Even experienced compost enthusiasts sometimes pause and wonder about the things they are adding to their compost heap.
While composting can be extremely simple – just pile up organic material outdoors – it can also be complicated in terms of what you should and shouldn’t add and the consequences of doing so. If you’re thinking about the intricacies of composting, you might be wondering “can you compost bread?”
You certainly can compost bread. It will break down like all other organic matter, and it can be a great addition if your compost is a bit wet, as it will soak up excess moisture. However, some people recommend you don’t add bread to your compost because it can attract pests. Despite that, plenty of people do compost bread without any issues.
What Are The Possible Drawbacks Of Composting Bread?
So, why do people say that you shouldn’t add old bread to your compost pile? Bread is one of the things that most households waste from time to time; it is very easy to let the end of the loaf go moldy or stale, and then you’re left with a dilemma.
Do you toss it into your garbage, knowing that it will end up in a landfill, contributing to the greenhouse gas problem, or do you add it to your compost bin even though some people advise against doing so?
It’s a decision you can only make if you weigh up the pros and cons, so let’s explore what the negatives of putting bread in your compost might be.
The biggest – and perhaps only – drawback of adding bread to your compost bin is that it may attract pests, such as raccoons, foxes, rats, mice, possums, etc. It is much more appealing to them than raw vegetable scraps, and they are more likely to be able to smell it.
How much of an issue this will be depends on your personal circumstances. If your compost bin is close to your house, you have a lot of neighbors, you are afraid of rodents, or there are other factors at play, the potential for attracting pests could weigh heavily against the benefits of adding bread to the compost.
However, if your setup is such that the odd visitor to the compost is not going to cause a big issue, there’s not much to worry about when adding bread. You can deter anything from nesting in the compost itself by keeping it reasonably wet and stirring it up often. Anything considering it as a home will quickly move on.
A second minor issue is that the bread may suck quite a lot of moisture out of your compost, especially if it is very stale. This is only likely to be a problem if your compost is already too dry, and it is very easy to remedy.
Simply soak stale bread before adding it to the compost, or water the compost heap once you have added the bread. The bread should then act like a sponge and retain moisture for a while as it breaks down. It will quickly decompose.
What Are The Potential Advantages Of Composting Bread?
If pests are the biggest con, what are the pros? The biggest advantage will depend a bit on your perspective, but it’s likely to be that you can reduce the amount of waste you are putting into landfills.
Many people are becoming increasingly aware of the problems that food waste causes when it gets sent to landfills. The lack of oxygen in landfill sites means that food and other organic matter don’t break down in the normal way. The process is very slow, and the decomposition will be done by anaerobic bacteria.
These contribute to greenhouse gasses, and even small quantities of food waste can lead to surprising amounts of methane.
It is much better to let food waste decompose in our gardens where possible. Here, aerobic bacteria will usually do the bulk of the work, turning the food back into nutrients without releasing harmful gasses.
This is one of the big reasons for composting bread. The second is that you get a larger amount of compost for your garden! Instead of the bread being a negative to the planet, it gets turned into a positive, and you get more compost to spread on your plants.
Everyone knows that a gardener can never have too much compost, so the more of your food waste you can repurpose in this way, the better. Depending on how much bread you waste, it could make quite a difference to your compost heap. If you often find the unwanted crusts, forgotten ends of loaves, or half-eaten sandwiches, get composting!
Bread can also be useful in the compost heap. As mentioned, it serves to soak up moisture, and while that can be negative if your compost heap is too dry, it’s a positive if it’s too wet. If your compost has got soggy, tossing in some stale bread can be a great way to soak up some of the excess liquid and restore the balance.
Bread is also a valuable source of nitrogen, or “greens.” This makes it a great addition to the heap if you have added lots of “brown” carbon-rich materials like eggshells, nutshells, sawdust, twigs, etc. It is also one of the “greens” that is (unless soaked) drier, again making it a good addition if you’re having problems with too much liquid.
The advantages of adding bread to your compost far outweigh the potential disadvantages, so let’s talk about how to add bread to the compost heap and minimize the chances of it attracting unwelcome attention from garden visitors.
What Should I Do Before Adding Bread To My Compost?
If your bread is very stale, you may wish to soak it before adding it to the compost. This depends on the circumstances and how wet your bin is, but it may also make the next step of preparing bread for the compost easier.
