Can you compost yogurt? We advise against it – but there is an alternative!

  • Date: June 1, 2022

As a nation, we put a ridiculous amount of waste in the trash – food being one of the top waste items. Composting can decrease the amount of food waste heading to landfill – but, contrary to popular belief, not all food can be popped in the home compost pile. Yogurt, and other dairy products, are compostable but they fall firmly into the more-trouble-than-its-worth category. Their odor make them highly attractive to local wildlife. In this article we will take a closer look and offer an alternative to dispose all of your food scraps – including dairy products such as yogurt.

Firstly, is yogurt (and their pots) biodegradable?

The first step in deciding if an item is fit for the compost pile is determining if it is biodegradable or not. Anything that can be broken down naturally by microbes, such as bacteria, is termed ‘biodegradable’. In general, anything that came from nature is biodegradable – essentially, the component parts return to nature. Yogurt is made from milk (mainly that of cows), meaning it is natural and therefore totally biodegradable.

Yogurt cartons, on the other hand, are typically made from plastic – a synthetic material derived from oil. Plastic is not biodegradable. Over time your plastic yogurt pots will break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but this is not the same process as biodegradation. These microplastics have the potential to cause havoc in the environment rather than provide the nourishment that biodegradable items can.

So, can you compost yogurt?

Home composting reduces how much waste we send to landfill – and it provides a homemade (free!), nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. As households seek to live in a planet friendly way it is becoming more and more popular. And it is easy to understand why – good for your pocket and good for the planet! It’s a no brainer, everybody wins.

We have seen that yogurt is biodegradable, so you might think it automatically qualifies for the compost bin. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Contrary to popular belief, the terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not interchangeable. They do not mean the same thing, there are subtle differences between the two terms. To be compostable an item needs to be biodegradable (ruling out plastic yogurt pots), but not all biodegradable items are compostable! There can be several reasons a biodegradable item can’t be composted at home – from containing harsh chemicals or biohazards to being too smelly and attracting unwanted local wildlife…

There will be many people out there that do compost yogurt (and other dairy items, such as cheese) successfully at home. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise against it. Its odor is likely to attract pests. It is difficult to argue with their reasoning – who really wants a smelly, rodent-attracting pile in the backyard? As always it is, ultimately, up to you what you add to your compost pile. It is not dangerous in the same way meat could potentially be – it is just not advised. That being said, the odd remnants from a yogurt pot is unlikely to turn your garden into a zoo (but you might have a different result with a full large pot of the stuff!). Just make sure you bury it deep in the pile will reduce the risks of any pests.

But its not all bad news, yogurt can be disposed of Bokashi style!

If you don’t want the headache of composting yogurt in your home pile, there are food waste collections in some areas. Typically, all cooked or uncooked foods can be collected – this is a great option for foods that a bit more awkward to compost at home, like yogurt and meat. Do a bit research in your local area to see what is available.

However, if you want to do-it-yourself at home (and get some homemade fertilizer in the process) there is another alternative to standard home composting. Bokashi composting, in a nutshell, involves the fermentation of leftover food scraps. The process takes place in an anaerobic sealed container. This is particularly ideal for disposing of dairy products, such as yogurt, as it cannot be taken over by insects or other pests! It is quite quick too – food scraps, generally, only take between 4-6 weeks to breakdown into a ‘pre-compost’. This can then be added to the standard composting bin or buried in the garden.

The bottom line

Home composting of yogurt, and other dairy products, is not recommended by the EPA. Its foul odor is likely to attract wildlife. It just isn’t worth it for most. If you don’t have a local food waste collection who compost food on an industrial scale, don’t fear! Bokashi composting is a quick and easy alternative. And it will provide you with a nutrient rich compost in hardly any time at all. Although the set up is a bit more costly than typical home composting, a Bokashi composter is a wonderful addition to any kitchen – especially when you have yogurt, cheese or meat scraps left over.