Can You Compost Shredded Paper?

Updated on March 20, 2018
Joe Macho profile image

Zach's writing ranges from matters of gardening, cooking, aquariums, and fish to more niche topics like coin collecting.

Composting kitchen scraps and waste materials is a great way to reduce your own environmental impact, but for beginners to the trade, finding information pertaining to what can and can't be composted is a nightmare. Although this article won't provide a complete list of compost-safe items, it will discuss the one material that most modern households turn to first: shredded paper! But, can you use shredded paper in compost? In short, the answer is yes, you sure can. Throughout the body of this article, you'll be able to explore the benefits to using shredded paper for compost, as well as the types of paper to use and those you may want to stay away from.

Shredded Paper for Compost

Over the years, you may have come to believe that credit card companies, insurance agencies, and countless retail advertisers that send a constant stream of junk mail and bills have done so just to infuriate you. While you have every right to be irked with the bills, there's no need to be frustrated with the excess amount of paper. When you take a second glance at the matter, you'll see that these wasteful companies have just been trying to help keep your garden healthy and productive. Okay, so maybe that's not their reasoning, but with all the benefits that shredded paper can provide for compost, it might as well be! Here's how shredded paper can be useful for your compost and garden.

Benefits of Shredded Paper in Compost

  • Shredded paper in the form of newsprint and bank/credit card statements provide an excellent source of required carbon. A healthy compost thrives on a ratio of 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Since paper is almost completely carbon, it can greatly help balance a compost that has been supplied with too much nitrogenous matter.
  • Moisture absorption and water retention is increased when using shredded paper for composting. The natural properties of paper wick away moisture from decomposing organic materials. This process helps to break down materials faster and prevent any odors or leakage issues. You'll also find that it benefits plants by better retaining vital moisture at the root level.
  • Shredded paper helps to bulk up the volume of soil. There will be more finished compost to go around if shredded paper was used in the composting process.
  • Worms thrive with the addition of shredded paper. If you plan to do even the slightest bit of vermicomposting, you'll find that worms will actively eat and seek shelter in the shredded paper.

Safe Paper for Compost

Trying to find information on safe papers to use for composting is much like pulling teeth. It's quite the painful process, full of articles with conflicting information. Some sources claim that bleached papers and inks used for printing can be dangerous and therefore should not be used in compost.

Source

While this claim was valid years ago, the truth of the matter is that the paper and printing industry has come a long ways from where it was. The majority of paper and inks used in modern-day production are virtually contaminant free, and according to the Composting Council, compost produced with paper products almost always contains less overall contaminants than compost produced using yard trimmings only. Here's a general list of papers that are considered safe for composting:

  • Bills, Credit Card Statements, Junk Mail
  • Envelopes
  • Office Paper (Plain or printed on)
  • Receipts
  • Newsprint
  • Notebook, Tablet any used school papers
  • Scrap Papers

Papers to Take Caution With

While all shredded paper serves as a great source of carbon and will easily break down in compost, some processed and heavily inked papers may want to be avoided. The reason for this is that heavily processed papers may contain heavy metals, poisonous inks, waxes and clays. Though a healthy and matured compost will have bound most heavy metals into insoluble forms and broken down any harmful compounds including pesticides and inks, you may want to stay away from these papers just to sustain your own piece of mind:

Fluorescent Paper shreds may contain higher levels of contaminants and heavy metals.
Fluorescent Paper shreds may contain higher levels of contaminants and heavy metals. | Source
  • Glossy/Waxy Paper
  • Magazine Paper
  • Fluorescent Colored Papers
  • Paper with Metallic Inks
  • Colored Construction Paper

Please keep in mind that this list is not intended to scare you away from composting such materials. According to the Composting Council, the above paper products are considered to be safe for composting use. Many gardeners compost these materials with no complications and are not worried about the potential of contaminants. In the end, the choice to compost or not to compost these materials is in your hands. Stay within your own comfort zone.

Final Word

On a final note, I would personally recommend that you compost as many paper products and junk letters/mail as possible! Every paper composted is a paper saved from the harmful processes of paper recycling, or worse yet, wasteful landfills. For those of you who are still skeptic, I find it helps to look at the situation this way: There's pollutants virtually all around us: in the air and in the water table. Is it really much of a harm if some contaminants end up as insoluble compounds in the soil? After all, there's probably not a single place on earth that is completely contaminant free. So, it's much better to compost than to not compost at all. Thank you for reading!

References & Additional Reading

  1. Bauer, Mary. The Negative Effects of Recycling Paper. N.p.: Livestrong, 2011. N. pag. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.
  2. Grimes, S. M., Taylor, G. H. and Cooper, J. (1999), The availability and binding of heavy metals in compost derived from household waste. J. Chem. Technol. Biotechnol., 74: 1125–1130. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4660(199912)74:12<1125::AID-JCTB171>3.0.CO;2-I
  3. Ivring, Joan. Construction Paper: A Brief History of Impermanence. Vol. 16. San Diego, CA: The American Institute for Conservation, 1997. N. pag. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.
  4. Ritter, Steve. "What's That Stuff? - Ink." Chemical Engineering and News 76.46 (1998). Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Questions & Answers

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      • The Dirt Farmer profile image

        Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

        Lots of great detail. Excellent hub! Voted up & awesome.

      • livelonger profile image

        Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Really educational. I thought the ratios would have been reversed - much less carbon, more nitrogen. Now I don't feel so bad tossing paper towels in my composting barrel! Our garden is close to being ready to plant things, so I'll start composting paper & other stuff (esp. coffee grounds) too.

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 6 years ago from United Kingdom

        Never thought of using paper for composting. Thanks for the advice.

        Voted useful and interesting. Socially shared.

      • Joe Macho profile image
        Author

        Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

        That's great Emma! I'm glad to hear that your compost bin has been at the center of your attention lately. Mine has been too. I've been trying to make as much as possible so paper, leaves, horse & goat manure, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds have all hit the compost in good numbers. Good luck and thanks for your feedback.

      • Emma Harvey profile image

        Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

        We have been using our compost bin a lot recently and throw all our food scraps, teabags and egg shells in. But I never thought to compost paper. This is very interesting, and will try out this method in future.

        Voting up.

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