Can You Compost Bread (we find out)

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If you are an avid gardener who likes to create homemade compost, among other items, you likely toss in rotting fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps no longer fit for consumption. But can you compost bread? We all love to eat it for morning toast or ready-made sandwiches for work, and we often toss out the leftovers when it goes stale or moldy.

Bread is an excellent addition to your compost pile and is a great way to reduce food waste. Bread breaks down easily, adding much-needed nitrogen to your compost. However, you should ensure that specific ingredients, such as dairy from melted cheese, should not be composted. Moreover, including too much bread within your compost at one time may also attract unwanted pests like rats, raccoons, and other wildlife you’d otherwise wish to avoid. 

various loaves of bread and grains on wooden table with black background

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According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, about 40% of all food produced in America goes uneaten, equating to over 20 pounds of food per person each month. And because bread is an everyday dietary staple in our society, there are many questions surrounding the practice of composting bread, such as which type is best and how to incorporate it into your pile without attracting unwelcome and unsanitary critters. 

Whether you are new to composting or a seasoned pro, in this article, I’ll answer the most commonly asked questions to help you do everything right and provide some practical tips on what kind of bread you can safely add to your pile and how long it takes to decompose. Following this guide, you can turn your stale or moldy bread into nutrient-rich compost without worrying about attracting pests or creating unsavory odors!

Humble Highlights

  • Discover how to compost bread with this step-by-step guide to reduce household waste, add valuable nutrients to your home garden, and be an eco-friendly grower!  
  • Save money by learning if moldy and stale bread can be recycled in your compost bin rather than thrown out AND the ideal conditions for composting – even if you’re beginning!
  • Understand the three most common benefits of composting bread, the bread types most suitable for your backyard heap, and the ones to avoid to keep your compost developing efficiently! 

How To Compost Bread

Because bread is a big staple in society and is used in many unique and tasty ways, it’s wonderful to know that you can add it to your compost instead of throwing it in the trash. Composting bread is pretty straightforward, but if you’re tossing it into your compost heap for the first time, it’s essential to do it correctly to be eco-friendly and avoid unfavorable outcomes. 

what not to put in compost
The composting process is easy to understand and achieve. Complete beginners can start successfully by following a few simple steps, even if space is limited.

Here is a step-by-step process for composting your bread scraps.

Step 1 – Collect The Bread

To begin composting bread, collect all the stale, moldy, and otherwise unusable bread you have available. Your carb collection can include sliced bread, whole loaves, bread rolls, and other bakery items.

Step 2 – Break The Bread Into Smaller Pieces

Once you have gathered the bread, break it into smaller pieces to make it easier to compost. By fragmenting your bread, you’ll help decrease its surface area, making it easier for the decomposing microbes and worms in your pile to break it down effectively.

Step 3 – Add The Bread Pieces To A Compost Bin Or Pile

Once the bread has been broken down into smaller pieces, add them to your compost bin or pile. Moderation is vital when it comes to successful bread composting, so to avoid unwelcome visits by rats, squirrels, and raccoons, it’s best not to overdo it by adding too much bread at once. Instead, consider freezing any leftover bread to prevent it from becoming too moldy or smelly, and incorporate this bread later. 1

why can't you compost bread
Breaking your bread into smaller pieces before tossing them into your compost pile helps reduce the chances vermin will scope out your heap while allowing your mound to decompose materials more efficiently.

Burying bread near the middle of your compost pile is wise when adding it to an “open-air” mound. Covering and incorporating the bread will mask its scent, making it less likely to attract rodents. When using a contained compost tumbler, like those used successfully by many urban gardeners, vermin will have a more challenging time gaining access, even if their tumbler emits an odor. 

Humble Tip:
When building an “open-air” compost heap, it’s important to layer your compost as you would when you make your famous homemade lasagna. Start by layering your greens (nitrogen) followed by a layer of browns (carbon), ensuring you add moisture to the top of each before building another layer. 

