Can you compost awkward waste products?

Can you compost awkward waste products?
Meats, Fish and Dairy Products.
The opinions shared here are based upon my own experiences working with compost and may not be shared by all.

Main image my own.

A question l often hear from other composters, is ‘Can you compost awkward waste products like meat, fish and dairy products?’

Yes, you can. However, it’ll also come down to the compost type you are maintaining. I don’t always follow the golden rules of composting what you can and should compost compared to what you can’t and shouldn’t. I follow a philosophy of not sending everything to the landfill if it can be avoided.

I am not a huge meat eater, personally. Although l eat fish, l don’t tend to have much waste in this area. I do take in kitchen scraps and wastes from my neighbours who are bigger meat and fish eaters. So my compost piles have occasionally added uncooked and cooked meat, fish and dairy products.

I hot compost, meaning l only run hot compost batches that cook to temperatures between 150-180 degrees Fahrenheit for 14-day periods. But this also means that l can handle ‘awkward ingredients’ like meats and fish, dairy products and weeds, bones, citrus fruits etc.

Meat, dairy and fish ingredients will burn in the heating system quickly. But if you are maintaining either a warm or a cold compost, you must be wary of attracting pests and vermin and may choose not to include awkward waste products.

The secret to success is to bury that waste deep into your compost pile and not scatter the meaty ingredients on top of the heap.

Meat and fish waste are organic ingredients and hold enriching nutrients for the soil and will decompose. However, unless specific actions are taken, there are problems with particular wastes.


The biggest one is attracting the unwanted attention of vermin, who are lured into the heap by the scents and smells of the food waste. Certain pests like rats often choose compost piles as nesting grounds due to the security, dryness, warmth and food availability the heap can offer.

Bad Smells

Not just associated with meat and fish products, but particular food wastes, if ‘not buried deep’, can create an unpleasant odour which, as mentioned above, can attract vermin and potential complaints from neighbours if your pile is in a built-up residential area.

Decomposition breakdown

Certain compost styles cannot break some food waste down efficiently, and the decomposition process is much slower, especially in unturned cold heaps. Meat left unattended can take a very long time to break down. Bones, especially, are of great interest to vermin and wildlife as well as domestic pets and can take considerably long periods to break down in ordinary composting set-ups.

Dairy products are also prolonged to break down without assistance due to the fats and oils found in the ingredients, which can seal the waste and prevent air and moisture from entering to activate the breakdown process.

Harmful bacteria

Whilst cooked meats are less of a problem, the composting of raw meats and fish products can create a hotbed of contaminants – like listeria, E.Coli and Salmonella – that can thrive in the structure of a compost pile with its fluctuating temperatures and humidity and also anaerobic heaps – non-aerated.

Of course, it’s not all bad news, as there are safe ways to compost meats and fish wastes.

The principal keys to success to remember are:

Hot composting – keep the pile hot at temperatures between 130°-180° F for as long as possible. If in doubt, use a compost thermometer to check the temperatures of your heap.

I work my heats for two weeks to be sure. I turn the heap once every three days and add water to maintain moisture and a handful of coffee grounds where l can to encourage and consistently keep high heat when l have meats, fish or dairy products in the ingredients. Hot composting methods kill off dangerous pathogens. Be mindful of only composting small amounts of meat and fish products.

I also ensure that the food items are buried deep within the core of the heap and surrounded by compost from all sides, bottom and covered on the top.

I use New Zealand composters, but l have also cooked awkward wastes in pallet systems, and l know of other composters who have successfully composted these wastes in tumblers.

You could choose alternative composting methods such as vermiculture – worm farming or Bokashi fermenting.

Common Composting Questions Directory

Composting and Vermiculture A – Z Directory

Designs – Earthly Comforts – Inspired by Nature – see collection here

Published by The Autistic Composter

Earthly Comforts is a wildlife journaling scrapbook focusing on the countryside, wildlife biodiversity and environmental conservation, flora and fauna volunteering projects, gardening, composting and vermiculture, inspiration, poetry and photography.

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