead flesh into it, maybe it could be an issue for large quantities but everything we grow from the compost is great, lots of healthy vegetables. Never noticed any serious reek or slime coming from the pile…

  22. Short answer: if you mix too little carbon with it there will be smells and probably animals getting into it. But it'll still breakdown.

  23. Where I live in Canada (PEI) composting is a legal requirement. If you put compost (or recycling) in your garbage bins, they'll stop taking your garbage away and charge you. You're also not allowed to use opaque garbage bags so the garbagemen can gauge what's in your trash.
    The "what goes in compost rule" here is: If it biodegrades, it goes in the compost. If it can be recycled, it goes in recycling. Only then does the remaining stuff go in the actual garbage.
    I don't know anyone who maintains their own compost heap. I also don't see why a municipal compost heap wouldn't take all biodegradables – it's clearly not a problem if you think it through.

  24. But I think, that meat and fish scraps can be made into natural gas, right? So if you know how, you MIGHT be able to make your own gas.

  25. I like the idea of composting. Just how cozy those microbes must be in there omg. Imagine floating in a substance made of your favourite foods

  26. Hell yeah! I compost animal parts, including whole dead animals, in a base of straw and it always turns out great and is smell-free. It's one of the best ways to give your compost a boost in phosphorus for your flowering plants especially. Cornell and Oregon State Universities have good articles on this that go more into the details.

  27. My municipality (Hamilton Ontario) uses a heat-processing process and will take literally anything organic – except pet waste.

  28. That's why I can't put my rotten flesh in my composter in Minecraft, I have like 4 stacks of that stuff sitting in my storage room…

  29. Thank you!! I’m so sick of everyone telling me that I can’t compost meat all because they’ve been told that not that they have any scientific or even common sense on the subject

  30. 00:44 How to convince people not to attract pests?

    I know ! Let’s put the picture of a cute raccoon head in our video ! 🤣🤣

  31. If the problem is only things becoming anaerobic due to oxygen loss, does that mean meat can be composted in tumbler-style composters where the contents are turned at least once a day?

  32. If you have municipal composting you should always follow the rules that they give you. In my municipality we can add all the meat, bones, and any other food scraps we like because they have a quick and closed composting system. We can add paper but not wood so no chopsticks.

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