Like everything you add to your bin, it’s best to break the bread up. This will ensure you don’t end up with big clumps of it, which the worms and bacteria in your compost heap might struggle to deal with effectively. It will also make it easier to stir and turn your compost heap.
You can tear the bread, or use a knife to cut it if it’s in big chunks. Making it damp or soaking it will make this job a lot easier if the bread is very stale, although thin slices will usually crumble even if they have gone hard.
This bread can be stored in your kitchen caddy or added straight to the outdoor compost heap, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. It is best to mix it with other kitchen scraps and you may want to add some carbon-rich ingredients to counteract the nitrogen, but you don’t need to do much else. Your bread is pretty much ready straight from the packet.
Is It Safe To Compost Moldy Bread?
Finding a blue rectangle at the end of the bread bag isn’t something anyone enjoys, and you might be doubting whether this makes a good addition to your compost heap. We know how dangerous mold spores can be, so it’s not unreasonable to question whether moldy bread is safe to add.
Fortunately, putting moldy bread in the compost heap won’t cause any problems. It’s only going to go moldy once it’s in there, after all! The mold should be fine; it may not even survive in the new outdoor conditions, and if it does, it will disappear once the bread has turned to compost.
You don’t need to worry about adding moldy bread, but do take precautions when handling it, especially if you are sensitive to mold spores. Put a towel over your face, or tear it up in the bag and then tip it onto the heap directly. Be careful not to breathe in the spores.
How Do I Keep It From Attracting Pests?
If the potential pest problem is still concerning you, you might want to try and minimize the chances of them finding the bread.
One possible way to do this is to bury the bread in the center of your compost pile. It’s usually only worth doing this if you have several slices of bread, as it’s slightly more involved than just tossing it on the compost heap and walking away.
Use a trowel, shovel, or stick to scrape off the top layer of your compost pile, and then tip the bread (along with other food scraps, especially ones that you don’t want pests to smell) in the hole you have created. Cover it back over with compost that is of little interest to pests. Garden leaves, vegetable peelings, etc., are usually the best for this.
The center of the pile is the hottest so it should help to break the bread down quickly. By the time you turn the pile, it will have started composting or may have disappeared already, depending on how often you turn the pile and how small the pieces were.
Being covered in organic matter will help disguise the smell of the bread, although you may find that some rodents simply burrow in to find it anyway. You can try adding a high-carbon, particularly unattractive material such as sawdust to the top of the heap to further deter them.
You could also try soaking the bread until it’s really mushy and essentially decomposing before you add it to the heap. All you have to do is leave the bread chunks in a bowl of water for a few hours. They will soon start to disintegrate and should disappear very quickly into the heap, especially if you water them in.
However, this may not be a great idea if the compost heap is already quite wet, so have some dry ingredients (such as torn up card or paper) to hand if necessary.
Finally, having a well-fitted lid for your compost bin can also help to put off rodents and other pests. Most can overcome standard plastic compost bins if they are determined to, but a lid will deter some and help contain any tempting food smells, decreasing the chance of them noticing the bread.
All in all, the potential drawback of composting bread shouldn’t be enough to put you off; with a few precautions, you are unlikely to have any issues!
Can You Compost Bread-like Products?
Other things such as rolls, pitta breads, tortillas, and essentially any plain bread products can be composted just like a loaf of bread. Sourdoughs are also fine.
Sweetbreads should also be okay, although be aware that if a product contains chocolates, syrups, sugars, etc., it’s even more likely to attract unwanted attention from pests. However, the sugar shouldn’t cause any issues in the compost as long as you are only adding fairly small quantities.
Large amounts of sugar and dairy can cause issues in your compost, so check the ingredients of dessert-like bread before you include them. Dairy can throw off the balance, and a lot of sugar might disrupt the bacteria that do the majority of the work in a compost bin. You don’t want to include large quantities of either regularly.
However, if you are only adding small amounts and your compost is reasonably well established and large, it should cope with the occasional addition of these things – and it’s better than adding them to landfills.
It’s frustrating when food goes off, and bread is such a staple that you are quite likely to have at least scraps of it leftover regularly. It is totally fine to add these to your compost heap; they will provide useful nutrients and help to keep the heap dry, and they should soon disappear into the compost!
Next time you have some leftover bread, try tearing it up and adding it to the compost; it will probably have totally vanished within a week or two, and you’ll have a greater quantity of compost for your garden.