Composting Paper

composting paper

When creating a compost pile we all know that we can add in all the organic materials we can lay our hands on including the waste foods and scraps from the kitchen.

However, the big question that seems to come up constantly is whether or not it is safe composting paper.

Depending on the paper, you can compost certain papers and they can become a very important part of your compost pile.

The “Write” Stuff

One of the biggest considerations when composting paper is deciding what kind of paper you can compost and which ones you need to send off to be recycled.

The biggest question about the different papers is about the inks that are used to for printing.

For many years all inks contained a variety of metals and chemicals that are known to be less than healthy.

While modern inks are somewhat healthier than this, there are still some papers that you should not compost.

This includes all the shiny circulars and advertisements that come stuffed into your daily papers, those used as labels on your canned goods as the chemical and metal contents are likely to still be somewhat higher than you want in your compost.

For centuries the inks used for printing on a large scale used petroleum based binders and pigments that were often made using heavy metals such as lead.

Today much of the industry is switching over to inks that are soy and vegetable based, but even these may still have petroleum bases.

Heavy metals such as copper and zinc are still used in pigments in much smaller amounts and have been deemed as safe for use in garden compost.

The Benefits of Adding Paper to Your Compost

Despite the concerns over the inks used to print on paper, there are still benefits to adding shredded newspaper, paper towels, thin cardboard and many other forms of paper products to your compost pile.

One benefit of composting paper products , is that it will absorb much of the free water in your compost which will help to keep the formation of mold from occurring and causing unpleasant odors.

If you are adding grass clippings and other greens that are high in nitrogen, adding shredded paper will add a good source of carbon which is vital to the composting process.

Since paper is a plant based product, adding it to your compost will be returning it to the soil and in turn adding vital nutrients into what can be seriously depleted soils.

Prepping Your Papers

pizza box

Composting paper is a relatively easy task; however, you can’t simply throw big wads of paper into your compost pile and expect it to decompose properly.

In order for the paper to compost properly it needs to be shredded or at least be reasonably small, for example I wouldn’t bother tearing a paper towel but a piece of A4 I might roughly rip up into a few pieces.A

A cheap paper shredder to shred your personal documents, is really useful. I wait until I have a bunch of papers to be shredded and do a them all at one time.

The alternative if you have younger children at home, is to let them go to town shredding the paper for you. They will think you are a bit mad but not only does all of your paper get torn into tiny shreds, this will keep your kids happy for hours.

Add the paper to your compost pile in layers, just as you would any other brown waste such as dead leaves and so forth in between the greens.

Add a little water to keep things moist and turn to keep everything evenly distributed.

Within a few months, you will have wonderfully rich compost that you can use anywhere in your garden.


  1. Another great post. What about the effects of chlorine from the bleached paper on the compost mulch?

    • Compost King says:

      Hi Jayne
      I believe that the chlorine or hydrogen peroxide used in bleaching is eliminated with the wood pulp during the processing , hence not causing a problem for composting.

      • Just 1 question. Do you use white coffee filters? Have you ever refused coffee or tea that had “white paper”?
        Just thought I would ask the question.

        • No I haven’t. I am mainly a tea drinker. However I am guessing that you are referring about the paper being bleached. The same applies to tea bags as coffee filters and I do sometimes buy a brand that uses unbleached bags.

          • You are correct, I also said Tea in white paper. I try and repurpose everything before throwing it away. Which brings me to plastic and the shopping bags, evil stuff.

  2. I like the idea of composting paper to reduce the smell of the compost. This will help if your heap is down the back but is also near where your neighbor sits along his fence! They would be grateful…

  3. You know I never even thought of composting paper. I always thought it had to be organic stuff like food scraps or grass clippings to be composted. Interesting…

  4. G’day Jenny,
    I have a mate who not only composts paper for his vegie garden, but cardboard and even PIZZA boxes. In our humid climate [ gold Coast Hinterland ] everything breaks down easily – even me on a hot day.

  5. David Torrisi says:

    Composting paper is an effective use for what many consider to be rubbish. However, due to the nature of the wood pulping industry and damage created world wide from deforrestation, I personally believe it makes more sense to recycle all paper that is approved for collection. Compost or mulch using unrecyclable paper, such as those not approved for collection by your local recycling authority or documents with personal details or private comments on them ie. private letters, bank statements, bills etc.

  6. I live in Phoenix Arizona. I have to add water to our compost bin to keep it moist enough to decompose. I read that newspaper will help absorb the moisture. Therefore I should not add paper to my compose bin?

    • You could certainly still add paper to your compost bin but as you mentioned you would need to watch the moisture levels particularly in summer. Using shredded paper and mixing with damp lawn clippings would help with the moisture content. In the cooler months it would be fine.

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