Can You Compost Cheese and Dairy: What You Need To Know

Several cheese products sitting on a rustic wooden table

You may have heard that when it comes to composting food waste, you should avoid putting cheese in compost piles as well as other dairy products like milk, butter, yogurt, sour cream and ice cream. One reason behind this general rule, which applies to composting meat and dairy, is animal products are known to emit an odor while decomposing, which in turn can attract pests and is just an overall unpleasant experience.

Another reason to avoid putting dairy in compost piles is that it’s high in moisture and fat, meaning it can take longer to break down. The great news is that with a bit of know-how and a few extra steps, you indeed can compost all kinds of dairy products. Skip ahead to read our eight tips for composting cheese and other dairy products, or read on to learn why so many people avoid composting dairy all together.

First up, what you need to know about composting milk, cheese and other dairy products.


What you should know about composting dairy

If you have a compost bin, electric composter or outdoor compost, you likely want to be able to add as many food scraps to it as possible. Yet, it’s often advised to skip adding dairy waste, such as cheese and sour milk, to your compost because it can upset the balance of the pile and leads to odors. But can you compost dairy? Let’s find out!  


Can cheese be composted?

A hand holding up a block of orange cheese
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While many people avoid adding cheese to their compost, it actually will break down with the rest of the organic matter in the pile provided you add in a few other items to counteract the fat and moisture content. Add dry matter like dead leaves, straw or shredded paper along with the cheese to balance out the pile.

The reason these dry materials, known as “browns” in the composting world, are so important is because they have a higher carbon content. Meanwhile, “greens'' such as food waste - including cheese - have a higher nitrogen content. A well-balanced compost should have only an earthy odor and should not be overly moist. Smelly or extremely wet compost indicates something is amiss.

Cheese can also be broken by Lomi, which is the easiest and fastest method of decomposing dairy products. Not only can Lomi handle your cheese waste, it also spares you the odors associated with typical compost bins.


 


 

Can you compost milk?

A hand pouring milk into a glass with grass in the background
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Whether or not you can compost milk depends on your composting method. If you are vermicomposting, adding milk can disrupt the pH balance and harm the worms. However, if you are using a traditional compost pile you can add milk in small quantities, being careful not to make the pile too moist.

If you’re wondering why having compost that’s too wet is an issue, remember that in order for organic matter to properly break down it needs oxygen. Soggy compost becomes compacted, leaving no room for air to move around. Experts say the ideal moisture content in a compost heap is 40 to 60 percent, but the easiest way to test is to pick up a handful and squeeze. It should have the feeling of a wrung out sponge, meaning moist but not dripping.

Similarly, the Lomi composter operates best under ideal moisture levels. That’s why it’s always best to avoid putting liquids into Lomi. However, Lomi can break down milk products such as yogurt and cottage cheese.


Can you put any dairy products in compost?

Various dairy products on a white background
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Many dairy products, including cheese, butter, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream and milk, can be added to your compost. However, because of their high moisture and fat content you’ll need to add dry organic materials such as shredded paper, straw and dry leaves to counteract the moisture.

So, can you compost cheese and other dairy products? Yes! But before you begin tossing dairy in with your other food waste, it’s important to know that well-managed compost breaks down the organics through an “aerobic” process, meaning oxygen is highly involved. An absence of oxygen leads to “anaerobic” decay, a slower process that results in a smelly compost pile. If not managed properly, adding dairy to your compost could turn it anaerobic.

Since Lomi mimics the natural composting process, the same rules apply. Avoid adding excess dairy to control moisture levels, but you can add it in moderation. Never add ice cream or cheese cake to the mix. 


9 tips for ‌composting cheese and other dairy products

Milk and cheese on a white background

Now that you know you can effectively compost cheese and other dairy products, here are a few tips that will make the process go more smoothly - resulting in beautiful, usable compost!

  1. Choose a sunny spot for your compost pile: Compost generates its own heat as the microbes begin to break down the organic matter, but you can help speed up the process - and get rid of the excess moisture dairy causes - by placing it somewhere that gets sufficient sunlight.
  1. Don’t place your bin near a water source: Not only will nearby water potentially add additional moisture to your compost, but compost piles shed moisture - called leachate - as they break down. Make sure to avoid leachate contamination in any nearby water sources, which can occur if your pile is too close to a stream or an underground well.
  1. Make a bigger compost pile: The more spread out your compost is, the more easily oxygen will be able to circulate efficiently. Avoid creating a small compact pile, or if you don’t have a lot of space, put less materials in your pile to keep it smaller.
  1. Don’t add too much dairy at once: When it comes to composting dairy products, quantity matters. Only add small amounts at a time and break large chunks of cheese into smaller pieces, which will decompose quicker, meaning your pile will be less likely to smell.
  1. Bury dairy products in the center of the pile: Lay brown materials down on the center of your compost pile, then place the dairy waste on top. Cover it with the already decomposing material from the outsides of the pile.
  1. Turn your compost pile regularly: Turning your compost helps to let oxygen move through it, which speeds up the process and stops the anaerobic bacteria from taking over. How often you turn it will depend on the size of the pile and the green to brown ratio. However, most experts agree you should turn it three times a week when it’s heating up and active and only once a week once the pile has matured.
  1. Continue to balance the pile with brown materials: As the compost begins to break down it will release moisture, which you should continue to balance out by adding brown materials as needed.
  1. Wear gloves: All organic waste carries bacteria and meat and dairy products have a higher risk of carrying pathogens that can make you sick. Always wear gardening gloves when handling compost that contains dairy products and make sure to wash your hands once you’re done working in the garden for the day.
  1. Compost indoors: If you’re looking to sustainably dispose of your dairy, but you don’t have an outdoor compost system, try Lomi, an electric composter! Lomi transforms your food waste into nutrient-rich dirt in just a few hours. It’s compact, odorless, and easy to use.

