What papers can be composted and why?

  • By: composthq
  • Date: March 27, 2022
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Introduction

We all know that composting is a great way to deal with waste, and most people are also aware that you can compost many things, including paper – but do you know how that works?

Can you throw any old paper on your compost heap, or is it better to avoid some kinds of paper?

Let’s find out what papers can be composted and why!

You can compost most kinds of paper, and they should quickly vanish into your compost heap. However, there are a few kinds you want to watch out for.

Heavily inked papers, papers with special coatings, and papers that might have come into contact with manmade chemicals should not be thrown into the compost.

Put these in your landfill bin instead.

young women with a bucket looking despairingly

Why Should I Compost Paper?

Before moving into the papers you can compost, let’s briefly explore what advantages paper offers for a compost heap. There are quite a few.

Firstly, adding paper helps to absorb excess moisture in the heap, which can be helpful if it has got too soggy.

Screw up some newspaper and toss it in, and it will help to absorb the liquid and restore balance to the heap.

Secondly, paper is a great source of carbon, which means it can help if you have added too much nitrogen to the heap.

This will usually produce a bad smell and sometimes excess moisture, so paper provides a two-pronged fix for the issue.

In the short term, screwed up paper also improves air circulation. This won’t last long, as the paper will quickly lose its structure, but it’s still helpful to have it.

Finally, you get more compost. The more ingredients you have, the greater the volume of compost you will get out at the other end – so why not make the most of this by turning your scrap paper and scribbled notes into compost for your garden? It’s an ideal solution!

women with a clear plastic box full off rolled up paper on a outside image

What Sorts Of Papers Can You Compost?

So, let’s start looking at what kinds of papers you can and can’t compost, and why some papers are unsuitable for the compost, while others are fine.

It is worth noting that almost all paper will contain very small amounts of chemicals.

For example, printer paper is bleached, and even newspaper has been bleached a bit.

Despite that, these are generally considered useful additions to a compost bin, so do not omit them based on that alone – they should not cause any issues as the amounts are minimal.

So, with that in mind, let’s find out what you can safely add to a compost heap and what you should avoid.

neatly folded newspapers

Can You Compost Newspaper?

Yes, you can compost newspaper according to most sources. The ink tends to be soy-based, which is natural and not harmful.

There is some debate about the bleach and petrochemicals, but no studies so far suggest that newspaper is unsafe, and many people include it in their compost heaps without issue.

However, it is a good idea to tear and scrunch it up a bit first.

The reason for this is that if your newspaper stays in layers, it can become a dense, wet mat that is hard for worms and bacteria to break down.

It will eventually disappear, but it will take a lot longer as the water-soaked pages will not be in contact with any air movement, and this makes it impossible for bacteria to survive.

When you want to add newspaper to your compost heap, try tearing it into strips and then screwing them up.

The strips don’t need to be too narrow, but this will help to aerate the compost heap and ensure the newspaper can break down effectively.

printed paper coming out of a printer

Can You Compost Printer Paper?

There is some bleach in standard white paper, but it is still okay to compost.

That goes for all kinds of plain white paper with no coating – so if you have pages from scrapbooks, notebooks, school books, work, etc., you can compost any of them without having to worry.

This is a great way to bulk up your compost, especially if you write by hand frequently, such as shopping lists, reminders, etc.

Do think a bit about the ink that you use, however. While the amounts are likely to be pretty minimal, you may decide that it’s worth investing in eco-friendly pens (if you can find them) to make notes with.

Again, screwing up the paper before adding it to the compost is a good idea; this increases the airflow in the compost heap and helps things to break down quickly.

greasy empty pizza box

Can You Compost Greasy Paper?

This depends a bit on your feelings about your compost bin. Some people do not like to compost grease because it takes a long time to break down.

This is because it is water-repellent. Greasy paper certainly will take longer to decompose, and may hang around in the compost bin for a while.

However, although this is an issue, it will eventually decompose, and it is not such a big problem that you can’t compost anything greasy.

Usually, although it takes longer, it will just break down without doing any harm to your compost heap.

If you are looking at paper that has got animal fat soaked on it, you might hesitate to add it to the compost because it could attract rats or other animals.

On the whole, though, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Bear in mind that greasy paper cannot be recycled, so adding it to your compost heap is a great way to avoid putting it in a landfill site.

This is a strong incentive to try adding it to your compost. Tear it up so that it can be effectively mixed through the pile and test how long it takes to disappear.

You will probably find that greasy paper is okay to add!

piece of fish on grease proof paper

Can You Compost Greaseproof Paper?

Unfortunately, this is a tricky one.

Many greaseproof paper products depend on plastic coatings and chemicals in order to stop the food from sticking, and if you have bought some, this should not be put into your compost heap.

However, some greaseproof paper products are made using the traditional method of beating the paper fibers until they are non-stick.

