Thinking Of Adding Paper To Your Compost Pile? Here's What You'll Need To Know

Posted on: 21 April 2016


Have a bunch of old paper lying around the house? Instead of stuffing it all inside the recycle bin, there's a good chance you can put it to good use in your compost pile. The following offers in-depth information on how paper can benefit your composting and what to avoid.

Why Add Paper in the First Place?

Adding paper to a compost pile is a great way of regulating the pile's moisture content. If your compost pile is too soggy to allow aerobic bacteria to thrive, the added paper or cardboard can help absorb some of the excess moisture, bringing your compost pile back to balance. Since most paper comes from wood pulp, hemp and other natural sources, adding paper to the pile is as natural as adding grass trimmings and fruit waste.

Green expert Bob Schildgen warns against adding too much paper to your compost pile, however, since it could add too much carbon to your compost and slow down the decomposition process as a result. Schildgen recommends keeping a 25-to-1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. If you think you have too much paper, you can always balance it out by adding more alfalfa or other material that's high in nitrogen.

Putting the Right Stuff In

Despite being a natural product, you don't want to toss just any scrap of paper you find into your compost pile. Some papers can contain chlorine, pigments and petrochemicals that could upset bacteria and drag out the decomposition process.

Ordinary, uncoated, white paper is generally safe to compost as long as it isn't heavily printed. Newspaper is also safe to compost, especially since today's newspapers use soy-based inks instead of those derived from petrochemicals. Brown corrugated cardboard is completely safe for composting, but white or other colored cardboard might contain artificial coloring or glues that make them less than ideal for the compost pile.

Steer Clear of Mail, Office Paper, and Magazines

Glossy flyers, magazines, mailers and most types of office paper are commonly treated with a variety of petrochemicals to prevent yellowing and deterioration. The same properties that help these papers last also make them a no-go for your compost pile, since they may not break down as easily and leave behind unwanted chemicals in the process.

Don't Forget to Shred It First

You'll want your composted paper to break down quickly, so laying down entire sheets of newsprint or cardboard won't cut it. Instead, you'll always want to shred your paper before adding it to the pile. Finely shredded paper will break down quickly, whereas whole sheets could linger in the pile for months on end.

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