It’s also vital to provide your pile with proper air, water, and drainage to decompose effectively. One effective way to do this is to establish your base with sticks and branches before adding your first compost layer. 

This base will provide your pile with a porous bottom, allowing air to flow upward into your pile while at the same time allowing any moisture to drain thoroughly, eliminating any stagnant pools of water within your heap.  

Step 4 – Add Other Organic Materials

Composting bread with other organic materials will help speed up the decomposition process. Because bread is high in nitrogen, it is considered a green material. As the layering technique mentioned above details, you’ll also want to add brown (carbon) materials such as dry leaves, shredded paper, and pelletized bedding to create a harmonious balance and aid decomposition.

Step 5 – Turn And Aerate The Compost Pile

For quicker results and to ensure your compost pile is well aerated, it’s best to turn it every few days. When mixed thoroughly, you’ll provide oxygen an excellent opportunity to reach the microbes working hard on your behalf and breaking down the organic materials.

Humble Tip:
Hot and cold composting are the two basic composting techniques. While neither is superior to the other, if you insist on faster results, hot composting is your ticket. 

With hot composting, turning your pile with a shovel or pitchfork every few days, or at least once weekly, is desired. In this method, the active turning of your pile heats or “cooks” your heap, increasing the internal temperature and encouraging faster decomposition. Depending on the size of your pile, it’s possible to have nutrient-rich and garden-ready compost in only a few weeks or months. Remember to keep your compost moist throughout this process to provide hydration to the microbial life working hard on your behalf. 

Cold composting takes 18 to 24 months for your compost to break down completely, but no turning is required. This “lazy man’s” method is ideal for those individuals who are in no hurry to add fresh compost to their garden and prefer to allow Mother Nature to process their heap naturally.  

Step 6 – Add Water

To ensure that the compost pile remains moist, you’ll want to add water but not to the point of oversaturation. Your best bet is to aim for a moisture content of around 50-60% (soggy but not swimming), which is the ideal hydration range for composting.

Step 7 – Monitor The Temperature

Monitor the compost pile’s temperature to ensure it is within the ideal range for composting. The perfect temperature range for a compost pile is between 135-160°F (57-71°C). Staying within this temperature range provides the best environment for microorganisms to thrive and properly break down your mound.

“The perfect temperature range for a compost pile is between 135-160°F (57-71°C).”

Step 8 – Wait For Your Compost To Break Down

Once the compost pile has been established and the temperature is at the ideal range, there’s nothing left to do but wait for the compost to break down. The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the size and temperature of your pile and the hot or cold method previously mentioned. 2

Step 9 – Harvest Your Compost

Once the compost has broken down, it is ready to be harvested. Use a shovel or pitchfork to harvest the compost and spread it evenly throughout your garden beds. 

Here’s a quick, informative video that discusses how you can benefit from composting your bread into nutrient-dense, organic material you can use in your backyard garden.

https://youtu.be/IeAG4wurhLg
Leftover bread makes an excellent addition to any backyard compost pile as it provides vital nitrogen.

As you can see, composting bread is a relatively straightforward process. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some of the incredible benefits of composting bread.

Benefits Of Composting Bread

Composting bread has many benefits, making it a great addition to any compost pile. Not only does bread provide essential nutrients for the soil, but it also helps reduce food waste and provides nutrition for beneficial insects.

can you put moldy bread in compost
Because bread is a main staple in today’s society, much of it can be tossed into your compost, decreasing household waste that would usually be headed to the landfill.

Considering these advantages, it’s easy to see why composting with bread is an excellent choice for any aspiring or seasoned gardener. So let’s look at three primary bread composting benefits. 

