Can you compost cheese? Standard, no. Bokashi, yes!

  • Date: June 1, 2022

Composting is becoming an increasingly popular way to divert food waste from landfill. Many people believe ‘if you can eat it, you can compost it’ but this is not strictly the case. Cheese, and other dairy products technically can be composted, but their odor leads to increased risk of pests. The EPA advise against it. Here we take a closer look and offer an alternative to dispose of all your food scraps – including dairy products!

Firstly, is cheese biodegradable?

Whether an item is biodegradable or not, helps us decide if it is suitable for the compost pile. Anything that can be broken down naturally by microbes, such as bacteria, is termed ‘biodegradable’. Generally, anything that came from nature is biodegradable – essentially, the component parts return to nature. Cheese, made from milk, is natural and therefore totally biodegradable. Good news for any leftover food scraps! 

Cheese wax, such as that the red coating on Babybel cheeses, are (generally) not biodegradable. Typically, cheese waxes are paraffin-based. This is a synthetic material derived from petroleum. It will break down into smaller and smaller pieces over time but will not return to nature by biodegradation. Rather than throwing these straight in the trash, there are other options – check out what you can do with Babybel wax, you will be surprised at how many ways you can divert them from landfill!

There is some good news when it comes to cheese wax. It is increasingly common that it is made from natural wax such as beeswax – coming from nature, these are totally biodegradable!

So, can you compost cheese?

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill – whilst providing a homemade (free!), nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. It is becoming more popular year-on-year. And it is easy to understand why – good for your pocket and good for the planet, it’s a win-win!

So, we have established that cheese is biodegradable – so that means it can be composted, right? Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that. Despite what many people think, the terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not interchangeable. There are subtle differences between their meanings. To be compostable an item needs to be biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable! There can be numerous reasons a biodegradable item can’t be composted – from containing harsh chemicals to it being too smelly…

Although there will be many people that do compost cheese (and other dairy items) successfully, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise against it. The smells that it will create is likely to attract pests. It is difficult to argue with their reasoning – who really wants a pungent smelling, rodent-attracting pile in the backyard? As always, it is your call. It is not dangerous in the same way meat could potentially be – it is just not advised. That being said, the odd crumb of cheese or some on a pizza crust is unlikely to turn your garden into a zoo. Ensuring you bury it deep in the pile will reduce the risks of any pests appearing.

But its not all bad news, cheese can be disposed of at home Bokashi style!

If you don’t want the headache of composting cheese at home, there may be a food waste collection in your local area. These, generally, collect cheese as well as other (cooked or uncooked) foods and are a great option for foods that are difficult to compost at home.

However, if you want to do-it-yourself at home (and have the added bonus of some nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden) there is another alternative to standard composting. Bokashi composting, in short, involves the fermentation of food scraps. The process takes place in an anaerobic sealed container. This is particularly ideal for composting cheese as it cannot be hijacked by insects or other pests! Scraps usually take between 4-6 weeks to breakdown into a fermented material that can then be added to the standard composting bin or buried in the garden. The good news is, after this process it is not attractive to pests anymore!

The bottom line

Composting cheese, and other dairy products, at home isn’t recommended. The foul odor it can cause and the wildlife it attracts means it simply isn’t worth it for most. If you don’t have a local food waste collection who compost it on an industrial scale, don’t worry! Although it will cost you a bit money to get started, Bokashi composting is a quick and easy alternative. And it will provide you with a nutrient rich compost in hardly any time at all. A Bokashi composter is a wonderful addition to any kitchen, especially when you have cheese, dairy or meat scraps left over.