Composting Paper Products: A Complete Guide

Composting Paper Products

If you’re like most people, you have paper products such as newspapers, pizza boxes, and junk mail lying around your house. Instead of tossing them in the trash, learn about how you can get started with composting paper products.

While most paper products are compostable, there are some details to be aware of before you throw all your paper in the compost.

Composting Paper Products: What Can Be Composted?

You can compost just about any paper product, including paper towels, cardboard, and newspaper.

It’s good to remember that paper products are made from wood or other plant materials. Therefore, they’re high in carbon.

Since paper products are carbon-rich, it’s important to add nitrogen-rich materials along with paper products. Remember, you’re aiming for a carbon: nitrogen ratio of 30:1.

The composition of paper products is more similar to that of wood chips or straw rather than that of grass clippings or food waste.

Composting Paper Products: What Should You Avoid?

When you’re composting paper products, keep an eye out for a few things.

One of the major items is a plastic coating.

While the paper in these items will break down in a compost pile, the plastic won’t. Or the plastic may break down into tiny yet harmful microplastics.

Some common paper items with petroleum-based plastic coatings include:

  • Frozen food packages
  • Paper plates
  • Milk and juice cartons
  • Take-out containers

Another thing to watch out for are vivid dyes.

Composting printer paper

Today, most printing companies use non-toxic water-based or soy-based inks. However, printers sometimes still use toxic inks to produce the bright colors present in glossy magazines.

These inks sometimes contain heavy metals that remain through the composting process. Therefore, when you apply finished compost to your garden, you may also be applying heavy metals.

If you’re unsure what type of ink a product contains, you can also contact the manufacturer. Better safe than sorry!

Can Paper Towels Be Composted?

Yes! You can compost paper towels.

While some companies label their products as compostable paper towels, the truth is that all types of paper towels will break down in a compost pile.

But while all paper towels will decompose, it doesn’t mean that all products are the same.

Many products labeled as compostable paper towels are unbleached. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about adding bleaching chemicals to your compost pile.

With that said, most producers now use chlorine dioxide to bleach paper towels. Chlorine dioxide is toxic in high doses, but small amounts are considered safe. In fact, people often use this compound to disinfect drinking water.

If you’re worried about the effects of chlorine substances on your health, look for paper towels that are labeled totally chlorine-free (TCF).

How to Compost Paper Bags

Instead of throwing dirty paper bags into the trash, try composting them.

Since they’re generally undyed, it’s easy to compost brown paper bags. Simply add them to your compost pile along with other materials.

If you want your bags to break down faster, tear or cut them up into smaller pieces.

You can compost colored paper bags, including white paper bags. However, make sure the bags don’t have a wax coating, as most of these coatings will not break down.

Are Tissues Compostable?

Again, yes! Are you catching onto a trend?

Well-maintained compost piles will even heat up enough to kill harmful microorganisms. So, you don’t have to worry about spreading sickness around your garden.

Since tissues are so thin, they’ll break down quickly in the compost.

Is Toilet Paper Compostable?

Yes, toilet paper is compostable. If you’re using a composting toilet, it’s fine to add the toilet paper right to the toilet.

If you’re using a regular flush toilet, you can add toilet paper to a compost pile.

Can You Compost Toilet Paper Rolls?

Since most toilet paper rolls are cardboard, they are also compostable.

Are Napkins Compostable?

While napkins generally aren’t recyclable due to food residues and stains, they are compostable. So, throw them in the compost rather than in the trash.

Since napkins are usually made of thin paper, they break down quickly in active composting operations.

Can Cardboard be Composted?

Can Cardboard Be Composted

Yep, cardboard can also be composted. Even if your cardboard can’t be recycled due to food stains, you can still compost it.

However, make sure to pay attention to the type of cardboard before you throw it into the compost.

If the cardboard is coated with a smooth, shiny material, it likely contains plastics. These plastics will not break down during the composting process unless they’re labeled as compostable.

Moral of the story? Don’t add coated cardboard to your compost.

Another thing to watch out for is tape. Plastic tape and duct tape won’t break down during the decomposition process, so remove any pieces before adding the cardboard to the compost.

Should I Shred Cardboard for Compost?

Cardboard contains a higher amount of lignin than tissues and paper towels, so it takes longer to break down. To speed up the decomposition process, you can shred compost.

Also, it’s a bit awkward to add a giant cardboard box to a backyard compost pile. So, shred away!

Can You Compost Shredded Paper?

You can compost most types of shredded paper.

The standard unglossy white paper is fine to compost. The same goes for thicker cardstock.

However, be wary of glossy papers like magazines or photographs. When these papers break down in the compost pile, they’ll leave behind microplastics that can harm the environment.

Is Newspaper Compostable?

Yes, newspaper is compostable!

However, it’s important to note that newspaper has a very high carbon to nitrogen ratio.

The total C:N ratio of newspaper is 115, higher than the ratio of both wood chips and straw. So, make sure you add a high nitrogen component like grass clippings, food scraps, or manure to your compost.

If you’re adding a lot of newspaper to the compost, it’s a good idea to layer the newspaper with other materials. Another option is to shred the paper and mix it with your food waste.

Final Thoughts

Composting paper products is pretty straightforward. Rather than throwing away the paper items that you routinely use, add them to your compost pile! By following the tips above, you’ll reduce the amount of waste you create and turn your paper into nutrient-rich compost.

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