Rodent-Resistant Composting

Cagey Compost

By Chris Knowles
Harrowsmith Magazine
Mar/Apr 1991

Our new enthusiasm for composting could encourage the return of an old urban problem: rats. 

Officials with Vancouver's fledgling home composting program are delicately warning
homeowners that the omnivorous pests would like nothing better than to dine out in warm backyard compost bins. A pamphlet produced by
the city on how to recycle yard and kitchen wastes stresses the need to ‘rodent-proof’ compost bins.

“If in five years everyone has turned their home garden into a landfill site, then we'll have lots of places for rats to hangout unless people use “rodent-resistant bins.” warns Michael Levenston, executive director of City Farmer, a non-profit society in Vancouver that promotes urban composting and agriculture. Levenston says that some “composting zealots” have tried to discourage any mention of a potential rat problem. “When you bring up the topic of rats, you're reactionary and you're scaring the population. But my feeling is, it's better to be safe than sorry.”

Domenic Losito, director of environmental health for the city concurs. He notes that one of the favourite hangouts for Vancouver's “mushrooming” rat population is the upscale
Shaughnessy area where composting is popular. “We're certainly supportive of composting.” says Losito, “but we have to be aware of the negatives." In Vancouver, a wide variety of rodent-resistant bins is available.

Levenston recommends that wooden compost bins be constructed “like a cage,” covered on top and bottom and on all sides with half-inch hardware cloth, a strong (20 gauge) wire
meshing. Any bin not enclosed is an invitation to rats, which shelter in the warm bins.

Composting advocates in other Canadian cities are not voicing the same concerns as their counterparts In Vancouver. “We've had maybe seven or eight calls about rodents – we haven't even had that many problems with raccoons.” says Carolyn McSkimming, recycling adviser for the Metro Toronto Works Department. Information officer Kate Middleton agrees: “I really get worried when there's a good thing happening and someone says the sky is falling.”

Michael Levenston