Nutrients for the Soil

Bread is rich in nitrogen, an essential component of healthy garden soil. And because of its high nitrogen levels, bread also helps break down other materials in the compost pile, aiding decomposition and improving its quality. Additionally, bread encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms that help aerate your compost and provide vital nutrients to your plants. 3

Reduces Food Waste

The most significant benefit of adding bread to your compost pile is reducing household food waste. Using stale or otherwise unusable pieces of bread for composting instead of tossing them away can reduce your environmental footprint and contribute to sustainability efforts, helping your backyard garden and the planet. And what humble gardener wouldn’t want to do their part?

“The most significant benefit of adding bread to your compost pile is reducing household food waste.”

Nutrition for Helpful Insects

Bread can serve as a valuable source of nutrition for worms and other helpful insects in your compost pile. These insects will consume bits of bread while munching on organic matter like leaves or weeds, helping speed up composting by breaking down material faster than if left alone.

What Types Of Bread Are Suitable For Composting

When composting with bread, it is essential to consider the types best suited to decompose efficiently within your pile. Because different types of bread contain various ingredients, all of which break down in distinct ways, three of the best bread options for composting are:

  • Wholemeal bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Rye bread
can you add bread to compost
High-fiber breads quickly decompose in your compost pile. Good options include whole grain and whole wheat bread.

These three varieties provide more nutrition for your compost pile and break down quickly due to their high fiber content. These various breads also help retain moisture within your compost and attract beneficial microorganisms to help speed decomposition.

Likewise, pita bread is also an excellent choice for composting, as is any bread made with whole grains and doesn’t contain preservatives or additives. Additionally, pita bread’s smaller size makes it easier to decompose faster than larger loaves. 4

All of these different types of bread will naturally help enrich the soil with nutrients while providing additional organic matter for worms, beetles, and other critters to aid your compost heap.

However, knowing the best bread to toss in your compost pile is as essential as understanding what types don’t fare well. So let’s examine which kinds of bread options aren’t suitable for composting and should be discarded entirely. 

Types Of Bread Unsuitable For Composting

Not all bread is suitable for composting due to the ingredients it may contain. Some common bread types that you should avoid when composting are:

  • Bagels
  • Pizza crusts
  • Croissants
is bread bad for compost
Although some bread may not be ideal for your compost, it will eventually break down completely. However, be cautious of adding bread that may have dairy, like melted cheese. Disease, rodents, and smells may be consequences.

Dairy products, for example, may cause quite a potent souring smell, attracting uninvited rodents or other large animals to your compost. Moreover, spoiled dairy may promote the proliferation of E.col, Listeria, or Salmonella bacteria that can make people and animals sick.

Bagels, pizza crusts, and croissants often contain large amounts of processed white flour, and unhealthy fats, not to mention dairy, which may take these types of breads longer to decompose than other organic materials mixed within your compost. Additionally, because of these extra ingredients, these various breads may take longer to decompose and remain in your compost pile longer than necessary.

can you put sourdough bread in compost
A good practice is to check bread labels to see if any ingredients may not suit your compost.

However, even though I have recommended not composting these bread types, they will eventually break down over time without harming your mixture, provided your compost pile is well aerated and hydrated with the correct balance of green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) sources. 

The key takeaway is that not all types of bread are suitable for composting, and some varieties should be disposed of through traditional means rather than added to your compost pile. This is especially true if you’re aiming for ready-made compost to supply nutrient-dense compost sooner rather than later for your garden. 5

Humble Tip:
Before adding any bread to your compost pile, make it a good habit to read ingredient labels. By carefully determining what ingredients are in your bread, you can make a better, more informed decision as to what to add to your pile to avoid any unpleasant and potentially smelly surprises later. In addition, you will help ensure your compost remains healthy and contaminant-free.

Stale Bread vs. Moldy Bread

Generally, there are vastly different opinions on whether adding stale or moldy bread to your compost is acceptable. Moldy bread is fine to add to your compost as the appearance of mold signals that decay has already occurred, just as it would in your compost. Likewise, stale bread is OK to incorporate into your pile as well. 

can you throw moldy bread in compost
Moldy bread indicates that decomposition has begun and is the same process that would happen within your compost pile.

