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Can You Compost Cheese and Dairy Products?

Cheese is a kitchen staple and has many nutritional benefits. Now, the question is, what do you do with the leftover cheese in your fridge? Can you compost cheese and dairy products? Well, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. 

Dairy and meat products are technically compostable. However, it is advisable not to, as they can attract pests and ruin your compost pile. 

In this article, we will cover in more detail why composting dairy products like cheese, milk, and cream isn't such a good idea. We will also look at how you can avoid the downsides and effectively compost cheese and other dairy products. 

Are our cheese and dairy products compostable?

Are cheese and dairy product compostable
Photo by Azzedine Rouichi on Unsplash

We should expect a typical yes or no answer because cheese and dairy products fall under food waste. Many traditional composters will maintain that composting cheese is not a good idea. This is mainly for two reasons. The first reason is that cheese is prone to odor production. The second reason is that cheese and other animal food waste can attract rodents and pests. 

Dairy also contains high fat content, which can slow down the composting process. This is because high-fat content contains a waterproof coating that prevents microorganisms responsible for the decomposition process from functioning correctly.

They are prone to odor because clumps of food stick together and encourage anaerobic decomposition, a much slower composting process than aerobic decomposition. You can know if your heap is functioning under anaerobic conditions if your compost smells of ammonia. 

However, you can avoid these problems with proper composting and maintenance. 

How to compost cheese and dairy products 

Cheese and dairy differ from other kitchen waste because of their very high moisture content and low material structure.

To safely compost cheese, it is important to include a proper balance of both brown and green materials.

Adding dry fibrous materials or dry brown materials like leaves, shredded paper, brown paper, coffee grounds and filters, yard waste, and straw will act as a bulking agent, improving the structure of the entire compost pile. Here are a few tips for composting dairy products and maintaining a healthy compost pile:

  • Break up your dairy waste into smaller chunks for faster decomposition and prevention of anaerobic conditions. 
  • Add cheese and other dairy products to the center of your composting mass. Ensure it is at the center of some dry brown materials, acting as a bulking agent and breaking down leachate from the cheese or dairy. 
  • The bigger the compost bin, the better. Bigger compost bins do a better job of composting animal food scraps. They can accommodate large compost piles, which build more heat at the center. Hot composting kills pathogens that come from dairy waste. 
  • Make sure your compost bin is far away from any water sources. By doing this, you avoid leachate contamination. 
  • Another tip to help you compost properly is to bury your cheese products in a thick layer of decomposing compost and some dry materials. Make sure you deeply bury your cheese waste into the soil to help filter the smell. 
  • While your compost decomposes, turn your compost pile regularly to keep it aerated. This will speed up the process and avoid anaerobic bacteria. 
  • Don’t forget your gloves as you compost dairy products or kitchen scraps. Organic waste carries bacteria and parasites, which can contaminate your food. 

Hot composting bin 

You may want to consider using a hot composting bin to deal with your dairy products and organic matter. 

Hot composting is an effective method for composting and is considered much faster than the traditional method. Hot composting uses microbial activity during decomposition to produce really high temperatures. This method requires a healthy mix of both green and brown materials. 

Thanks to its high temperature, you can compost a wide range of other organic materials with hot composting, killing harmful bacteria and pathogens. The best part is it doesn’t attract pests.

Read more: Complete guide to hot composting.

Bokashi composting 

Bokashi is a composting method developed by Dr. Teruo Higa in the early 1980s. This method uses the anaerobic process, which requires no oxygen. 

It is more appropriate for fermentation and involves adding food scraps, organic wastes, and bran into an airtight container. This prevents any smell or vermin.

This process can take as little as a month, which is faster than the traditional method. You can also do it on a small patch of land or in a small bucket. After weeks of fermentation, the preserve is then buried deep into the soil, which will help prevent any smell or rodent infestation. 

Electric composter 

Electric composters are an excellent alternative for composting cheese and dairy. This compost system turns your vegetable scraps and other compostable materials into finished compost in a matter of hours or half a day. 

