Maybe you are like me and are trying to cut down on how much trash you generate and reduce packaging and product waste. Or maybe you just like to see what can be composted successfully and are curious if chocolate will break down. Whatever your motivation, read on to see whether chocolate candy, cocoa powder, and cakes are compostable and how to do it well.
Can Chocolate Go in Compost?
Chocolate is made of some basic ingredients and processed to give it stable storage and a long shelf-life. Milk, butter, and cocoa powder are all organic materials that will break down in no time and return to the earth. Usually, dairy products are not recommended in a compost heap along with meat and diseased plants, but the heat treatment of chocolate makes it safer than just dumping milk in the compost.
Once the chocolate is in the compost, it will break down with other food scraps that are tossed into the compost pile along with it. Some food waste, like citrus fruit, will slow down the process of making finished compost if added with chocolate, coffee grounds, and acidic scraps. Chocolate in the compost bins can attract different kinds of bacteria; some are good, they eat the cocoa butter, and others are bad bacteria that feed on the refined sugars and encourage anaerobic conditions.
What Halloween Candy Can be Composted?
Halloween candy is not just chocolate but also marshmallows, candy corn, and everything in between. If you have tricker-or-treaters and bought a variety of candies to give out, you might be curious about which types are safe to compost. As with any waste material, when considering whether you can put it in the heap or not, you must first check if it is biodegradable, which all Halloween candy is.
Just because something will break down doesn’t mean it will do so in any compost. You may need a hot compost pile or closed compost to process some more difficult candies without attracting pests. Other types of treats are safe to throw in with any yard waste and will come out as garden soil in no time.
Which compost technique is needed for each candy depends on its primary ingredients and how it’s processed.
|Type of Candy||Main Ingredients||Compostable?|
|Chocolate||Cocoa butter, milk, sugar||Yes|
|Candy||Sugar, food dyes, flavorings, gelatin||Yes|
|Marshmallows||Sugar, corn syrup, gelatin||Yes|
|Licorice||Root extract, sugar, flour/gum||Yes|
|Baked Goods||Flour, sugar, milk, eggs, chocolate||Yes|
Most chocolate is just choco powder/butter mixed with sugar and milk and cooked. Once it is done, it is packaged and sent out. A chocolate bar comes in as many variations as can be imagined, with every flavor conceivable mixed in. Most Halloween candy will be pretty standard chocolate with only minor additions that will need composting consideration.
Common chocolates have nougat, caramel, nuts, and coconut that could be added to the pile along with the cocoa ingredients. All of these ingredients happen to be natural materials that break down quickly and easily in earth compost. Along with chocolate chips, baking chocolate, and melted cocoa, all forms of chocolate are compostable in compost heaps and will break down with few issues.
This is a big category and stretches a whole range of products, from gummy bears to nerds. Most candy and candy bars consist of sugar, food dyes, flavorings, and gelatin. Different variations of sweeteners and binders can be used, but in essence, they all break down relatively quickly in a compost pile.
Like chocolate compost, candy canes and other forms of hard candies can be large and need to be broken up before adding to a compost bucket. Hard candies like jawbreakers or really rubbery ones may take a while to break down but can be spread up if placed in hot compost and not left to sit inactive all winter.
Marshmallows may not be everyone’s favorite treat, but they shouldn’t be thrown in the trash. They are made from sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, all of which quickly break down and return to the soil. Microbes like sugar will reproduce rapidly with just the taste of marshmallows and aid in the decomposition of the rest of the compost ingredients.
Marshmallows can be very sticky when they melt and can cause parts of the compost to bind together, creating anaerobic pockets. Try to mix the marshmallows into the compost when they are still hard; once they heat up, they will melt and stick. Do not add too many marshmallows all at once, and incorporate plenty of brown materials to preserve soil structure in the compost pile once they start to break down.
This candy is extracted from the roots of licorice plants and mixed with sugar and a binder to create candy. Just like citrus peels, coffee grounds, compostable kitchen waste, and other yard waste, licorice root in compost can upset the fertile breeding ground of compost bacteria and slow down decomposition. Licorice can be composted but should be added in small amounts or cut up and distributed through the pile.
