Can you compost bones? Yes, with one additional step!

  • Date: June 1, 2022

As a nation, we produce a ridiculous amount of food waste. Composting is becoming an increasingly popular way to divert it from landfill – but unfortunately not all food-related waste items are fit for the compost pile. Animal bones, technically, can be composted – but their odor leads to increased risk of pests. For this reason, the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) advise against it. Here we take a closer look and offer an alternative to dispose of all your food scraps – including animal bones!

Firstly, are bones biodegradable?

When we are deciding if an item is compostable or not, we firstly need to decide if it is biodegradable. An item is deemed biodegradable if it will breakdown naturally into its component parts with the help of micro-organisms such as bacteria. Natural items tend to be biodegradable, whilst synthetic items (such as plastic) are not.

Since bones are 100% natural, they will biodegrade in the right conditions. Bones will, generally, take longer to biodegrade than the meat that surrounds them. And different types of bones will biodegrade quicker than others. For example, chicken bones will biodegrade more quickly than pork ribs – they are a lot thinner and this contributes to a quicker breakdown speed.

Can you compost bones?

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. More and more people are opting to compost their food waste. Not only is it good for your pocket, but it will also reduce your carbon footprint too.

So, we have established that animal bones are biodegradable – so that means they can be composted, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. 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 and attracting pests.

Although there will be many people that compost animal bones at home, the EPA advise against it. Its odor is likely to attract pests. And after all, who really wants a smelly, pest-attracting pile in the backyard?

Considerations if you choose to compost bones…

As always, it is your call! It is, ultimately, your choice what you put in your home compost pile. You can always experiment with the odd bone and see if a whole family of rodents appear…

If you decide to go-ahead, ensure that you bury the bones deep in the pile. If they are too close to the surface they are much more likely to be sniffed out by local wildlife. Although compost bins don’t always have a lid, the variety with lids are advised if you are going to add bones or meat scraps. Odors won’t escape as easily and any animals will find it more challenging to access.

Bones added to the compost also take a notoriously long time to break down – meaning they have more time to be got at by local pests. You can speed up the process by preparing the bones beforehand. It is good practice in all composting to break down ingredients before adding them to the pile – this allows the bacteria a greater surface area to munch on. Firstly, we recommend boiling the bones to remove any meat (this will also make a nice stock any soups or broths). The next step is oven baking them to ensure they are brittle enough to be ground down into smaller pieces.

For an easier option, try Bokashi composting!

If you don’t want the headache of composting animal bones at home, there may be a food waste collection in your local area. These, generally, collect chicken, turkey and other animal bones as well as other (cooked or uncooked) foods. They are a great option for food waste that are more 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 involves the fermentation of food scraps. The process takes place in an anaerobic sealed container. This is particularly ideal for composting animal bones as it cannot be hijacked by insects or other pests! Scraps of food usually take between 4-6 weeks to breakdown (or rather, be fermented effectively) into a material that can be buried in the garden or added to the standard composting. Bones will take that little bit longer. But when the process is finished, they will not be attractive to pests anymore.

The bottom line

Composting animal bones, and meat scraps, at home isn’t recommended. The foul odor it can cause will attract wildlife.  It simply isn’t worth it for most novice home composters. If you don’t have a local food waste collection who compost it on an industrial scale, there is an easier (and less smelly) alternative. Although it will cost you a bit money to get started, Bokashi composting is a relatively quick and easy alternative. A Bokashi composter is a wonderful addition to any kitchen, especially when you have animal bones or meat scraps left over.