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Does Compost Attract Animals?

When starting to compost at home, many people wonder if compost attracts animals. Does compost attract rats or will compost attract wildlife? It’s a fair concern and one that depends a lot on how you compost at home and how well you manage the compost bin.

In short, if you compost properly or use certain types of compost containers, you won’t attract unwanted pests looking for an easy lunch. Further, if you live in an area with lots of wildlife, maybe a few animals in your compost bin don’t really matter? Read on to answer the question “Does Compost Attract Animals?”

Will Compost Attract Animals?

I get a lot of questions about composting. Without a doubt, one of the most frequent questions people ask me about composting at home is whether or not compost attracts animals. It’s also probably the most common reason people feel nervous about composting at home. 

On the surface, some might think a compost pile is akin to trash. After all, it’s all waste, and it’s the food in our trash that attracts animals and causes issues, right? 

A compost pile is more than just waste though. Composting is the process of organic materials decomposing in a natural way to break down matter into its basic elements. Decomposition (or composting) happens in nature constantly. A forest floor is a perfect example of composting, and that definitely doesn’t smell like trash or attract unwanted pests. 

Simplistically, as long as food scraps and other compost materials have sufficient water and oxygen, they will transform into nitrogen and other micronutrients, water, and carbon dioxide. This process smells sweet and earthy, nothing like the rotting or stinky smells from your trash that attract raccoons and rodents. 

Food Scraps In Our Homes

Before you take food scraps out to your compost bin, pile, or tumbler, they collect on your counter or in your kitchen. Many people wonder if this causes issues with fruit flies or other bugs. 

Bowl On The Counter | Some people leave items in a bowl for a few hours and dump food scraps in their compost bins daily. In such a short period of time, food scraps generally do not smell, attract bugs, or create other sanitation issues.

Countertop Compost Crock | We leave our food scraps in a countertop compost crock for several days and sometimes up to a week. It really doesn’t get stinky, even after a few days. The top of the container has a charcoal filter underneath it to prevent any smells from escaping or attracting bugs. On a rare occasion in the heart of summer, the food scrap container has attracted a few fruit flies, but the issue resolved itself as soon as we tossed the food scraps in the outdoor bin. 

Compost Pick Up Service | Those who use a compost pick-up service collect food scraps in an airtight bucket. We have never used a service, but those who have say there are no issues with the buckets causing odors in their kitchen or attracting bugs or rodents. I don’t think they would leave the buckets open for extended periods of time, and they would not really have a reason to do that anyway. 

Compost Drop Off Location | Some friends are fortunate enough to have access to a drop-off spot at a local park or through a program like ShareWaste. Many of these friends store food scraps in an airtight container or in their freezer between drop off days. 

All in all, I’ve asked so many people who compost if they have issues with fruit flies or other bugs in their kitchen or near their food scrap container. I’ve received resounding “no’s”, so I think it is safe to conclude that it’s fairly easy to collect food scraps without attracting unwanted bugs and varmints inside your home. 

Compost Bins & Piles Outside Your Home

Once the scraps and other compost materials are collected outside your home and ready to decompose, many wonder if this attracts animals to your yard, similar to a pile of rotting trash. Some have concerns about curious pets getting into compost piles while others worry that unwanted wild animals will make their yard a home as a result of the food source.

As long as you compost properly, your pile or bin shouldn’t attract wild animals. Typically animals are drawn to the pile by the stinky smell. Earthy compost smells don’t do much for animals. In fact, they’re pretty much everywhere because organic matter is “rotting” naturally in and on the ground all the time. A properly managed compost pile is no different than a pile of fallen leaves breaking down over the winter.

Whether or not your pile will be appealing to your pet probably depends on your pet. Do they like digging in the dirt in your yard and the piles of leaves at the park? If so, they might wonder about the compost bin too. As with wild animals though, a well-managed compost bin won’t be any more appealing than the fun stuff in the rest of the yard.

What Is a Well-Managed Compost Pile?