So let’s look at fact versus fiction when using stale and moldy bread in your compost.

Can You Compost Moldy Bread

It’s common for people to wonder whether they can toss moldy bread into their compost or if it should go straight into the trash. The misunderstanding stems from people thinking mold and fungus will spread disease through their compost, making the finished compost (called humus) undesirable and unusable in their garden. 6

Moldy bread is perfectly safe to use for composting. When bread becomes moldy, the decomposition phase has already begun. The bacteria and microorganisms present that cause this decomposition in bread are the same required to help your compost pile decompose properly and efficiently.

bread in compost tumbler
To keep household waste to a minimum, toss your moldy and stale bread into your compost pile instead of the trash can. Just be sure to break it into smaller pieces first to aid decomposition.

Remember, the organisms found in compost thrive on decomposing foods like moldy bread. Therefore, adding moldy bread to your compost helps create a more robust environment where natural waste breaks down quickly.

When deciding whether or not to add something to your compost pile, remember that all organic materials have beneficial properties for building up healthy soil. For example, as previously mentioned, bread provides needed nitrogen into compost. And this means that even moldy food can provide environmental benefits when broken down into its basic form through composting.

Can You Compost Stale Bread

Bread becomes stale once exposed to the air for extended periods, so it’s best to keep bread and biscuits in airtight containers to seal their freshness. 

Stale bread is OK to add to a compost pile and can quickly become moldy once stale, whether composted or not. All organic food matter will break down similarly due to the microorganisms and bacteria that feed on it, which is perfect for any compost pile, which hastens the process while doing the same.

How Long Does Bread Take To Compost

Depending on the environment, climate, temperature, bread ingredients, and composting method, it could take a few weeks to two years for bread to completely decompose into compost. Although composting bread can be tricky, it doesn’t need to be so long as the correct steps are followed.

can you compost moldy bread
When adding bread and other materials to your compost, ensure you provide adequate air, moisture, and drainage.

To help understand this process better, let’s look at some key factors and their effects on composting time.

FactorEffects On Composting Duration
Too Much MoistureSlows Down Decomposition
Correct TemperatureSpeeds Up Decomposition
Adequate Aeration Speeds Up Decomposition

When considering these three factors, it’s clear that proper moisture levels, adequate temperatures, and aeration are necessary to speed up the composting duration of your bread scraps. Likewise, you’ll want to adhere to an appropriate balance of greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon). 7

A good ratio of browns to greens is 3:1, meaning that for every bucket of greens (coffee grounds, food waste, eggshells, plant trimmings) you add to your compost, three buckets of browns (dry leaves, wood chips, twigs, straw, hay) should follow. By balancing your mix in this manner, you’ll avoid the common challenge of slimy, smelly goop many composters face when carbon and nitrogen levels become uneven.

“A good ration of browns to greens in 3:1, meaning that for every bucket of greens you add to your compost, three buckets of browns should follow.”

Remember, if any of the above elements are off, you may be waiting significantly longer for your bread to break down entirely within your compost pile. And that means adding rich, organic compost to your backyard garden will be postponed, potentially spelling disaster for the organized and prudent gardener. So understanding how composting works and the ideal conditions for its decomposition is essential to get the best results possible.

Ideal Conditions For Composting Bread

The most important thing for successfully breaking down bread in a compost bin is getting the temperature right. When temperatures are too high (above 160°F) or too low (below 135°F), decomposition either slows or stops altogether. Therefore, you want to aim for something towards the middle end of that range, or around 150°F. Reaching and maintaining this temperature may require continual monitoring and adjusting depending on external factors such as weather, climate, or time of year. Still, your labor and attention to detail will be well worth the wait.

can you put moldy bread in a compost pile
Because bread is high in fiber, porous, and absorbs moisture well, it makes an ideal addition to your compost heap.

