Are banana peels biodegradable? Can they be composted?

  • Date: June 6, 2022

Food waste makes up a large chunk of landfill. Some of it is avoidable with good food management and planning, some not so much. Although they can technically be eaten, banana peels fall into this category! Banana peels are biodegradable – but they won’t biodegrade overnight, the process can take many months if the conditions are not ideal. Thankfully, a simple home compost pile can provide these conditions and they make a wonderful nutrient-rich addition too! Here we will take a closer look…

Firstly, are banana peels biodegradable?

An item is deemed biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally into its component parts by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Only 100% natural items are biodegradable – banana peels, obviously, fall into this category. However, their stickers are, generally, not biodegradable. Although biodegradable stickers are now available, these are still not cost-effective for retailers with the vast majority still opting for the plastic variety. These will breakdown over time, but not by the same process as biodegradation. They will break down into smaller and smaller pieces to form microplastics which can cause havoc in the environment.   

It should be stressed here that biodegradation is not a process that automatically just happens. An item/material needs to be in suitable conditions. Landfill, often, does not provide these. Items are often crammed in – there is little oxygen and moisture levels are not ideal, making biodegradation almost impossible. Adopting biodegradable items in everyday life is vital for the wellbeing of the planet – but diverting them from landfill by methods such as composting, where possible, is so important.

So, are banana peels compostable?

The compost process – whether in your backyard or the industrial scale city-wide variety – is a great way to divert any food from landfill. Not only that, but you will also gain a nutrient-rich ‘compost’ to use in your garden too. Looking after the planet and saving you money, there really are no downsides to home composting (if done correctly, of course).

Despite what many people believe, all items that are biodegradable can’t be composted. The terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’, although similar, are not interchangeable. There are subtle differences – but the take home message here is that not all biodegradable items are compostable, but to be compostable an item must be biodegradable! There can be several reasons why something is not fit for composting. For example, it may contain nasty chemicals that could potentially contaminate the pile or it might produce a particularly unbearable odor!  

Thankfully banana peels pose no significant issues when added to the compost pile. They are a particularly great addition – ensuring an important supply of calcium, magnesium, phosphates and potassium. These, ultimately, help your garden plants (particularly the flowering and fruit varieties) flourish. Although it is often recommended in various sources to bury banana peel pieces alongside the roots of these plants, we always recommend composting as the best method to benefit from their nutrients. The peels will break down eventually under the soil, however, oxygen is an important part of the breakdown process – and it is limited down there! You can provide the nutrients to the plants, via composting, a lot quicker. 

If you are new to composting, we have compiled a few general, beginners FAQs at the end of this article to help you on your way!

Some considerations when composting banana peels…

It is good practice when composting any item to cut/rip/grind it into smaller pieces before adding it to the pile. Banana peels are no different. If an item is in smaller parts, it allows the micro-organisms a larger surface area to work their magic on. It also means the pieces can be distributed throughout the pile, sharing their nutrients to all four corners of the bin.  Although this is not strictly necessary, it will ensure that the banana peels breakdown is that little bit quicker – great for us composters with little patience! 

Pests are also considered to be a problem by some when it comes to composting banana peels – this can depend largely on where about in the world you reside and what sorts of wildlife are kicking about. To minimize the risk, ensure that the peels are covered by other composting materials. This will mask the smell and, hopefully, prevent your backyard resembling the local zoo. A bin with a lid, although not necessary, will help too.

The bottom line

Banana skins, minus the sticker, can be popped in the compost pile. As far as composting goes, they are among some of the easiest items to add to your pile – great news for beginners! Some argue against composting them due to the wildlife they can attract, but if you ensure that they are covered up within the pile they should be sufficiently hidden from lurking pests.

As promised, some new-to-composting FAQs….

Does a compost bin need to be in the sun?

Compost bins do not need to be placed in the sun. The heat can speed up the process however, heat is generated from the rotting material itself rather than it needing the scorching sunlight. If you have limited sunny spots in your garden, it may be best to reserve these for your plants, rather than your compost pile. Being in the shade, may also be more comfortable for you when you are busy tending to the pile – it can be hard work, especially if you live in a hot climate.

If you do live in a hot climate, be sure to keep an eye out for signs of dehydration in the pile. Lack of moisture will prevent the microbes doing their job, whilst potentially also leading to your pile being overrun by ants!

Does a compost bin need a lid?

A compost bin does not need a lid – you can buy them with or without. However, a lid does bring different benefits. As well as keeping pests such as rats and mice out, it also helps you retain moisture in your pile. Moisture control is particularly important – with no lid you are at the mercy of the weather. Your pile could end up water-logged after a storm or too dry after a particularly sunny few weeks. Each bring their unique problems. Having a lid avoids this.

Does a compost bin need airholes?

Composting is an aerobic process – that is, it needs oxygen to work. Sufficient airflow is needed or the breakdown process will not occur. The contents of the pile are extremely important – if the materials are too compact, air will not be able to flow through. Adding materials such as twigs and balls of paper will create gaps to alleviate this. This is, arguably, more important than air holes.  

Do I need to turn my compost regularly?

It is commonly suggested in the gardening community that a compost pile must be turned regularly – the theory behind this is that it will creates spaces and make it less compact so that air can flow freely again. However, this can be slightly off putting if you are considering starting composting but have mobility problems or minimum time to maintain the pile.

Turning the pile is the best way to ensure air flow, however there are other alternatives. As mentioned above, having twigs and other materials that help maintain a structure with air pockets reduces the need for turning.  Alternatively, you can use a compost aerator to mix the contents of the pile or a simple garden fork.

Does compost need water?

As well as oxygen, your compost pile also needs water. The microbes need to have a sufficient level of moisture to carry out the breakdown process optimally. A rough rule of thumb is that if your pile becomes less moist that a wrung-out sponge, it needs to be watered! Be careful though, you don’t want it too wet either. Find more info about watering compost here.

Does a compost bin need a bottom?

Compost bins do not need a bottom. In fact, there are several benefits of being open-bottomed. The decomposition process is speeded up since worms and microbes can get into the bin from the soil underneath. And the soil benefits too – nutrients travel from the composting material down into the soil. Your whole garden can benefit from this if you move it to different areas too. 

Open-bottomed bins work in a similar way to compost bins with a bottom – just ensure that your first layer, that lies directly on the soil is ‘green’ (nitrogen rich materials such as coffee grounds and fresh grass trimmings) before adding a ‘brown’ layer (carbon rich materials such as dry leaves and hay).