This kind of product is totally fine to add to your compost heap because it is just paper, so it should break down as normal.

How do you tell the difference? Well, it might say on the box. If you source your greaseproof paper from an eco-supplier, there is a higher chance that it is compostable.

However, you should still check the information, as normal greaseproof paper won’t be great for your compost heap and won’t disappear!

parent with young child putting cardboard into a compost bin

Can You Compost Cardboard?

Yes, you can compost cardboard. Be aware, though, that it will usually take longer to decompose than paper will, so you may wish to tear it into chunks.

A lot of people compost pizza delivery boxes because these are greasy and cannot be recycled. Cardboard is also good for your compost because it adds some structure and aeration, as well as carbon.

Try to avoid cardboard that has glue on it (e.g. from a supermarket box) or heavily inked card, unless you know that the inks are eco-friendly.

man holding shredded paper

Can You Compost Shredded Paper?

What about your huge pile of bank statements, medical records, and embarrassing love letters that you have shredded up? Can you consign those to your compost heap?

Yes, that is fine. Shredded paper is, after all, just printer paper that has been torn up.

Consign your secrets to the earth by throwing them in the compost, but make sure that any sensitive banking information or personal information is thoroughly destroyed and nobody can get it back.

bottle of ink with a Fontane pen and splashes of black ink

Can You Compost Inky Paper?

Again, this is a somewhat harder one. If you know what the ink is, you can research that specific kind of ink and make a more informed decision, but usually, you’ll be using a “best guess.”

Essentially, if the paper is heavily printed, you should avoid putting it in your compost bin.

If you don’t know what the ink contains, you don’t know if it is likely to be harmful to worms and bacteria (or other animals) if it is left exposed to the elements.

The ink will quickly wash into the soil, and this could be damaging.

On the grand scale of things, it’s unlikely that ink is going to make much odds to your compost heap one way or another, as it is usually in small quantities (even on heavily printed items).

However, bear the presence of ink in mind when deciding whether to add paper to the compost heap.

person pulling out a tissue from a box

Can You Compost Tissue Paper?

You certainly can compost tissue paper as long as it is plain. It will disappear very quickly into your compost heap as it tends to lack structure and will absorb water fast.

You will probably find that it has disintegrated in just a few days.

As with other kinds of paper, tissue may contain dyes and bleach. White tissue should be the safest (unless you have unbleached tissue), whereas heavily inked tissues might be more damaging.

Toilet tissue is fine to compost, and this is actually a great thing to do with it to stop it from going into landfill sites.

If you are going to compost tissue paper, it is important to make sure that you have removed all sticky tape and that you do not compost tissue paper with glitter on it.

These are both plastics that won’t break down in your compost heap and could be harmful to the ecosystem.

paintbrush with paper

Can You Compost Paper That Has Got Chemicals On It?

It does depend on what chemical, of course, but if you have paper that has got paint, glue, bleach, or household cleaning products on it, you should not compost this. Put it into the landfill bin instead.

On the whole, you do not want manmade chemicals to enter your compost heap, regardless of what they are.

While some may be harmless, it’s really hard to confirm this, and few long term studies on the effects of them exist.

Don’t risk upsetting your compost heap and harming the creatures there; put contaminated paper into your general waste bin instead.

person who has just unfolded glossy paper

Can You Compost Glossy Paper?

No, glossy paper should be composted. The coated surface has been created through synthetic chemicals, and again, you don’t want to add these to your compost pile.

Which chemicals have been used will vary between manufacturers, but there is no doubt that this kind of paper is not just made of wood fibers, and so it doesn’t belong in the compost bin. Throw it into your general waste bin.

happy man opening a envelope

Can You Compost Envelopes?

Envelopes that are made of just plain paper or brown paper should be fine.

If the envelope has a lot of glue on it, it could be harmful, but most only use a thin layer of stickiness that should not cause any problems.

If your envelope has a plastic window, make sure you remove this before adding the paper part to your compost bin.

It won’t break down, and might become brittle and difficult to fish out of the compost bin later.

You might decide that the glue concerns you, in which case, you may be better off adding the envelope to your recycling bin instead. It shouldn’t cause any issues there.

persons hand holding a receipt

Can You Compost Receipts?

If your receipt is made of plain paper, you should be able to compost it, as the ink is not significant enough to worry about. However, most receipts are thermal, and these cannot be composted.

They don’t use ink, instead reacting with heat to reveal numbers on the paper – but the chemicals that let this happen are dangerous.

Some receipts still contain BPA and BPS, and you definitely don’t want them in your compost!

Conclusion

You can compost many kinds of paper. The plainer the paper is, the better suited it is to composting.

Be aware that you are likely adding small amounts of chemical contamination whenever you include paper products in your compost – but that these are usually insignificant and nothing to worry about.

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