 


 

3 methods that allow you to compost dairy in small quantities

If you don’t have an outdoor compost pile, but still want to be able to compost dairy, there are a few different ways you can do so. Keep in mind that these methods are best for breaking down small amounts of dairy and would work well for smaller families, single person households or for those who don’t eat a lot of animal products.


1. Electric composters

Lomi filled with compostable materials sitting on a countertop

Not everybody has, or has access to, an outdoor compost pile. Outdoor piles can be hard to manage and many people don’t have the space, especially if they live in an apartment. An automatic kitchen composter like Lomi is the perfect alternative to an outdoor composting system because it completely eliminates odors and speeds up the decomposition process to as little as four hours. Plus, you can simply add in dairy products with all the other food waste - no additional steps required.

Pro tip: Add in smaller amounts of dairy at a time, as well as smaller chunks of cheese, which will help Lomi more efficiently break everything down - leaving you with nutrient-rich dirt you can use to fertilize your indoor plants.

 

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2. Bokashi bin

A woman adding food waste to a  bokashi bin Image Credit: Shutterstock

Bokashi bins are a fascinating composting option because they are a closed bin system and do not rely on oxygen to break down like traditional composting does. The bokashi method relies on fermentation and instead of producing a soil-like material, it produces a nutrient-rich liquid called bokashi tea. It’s because of the fermentation process that you can add animal products such as cheese, yogurt and milk to a bokashi bin. And because it is a closed, airtight system, there are no smells!

Pro tip: Make sure you use a special bokashi bin for the process, meaning it collects the tea at the bottom and has a spigot so you can drain the tea as needed.


3. Municipal composting program

A green bin labeled food waste sitting near a roadway
Image Credit: Unsplash

If you live in a town or city that has a municipal composting program then you’re in luck! Because of the size and maintenance of such programs, dairy products break down much more easily than in an at-home pile. If you don’t have such a program, consider writing to your local government and requesting they roll one out. Municipalities that do collect and process compost often give the resulting product away for residents to use in their own gardens. It’s a great way to encourage more sustainable living as well as build a community of gardeners.

Pro tip: Most municipalities that collect organic waste list the items you can place in your compost bin on their website. Double check what can and cannot be added and consider printing the list out to keep next to your compost bin for easy reference. 


Top 6 FAQs about composting cheese and milk

Aside from wondering - “is cheese compostable?” - you may also be curious about other dairy and dairy-related products. Here are the answers to six of the most commonly asked composting questions about dairy product packaging, plant-based dairy and more.    


1. Can you compost wax from cheese?

A ball of cheese wrapped in red wax
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The wax that is often used to wrap cheese products is made from petroleum products and therefore is not compostable. Like most other petroleum-based products, cheese wax takes hundreds of years to fully break down and shouldn’t be placed in either indoor or outdoor compost bins

While you may not be able to compost cheese wax, you can reuse it in several different ways. It can be used as a fire starter, to seal open jars or to cover other types of food. To reuse cheese wax, first make sure you remove any leftover food, then melt it in a double boiler. Once the wax has turned to a liquid, pour it on a flat surface such as a cooking sheet, wait for it to cool and harden, then peel it off and reuse.


2. Can butter be composted?

Although it’s often recommended to skip adding butter to your compost, you actually can compost it under the right circumstances. Much like other dairy products, it’s best to also add dry materials to counteract the moisture in the butter. It’s also best to compost butter in small quantities.

And just like with cheese, place your butter in the center of the compost pile, add in your brown material such as dead leaves, shredded paper or straw, and then bury it with already composted material. This will help to keep the smell at bay, meaning your compost will be much less likely to attract critters such as rodents and insects.


3. Can you compost vegan cheese?

Vegan cheese is a plant-based food product and can be placed in the compost alongside other organic materials. Even though vegan cheese is not a dairy product, it’s best to follow the same guidelines for composting as regular cheese - such as burying it in the center of the pile - to ensure it properly breaks down. Plant-based cheeses also break down excellently in Lomi.


4. Can you compost plant based milks?

Five different types of plant-based milk surrounded by nuts and a coconut husk
Image Credit: Shutterstock

As with dairy-based milks, plant-based milks can be added to your compost, but in small quantities only. Pouring too much liquid into your compost can disrupt the moisture balance and lead to a soggy, smelly pile that may attract pests. Instead, add a bit at a time, along with dry materials like dead leaves.


5. Are milk cartons compostable?

Most milk cartons are partially made from paper, which is compostable, but they also have a thin layer of polyethylene. Because of this plastic they cannot be composted. However, they can be recycled with other drink containers such as fully plastic bottles, glass bottles and aluminum cans.


6. Are ice cream containers compostable?

If the ice cream container is paper-based, then yes, it can be added to your compost. However, some ice cream containers that appear to be paper-based also have a thin layer of plastic. Check the packaging for disposal instructions and when in doubt, throw it in the garbage instead.

Adding non-biodegradable items to your compost can slow down the composting process and you’ll eventually have to pull the intact material out anyway. And when composting containers that are fully paper-based, cut or tear it into smaller pieces first, which will make it easier to mix into the pile and quicker to biodegrade.


And that’s everything there is to know about composting cheese and other dairy and dairy-related items. Adding a variety of items to your compost will make for a richer, more nutrient-dense end material, but you do have to be careful not to disrupt the natural balance of the pile.

If you want to streamline the composting process, including have the ability to easily compost dairy products, check out Lomi today. Not only can you add cheese to Lomi, you can also add all kinds of other animal products, plus fruit and veggies, yard waste and Lomi Approved bioplastics.

 

Written by: Larissa Swayze