They are versatile and can contain almost anything from vegetables to dairy, meat, eggshells, or organic material. Electric composters also eliminate odors and methane emissions. When shopping for an electric composter, consider the capacity and size as well as the number of hours it takes to compost. 

Can you use Vermicomposting for dairy products? 

vermicomposting and dairy
Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

Vermicomposting is a decomposition process involving worms' use to turn organic waste materials into compost. Various species of worms, like red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms, are used to create the compost mixture. 

Worms need specific environmental conditions to stay happy. They function with an alkaline pH level. Unfortunately, adding dairy products to your compost can distort the pH level, making it more acidic for the tiny worms.

Further, when it comes to what worms eat, unfortunately, they do not digest dairy lactose-based products very well. However, read up on our guide to starting a worm farm for other options they will consume safely for healthy compost.

Can you compost cheese wax? 

You don’t want to keep your cheese in plastic wrap, as this can shorten its shelf life. Cheese wax is typically made for coating and preserving cheese. It helps retain moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria, resulting in moldy cheese. They are soft and more pliable than beeswax. 

But is cheese wax compostable? The answer is no. Cheese wax is typically made from crude oil and petroleum-based products like microcrystalline wax and paraffin. They are synthetic materials and not suitable for your compost pile. Adding them to your compost pile, compost bin, or sending them to landfills is a waste of time as they can take years to break down. 

You can easily reuse your cheese wax thanks to its soft and pliable texture. You probably didn’t know that you can use them as a fire starter during camping. You can also mold them into unique objects to give to your kids. You can also use clean cheese wax to seal your jars or bottles as a plastic wrap alternative.

Can you compost cottage cheese?

Cottage cheese is a curd product from cheese. It has a creamy, soupy texture and is made from cow’s milk. You can technically compost cottage cheese like your regular cheese, but you need to be careful with the process. This is because it equally produces odors and attracts pests. 

The trick is to ensure you maintain a healthy mix of green and brown materials like standard cheese. Half of your compost should hold your cottage cheese and other materials, while the other half should hold brown materials like leaves, wood chips, etc. This will help absorb leachate from your compost bin and speed up composting. Apply the same tips listed above when composting cottage cheese. 

Can you compost vegan cheese? 

Vegan cheese comes from plant-based ingredients. You can get different types of vegan cheese, including blue cheese, herb cashew, almond, and so on. They fall under organic materials; just like your regular cheese, vegan cheese should be carefully composted. 

Ensure you have the right mix of brown and green materials to aid the process and prevent leachate contamination. Apply the same methods as listed above for composting regular cheese. 

Is cheesecloth compostable?

We primarily use cheesecloth for making cheese. You can also use a cheesecloth for straining water. But is it compostable? The answer is yes and no. 

You can compost cheesecloths if made of natural fibers like cotton, linen, and hemp. However, you should not add cheesecloth made of synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon to your compost pile. For faster results, shred your cheesecloth into smaller pieces. 

Should you add sour milk to your compost? 

Adding sour milk to your compost presents the same problem as composting cheese. It has a high fat content and is prone to odor-causing anaerobic decomposition. This will also attract pests. 

To compost sour milk, it is important to do so carefully. Ensure you add the right brown and green material mix and let it go through the traditional decomposition process. However, it is advisable not to use the vermicomposting method. This is because worms function within a small range of pH values and may be sensitive to any environmental changes.  

Is cheese biodegradable? 

Cheese is an organic product from animals like cows, so it is biodegradable. This means it can naturally decompose into the soil with the activity of bacteria and microorganisms. It is biodegradable regardless of the type of cheese. This is why you can add them to the compost bin. However, you must compost them cautiously to ensure they biodegrade without attracting pests and releasing an unbearable odor. 

Conclusion 

Composting cheese and dairy products is something most people will avoid adding to their pile. This is because of the unpleasant smell and pest infestation when you compost dairy products. However, you can avoid this if you compost your cheese and other dairy products.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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