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Paper: Compost vs. Recycle  RSS feed

 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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Okay, this topic may be trying to fit a square peg into a pentagonal hole (close but no cigar), but I wanted to post this question to the group:

I have my office's shredded paper available to me to put on my compost pile in lieu of leaves (since there are no trees/leaves anywhere near me and I'm not a good lurker), and I do feel a little guilty about taking away from the recycling stream.  It's a pretty big bag every couple of weeks.

I work at a University, so likely the paper really will be recycled, but I've heard varying arguments for taking them for my pile as well as arguments for not siphoning off the recycling stream.  Some of the arguments bring up the energy used to recycle (from pickup to end processing), the lackluster use of recycled paper, the inefficiency of recycling shredded paper.  And in contrast there's the opinion that composting is downcycling (I'm not using the compost to grow more trees for paper) which isn't as friendly as recycling, paper adds nothing to the pile anyway, the inks are harmful...

Any new views on this from you all?

Thanks,

-Jeremy
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I think most eco folks would do exactly what you are suggesting.

I'm one of the odd ducks that would not. 

My concern has to do with the glues that hold the paper together and how I don't want those glues (even if they are broken down) in my garden.

 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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Fair enough...  I'll just look forward to the time when I can get enough leaves to wean myself off the paper.  For now, I'll use whatever I can get ahold of...

-Jeremy
 
Kelda Miller
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hi! I definitely use the paper, especially for wormbins, as it's a steady resource yearround that breaks down easy. I'm hoping that the healthy soil ecosystem detoxifies it quite a bit. I've heard this anecdotally from other gardeners/composters. Of course, if I'm shredding the paper especially For the compost it's handy to get the new york times or other non-colored print newspapers. All newspapers now have harmless ink if it's black and white.
 
Dave Boehnlein
Posts: 294
Location: Orcas Island, WA
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I wouldn't hesitate at all to use it in my compost. If that's what you've got for browns, give it hell! I think most inks these days are soy-based so you should be pretty safe there. With regards to the glues, I guess my thoughts are that we all use paper. If there are toxic substances in it they are going to go somewhere (either up in the air at the recycling plant or into the groundwater at the dump). If we're all going to use it I like the idea of taking responsibility for it. Sending it elsewhere seems to me to smack of "NIMBYism" (Not In My BackYard).

At any rate, it seems to me that composting whatever stuff is in paper is probably a pretty good way to breakdown most of the gnarly stuff (since compost is so biologically active). If you want to take it a step further, you could work out a system where you grow mushrooms on the paper first, then transfer it to the compost. Not knowing exactly what's in paper glues, I can't guarantee it would clean it up, but mushrooms seem to be pretty amazing for breaking down petro-chemicals and long poly-carbon chains. Without a scientific study you won't ever really know exactly what's there and what's getting cleaned up (get on it, Academia! We need you!).

With regards to "siphoning off the recycling stream," I think the more we take out of that system the better. Reduce, reuse, recycle in that order. It may be downcycling, but I think the savings you make in shipping and transport more than make up for that. Up on Orcas I've heard rumor that our recyclables go to one of two places: Eastern Oregon or Haiti. No one wants to work a job separating commingled recyclables in the U.S., so I've heard they get shipped to impoverished places like Haiti for that work. How much energy are we blowing by sending it all the way to the Caribbean?

Good luck!
 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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Thanks to everybody for all the additional points of view!  I appreciate everyone's candor and respect for everyone else's beliefs. 

My pile seems to be happily digesting whatever I can find to put in it (whatever I can divert from the trash stream and some things I collect [shredded paper and Starbuck's finest used coffee grounds]).  I got that wonderful reward of steam last time I turned, so the microbes seem happy enough!    I'll try to keep the diversity up so I don't just foster to the microbial "office-paper-lovers" only!

My office just went shredder-crazy and gave me 4 more huge bags of shreddings.  I'm thinking either growing the pile into a windrow (where the heck am I gonna find enough greens!?) or using it as some "under-mulching."  However I use it, I know I'm making my office's secretary happy that she doesn't have to lug it out back to the recycling container!

-Jeremy
 
MJ Solaro
Posts: 131
Location: Bellevue, WA
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Adding one more voice of assent, I believe you're doing the right thing.

Officially, the Environmental Defense Fund claims that paper is a non-renewable resource and should be recycled, not composted.

But I firmly believe that composting *is* recycling.  The Composting Council released a paper in 1993 that agrees with that position.

Any toxins released should be non-significant. (reference: http://www.grist.org/advice/ask/2004/02/12/umbra-papercompost/)

I'm glad to hear that the composting is going well! Do you have neighbors that compost as well that perhaps could share the paper love? Everybody gets low on browns once in a while...



 
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