It’s been said that composting bread is akin to performing a science experiment, complete with its unique and ideal conditions. That may be true, but so is the entire practice of productive composting. Supplying your pile with the necessary moisture and air while keeping your greens and browns ratio balanced will reward you with fantastic results.

Additionally, it’s wise to keep your compost’s moisture at optimal levels. You don’t want a pile so wet that everything starts becoming soggy and smelly, with substandard drainage that slows decomposition. Conversely, you want to avoid a dry pile where nothing happens because the microorganisms, worms, and bacteria need the required water to thrive and do their job appropriately. 8

Therefore, ideal humidity levels should be between 50-60%. To maintain this measure, you’ll want to consistently sprinkle water over your pile, especially when adding new greens and browns materials to your heap. In addition, consider turning your pile regularly, encouraging adequate moisture coverage.

Potential Problems Of Composting Bread

Composting bread can have its share of issues and potential problems. For example, bread has a high amount of carbohydrates that can attract rodents, pests, and other wild animals if not composted properly. Further, some bread contains preservatives that may take longer than usual to break down in compost piles, creating an unnecessarily long decomposition process that won’t serve your gardening needs in the short term.

can you compost cheese
To keep rodents away from your compost pile, consider a closed system, like a tumbler. However, if you opt for an “open air” method, bury your bread in the middle of your mound to mask the scent.

It goes without saying that curious rodents eyeing up your compost will likely leave behind waste products, and like pet waste, something you certainly don’t want mixed within your pile to avoid potential health concerns. Interestingly, urine can be used as a compost starter if your pile decomposes slowly, but it should similarly be avoided.

Although some controlled animal waste products may be helpful in a garden and compost setting, like aged manure, fresh droppings from pets and wild animals are another matter and far from ideal. It’s easy enough to avoid adding pet waste, but if you see wildlife circling your compost pile, it may make for a challenging environment, especially if these rodents carry disease. 9

can you compost baked goods
To avoid potential disease, you’ll want to keep rats, mice, raccoons, and other pesky wildlife away from your compost pile. Be sure to correctly mix your browns (carbons) and greens (nitrogen) and bury your bread towards the center of your heap.

Here are five potential problems with composting bread.

  • Rodents, pests, and other animals may be attracted to the compost pile because of the high carbohydrate content in bread.
  • Diseases could spread due to these animals being near or inside the compost pile along with their excrement.
  • Some bread contains preservatives that don’t decompose as quickly as regular food scraps making them harder to break down promptly into usable soil amendments for your backyard garden.
  • Increased health risks include contamination with Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli if dairy products are present.
  • Composting bread often takes more effort as it has to be worked into the middle of the pile to decompose correctly and to deter pests.

Understanding the potential problems you may encounter will help you weigh both sides of the equation before deciding whether to add your bread scraps to your composting routine. Remember, keeping your compostable materials sanitary and your pile pest-free should be paramount.   

can you compost pita bread
Composting bread, among other kitchen scraps and yard waste, provides the humble gardener with the makings of a healthy and productive compost pile.

Conclusion

Composting bread is a great way to help the environment by being eco-friendly while reducing household waste. And it’s also an easy, cheap, sustainable solution for any humble gardener looking to decrease their carbon footprint while creating nutrient-rich soil for their green space. 

When adding bread to your compost heap, ensure you break up the bread into smaller pieces, just as you would anything else you incorporate into your pile. This practice helps microorganisms break down your mound faster, so long as you keep your pile moist and well-aerated while maintaining a 3:1 balance among your brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials, respectively.  

Although bread provides your compost with a welcome injection of nitrogen, not all bread is treated equally. Depending upon the bread’s ingredients, like dairy, processed white flour, and unhealthy fats, unwanted pests may wander into your compost and spread diseases, including E.coli and Salmonella, throughout your pile. Still, moldy and stale bread are OK to add to your heap as their unappetizing condition indicates that decomposition has already begun. 

What various breads have you tossed into your compost pile with great success? We’d love to know. So meet us in the comments below and spill!  

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