Conventional wisdom says that you should never try to compost meat or other animal products, especially in vermicomposting systems. Websites listing compost “dos” and “don’ts” almost invariably list meat as a “don’t.” Many people claim that meat is especially forbidden in worm bins, claiming that the red wigglers used for vermicomposting are strict vegetarians who can’t digest meat proteins. I’m here to tell you that these claims are absolutely false.
I bought my Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system about a year ago as a way of reducing the amount of garbage that my husband and I send to the landfill every week. The first thing I did upon ordering the system was read everything I could about setting up the system, properly managing it, and what kinds of things could be put in the bin. The second thing I did was completely ignore these guidelines (within reason).
One thing I noticed during my initial research was that most articles about vermicomposting and composting in general claimed that only plant materials can be composted—never animal materials. Now, this made absolutely no sense to me. Animals are just as organic and biodegradable as plants, so why wouldn’t you be able to compost them? Nature has been composting all of these things since long, long before humans even existed. There’s no reason why meat and other animal products couldn’t be broken down in a human-directed composting system, as well. Meat is just as good a source of nitrogen for your compost as any fresh plant material.
After doing some more reading, it became clear that these guidelines are in place simply because of concerns that meat may attract wild animals in poorly maintained outdoor composting piles and bins. If you simply throw your left-over chicken bones on top of your compost pile, of course wild animals, such as coyotes, skunks, and bears, will smell it and start to cause problems on your property.
However, if you use small amounts of meat and animal products in secured bins, or if it's buried deep enough in a compost pile or trench so that there is no smell, then it is perfectly fine.
Of course, this applies to traditional outdoor compost piles, not necessarily to vermicomposting. Is there any truth to the claim that red wigglers can’t process meat? Or are these guidelines overly cautious?
When I really thought about it, the claim that red wigglers cannot process animal proteins made no sense. Inside the worm bin, worms are hatched, live out their lives, die, and are reabsorbed into the system. It’s the circle of life on a micro scale. If the worms can handle processing their fallen brethren, then why not the remains of an expired pack of turkey cold cuts, or maybe a piece of steak that fell on the floor? In the grand scheme of things, these types of meats are no different from deceased composting worms themselves.
My husband and I have a bad habit of buying too much lunch meat and then forgetting to eat it all before it goes bad. Really, we should just work on reducing the amount of waste we create to begin with—but once it’s expired there’s nothing you can really do, so it’s best to find an alternative to sending it to the landfill. I can’t stand throwing meat away, since it feels like the animal died for nothing. But if I can compost it, at least it is being used in some way.
In order for the meat to break down in the Worm Factory 360 fast enough, I first cut the meat into tiny pieces. If there is paper in the package, such as cold cuts that came from the deli counter, I cut up the paper along with the meat for added carbon. Then I either mix it directly into the worm bin, or into the compost collection bucket on my counter (depending if I am ready to empty the bucket yet. I don’t leave meat sitting inside the countertop bucket).
Once the meat is inside the worm bin, I make sure to cover it with plenty of bedding materials, which you must do with anything you add to the bin, anyway. All newly added food scraps should be buried in the top tray of the worm bin to avoid bad smells. The smelliest problem I’ve had in the year that I’ve had my worm bin was caused by not burying a moldy piece of bread deep enough.
The meat is always gone by the time I check on it again a week or two later. The worms seem to process lunch meat at about the same speed they process their favorite fruits, such as strawberries. I’ve seen pieces of carrots last longer in the worm bin than meat. Red wiggler worms can clearly process meat products just fine, as I’ve never seen rotting pieces of meat left in the bin, and I’ve never experienced the putrid smells that you would expect from rotting meat when digging around in the bin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting small amounts of meat, cut up into small pieces, in a worm bin.
There are a lot of misconceptions about composting on the internet, as most articles are simply rehashes of older information that other people have written. The best thing to do when you first start composting, either with a worm bin or with a traditional compost pile, is to simply experiment to find out what works best and what doesn’t work. In general, anything that was once alive can be composted.
It is also important to make sure your compost includes a good mix of “browns” (carbon-rich material, such as dead leaves, paper, or cardboard) and “greens” (nitrogen-rich material such as fruits and vegetable scraps, meats, and other food waste). Different people have different opinions on what the proper ratio of these materials should be, but in general, you will want more “browns” than “greens” in your mix. Also, make sure your newly added “greens” are covered with a layer of “browns” to prevent any smells. If done right, your compost bin should have a nice “earthy” smell, and never smell rancid, even if you use left-over meat as one of your compost ingredients.
Question: Are whole eggs okay to compost or just the shells?
Answer: I would only use crushed egg shells in a worm bin. Whole eggs would start to stink before they could be processed by worms and may attract unwanted pests. It is best to crush egg shells into tiny pieces before adding them to a worm bin so that they can break down quicker.
The calcium in the egg shells is beneficial for red wiggler reproduction, so crushed egg shells should definitely be added to your worm bin to increase your worm population quicker.
If you want to compost whole eggs, you can add them to an outdoor compost pile or bin (as long as you bury them deep enough within the pile that the smell won't be a problem). If you do trench composting (burying compostable waste directly in the ground in your garden), you can also dispose of whole eggs this way.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Jan [email protected] on November 02, 2018:
Have compost, vermiculture combo..can I use whole eggs (cracked) or just the shells?