Licorice is also usually bound together very tightly and can take a long time to come apart. Similar to candy in compost, licorice can become sticky and mess up the balance of the microbes as it breaks down. Worms and other compost decomposers do not like licorice and will avoid it until it is mostly decomposed.
Baked goods can be composted, and ones topped with chocolate or any other icing can break down in no time. Cookies, bread, and pastries can all be composted with other household waste items and garden waste and will decompose with very few issues. Baked goods are less processed than chocolate and candy bars and will become essential plant nutrients much faster.
The grains, flours, and more natural ingredients in baked goods can consistently attract problem pests. It is probably best not to throw baked goods into open backyard compost piles, or you may attract rodents and other pests. The smell of dessert can quickly bring wild animals to backyard compost bins.
How Long Does Chocolate Take to Break Down?
In most cases, chocolate will break down in 3 to 6 months in a compost pile. The exact amount of time depends on the type of chocolate, the size of the piece, and the specific composting method used. Large blocks of baking chocolate will take far longer to decompose than smaller chocolate chips.
To speed up the composting process, you can remove all wrappers and containers and prepare chocolate for the composting. Try to break or cut everything into pieces no larger than half a fun-sized bar. Once it is cut into pieces, you can mix it with other kitchen waste until it is evenly distributed. If you let the bucket heat up before adding it to the compost, then work it into a hot compost pile, it will break down far faster and with fewer issues than by any other method.
Problems Chocolate Can Cause in the Compost
Almost no compost ingredient is without its issues, and chocolate is no different. There are several reasons that chocolate should be composted responsibly, or you may bring unintended consequences to your plants and garden. Check them out below.
The smell of chocolate roasting in the sun will bring wild animals, and the sticky, sugary sweetness may attract insects and bugs. The more pests that come to your pile, the more chances of diseases and other compost problems cropping up. Make sure your bins are sealed, chocolate is buried, and your compost is inaccessible to wild animals before throwing in large amounts of sweets.
Too much chocolate in one area can throw off the pH and affect microbe growth. The sticky nature of chocolate can cause compost materials to bind together and take longer to break down. If chocolate is added to the bin, it should be cut small, spread out, and buried well to promote quick decomposition with less impact on worms and soil critters.
Chocolate smells amazing, and the odor can carry far. Usually, compost doesn’t have the best smells, so the combination can be weird. When I am mixing my compost and get a whiff of delicious chocolate amongst the rot and decay, it confuses my senses and makes me uneasy. It will also attract more bugs and sugar-hungry pests if allowed to stink in the sun, so bury it deeply.
Benefits of Composting Cocoa Powder
While some forms of chocolate have a lot of dairy and sugar, other types are pretty much pure cocoa. These types of chocolate added to compost have enormous soil benefits and should be mixed in whenever it is not needed in the kitchen. Usually, if cocoa powder is spoiled with pests or moisture, it needs to be tossed, so choose the compost instead of the trash can.
The chemical compounds of cocoa are similar to coffee and add a range of macro and micronutrients that growing plants crave. Adding both cocoa powder and coffee grounds, along with plenty of nitrogen-rich greens and high-carbon brown materials, will ensure exceptional compost for your garden.
Smell Deters Pests
The smell of sweetened chocolate may attract foraging animals, but the bitter stench of cocoa powder has the opposite effect. Sprinkling the powder around your plants will add nutrients to the soil and act as a pest repellent. Squirrels and other rodents will avoid the powder in search of less offensive smells.
Chemical Properties repel harmful insects and bugs
Like cinnamon powder and other types of natural insecticides, cocoa powder can destroy soft-bodied insects that come into contact with it. Mixing chocolate powder into the soil can deter burrowing bugs from digging into the soil around your plants and laying eggs. Unneeded cocoa powder can make a great addition to an already well-developed pest control solution for your garden plants.