(Photo by Elenadan on Flickr, under CC license)
Cheesecloth is a gauze-like fabric used primarily in the kitchen. As the name suggests it was originally used in cheesemaking, but it can be used for various purposes – from straining stock to binding books. Although it can be reused, it won’t last forever – and you should aim to dispose of it in the most environmentally-friendly way possible. Is cheesecloth biodegradable and can it be composted, or is it destined for centuries in landfill? That largely depends on what it is made from. Let’s take a closer look…
What is cheesecloth made of?
Cheesecloth is, generally, made from cotton. These are several grades available – moving from loose weave to tight weave. The more threads per inch it contains, the tighter the weave. Each type can be used for different tasks – although the middle range varieties are most versatile.
Cheesecloth is not only made from cotton, however. It can also be made from polyester, a synthetic fiber.
So, is cheesecloth biodegradable?
When an item is biodegradable, it means it can be broken down by micro-organisms. Cotton is a natural fiber; it biodegrades reasonably quickly with no problem. It should take a matter of months rather than a matter of years. Loose weave cheesecloth will biodegrade quicker than the more tightly woven varieties – they contain less threads to be broken down.
Polyester cheesecloth, on the other hand, will not biodegrade. If the cheesecloth is a blend between cotton and polyester, it will partially breakdown. The polyester, since it is a synthetic material, will be left.
Can you compost cheesecloth?
Composting is becoming more and more common as people understand the benefits of disposing household waste in an eco-friendly way. It is a great way to divert organic waste items from the landfill whilst benefitting your garden later down the line. It’s a win-win!
It is a common misconception that if an item is biodegradable then it automatically qualifies for the compost pile. This is simply not true. To be compostable it must be biodegradable AND be able to contribute to a nutrient-rich compost. You should also be careful not to add items that are laden with chemicals to the pile. Depending on the chemical, if these are not broken down, they may harm the plants that you use your final compost product on. It could do more harm than good.
Fortunately, cotton cheesecloth is a great addition to the pile. Composting materials are divided into two categories – ‘brown’ and ‘green’. ‘Brown’ materials are rich in carbon (for example, shredded paper) whilst ‘green’ ingredients are rich in nitrogen (for example, freshly cut grass). Cotton cheesecloth contributes to the ‘browns’ side of the mix.
It is important that you have a reasonable mix of both browns and greens. Too much ‘browns’ can lead to dryness in the pile whilst too much ‘green’ could lead to overheating. A range of different ratios are suggested but a 1:1 ratio should work well. It is a lot easier to manage too – no math involved. Although, be warned, this is largely trial-and-error since no two compost piles on the planet are the same! If you are a novice in the composting game, we have answered some of the most common composting-related questions here.
Things to consider when composting cheesecloth…
As with all items added to the compost pile, the process can be kickstarted if a larger surface area is available for the microbes to work on. Simply cut the cheesecloth into smaller bits and mix it in with the pile.
Knowing whether your cheesecloth is cotton, polyester or a cotton/polyester blend is useful when deciding whether to add it to the pile. However, the odd polyester-containing cheesecloth being added to the pile does not signal a composting disaster. You will quite easily be able to sift out bits that are not composting as you would expect.
The bottom line
Cotton cheesecloth is biodegradable and a perfect addition to the compost pile. Cut it into strips and shove it in – job done! Polyester cheesecloth is a different story. Unfortunately, since it is a synthetic material, it cannot be added. More than likely, it is destined for the landfill heap where it will be for a significant amount of time. Our advice? Use the cotton variety where possible!