In order for compost to smell earthy and not stinky (i.e. be well managed), it must have proper components: water, air, carbon and nitrogen. I talked a whole lot more about how composting works in a previous post so you can check that out. In short though, if it starts to smell, it needs more air and / or more carbon. Add carbon materials, and turn the pile every day or so until it no longer smells and doesn’t look especially wet. Then you should be good to go. 

Remember when adding food scraps that they need to be mixed in with the rest of the pile to decompose properly. If they sit on top of the pile and aren’t incorporated into the mix, they might drawer the attention of your raccoon neighbors. If it’s an issue or of particular concern, just be sure to cover any food scraps with dirt or “browns” each time you add food scraps. 

Does It Matter If Animals Explore Your Compost Pile?

It’s worth noting that, in many cases, it may not matter if animals get into the compost. Raccoons get into our compost bin and scrape out the avocado remnants from the skins regularly. They are messy and leave the skins around our compost bin as evidence of their snack, but I don’t really care. Our compost bin is far enough from our house and the raccoons don’t hang out around our yard during the day, so it really doesn’t bother me. 

If the raccoons (or other animals) are also getting into other things or causing trouble generally, just bury the food scraps under some dirt, cardboard, or dried leaves each time you dump them into the pile. Then the raccoons or other animals won’t know what’s hiding out in your pile. 

With respect to rodents, compost bins do not generally attract mice any more than mice are otherwise running around outside our homes and in nature. Whether we like it or not, mice are around. Hopefully, they aren’t in our house, but having a compost bin shouldn’t exacerbate that risk. 

If you are concerned, keep the compost pile away from the house or use a raised tumbler that keeps composting matter in an enclosed container a foot or two off the ground. This should help prevent any animals from snooping around in your precious compost. 

Earthy Smells Quite Nice 

If compost is decomposing properly with enough “browns” and oxygen (by turning it frequently enough), compost smells quite good actually. It has a sweet, earthy smell. The smell of rotting food may attract animals but compost does not smell like rotting food if managed properly. 

Composting doesn’t have to be an exact science so long as you are mindful about checking on it periodically and not leaving food scraps on top of the pile for long periods of time. 

If it starts to smell bad or like trash, that’s a sign that the compost needs more “brown” material and would benefit from being turned to incorporate more air (oxygen) into the pile for the microorganisms. 

If you’re on the fence about composting and the fear of attracting animals has you concerned, know that there are plenty of ways to compost at home that almost certainly will not create issues with wildlife or overly-curious pets wreaking havoc in your home and yard. 

If you have more questions about composting at home, don’t hesitate to ask! Leave your questions in the comments so everyone can benefit from the answers, and I will do my very best to help you out. 

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Sarah Garvey

Saturday 26th of September 2020

Hi there, this is a great article. I’m trying to build up my compost supply (in rural England, UK) and I’m sure I have a rodent resident in my compost bin. It is at my allotment so away from home. I regularly bang loudly in the sides and turn the heap when I remember. I inherited a large plastic compost bin at the plot (our councils sell them at a discount to encourage people to compost too). Do you think the bin is too cosy? Should I leave the lid off when I’m on site to let light in? I’m also wondering if I should direct the hose in the “flush it out”? Not sure what to do...I’m ok with one rodent but nervous if an infestation. Many thanks Sarah

Jen

Monday 28th of September 2020

Hey Sarah,

Thanks for the question. You're not the first person who asked me this question. I think this article is helpful and gives you a few ideas you can try. I might start by moving it if you can. That way, at least you've set up a new clean space for a fresh start. Then be sure you turn or aerate it regularly, including near the bottom if you can. Hopefully, this gets you started! https://woollygreen.com/compost-rats/

As a separate thought, here's another article with a couple of ideas: https://www.thespruce.com/keeping-rats-out-of-your-compost-2539830 -- You might try decomposing your food scraps a bit first in vermicompost, bokashi, or even a bucket system. Check out how Jess, from this edition of Bring Your Trash To Life, starts the decomposition process in a double bucket system before putting the food scraps in her yard. This helps them breakdown a bit first so they aren't so fresh and attractive to pests. https://www.honestlymodern.com/you-can-make-dirt-composting-in-buckets/

Jen

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