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Can I compost these?

Posts: 15
Location: central NYS - USDA Zone 5a
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I have a big compost pile for the usual stuff (kitchen scraps and yard waste) but I wonder if the following can also go in:

-those blue/green cardboard-y quart containers that berries come in
-shredded newspaper (black & white), dull, in larger volumes
-shredded newspaper (color), dull
-shredded newspaper inserts (color), shiny
-white office paper printed with laser toner
-shredded junk mail (like CC applications)
-corrugated cardboard with color printing (dull)
-corrugated cardboard with color printing (shiny)

ETA: I know cardboard and newspaper are okay in layers under mulch, just wondering about composting larger volumes of them in a pile.

Anybody have any information?


Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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If it's a big pile, and only one family's paper, it shouldn't be a problem. If you're bringing home stuff from a business because you need more browns, it might be tough to maintain ventilation, and there might be a couple more-subtle issues:

The only concerns I have in terms of toxicity are with commercial color printing, and with toner.

There's just a smidgeon of copper in a common pigment for cyan printer ink, but I guess it could build up to a real problem, especially if copper is already too abundant in your soil. In most cases, having a little extra compost in it will make soil much less toxic, even if that compost includes some metal contamination. If your soil is deficient in copper, or has too much zinc, then I say the color ink won't be bad in any reasonable amount.

Laser toner will have polystyrene in it as a binder, which can be bad in extreme heat. Laser toner pigments aren't a big deal, though. I'd be OK with it except in an arid to semi-arid climate.

Black printer's ink (on newspapers) has benign pigments and usually an edible (!) binder. Even the worst of old-fashioned printer's ink recipes would be OK after composting. Could be tiny traces of bad stuff from the recycled pulp, but not as bad as most people's soil.

Glossiness is usually a matter of bentonite clay. It will slow your compost pile down a little, and go farther in balancing greens than a usual source of browns would, because whatever minerals make it glossy are also a persistent sink for nitrates, in addition to the momentary sink that plain paper would be. It's well worth exploiting that resource, if you have sandy soil.

Office paper is a similar story, but with chalk in place of bentonite; a little lime is usually good, too much is always bad, and it depends on context. Mix the pile a little greener than usual, if you add a lot of office paper.

The berry containters don't sound familiar to me: are they made of similar stuff to paper egg cartons? That stuff composts well! If copper is a concern, you can burn a tiny scrap of it, and funky-colored flames will be a dead giveaway. Some containers have a thin HDPE coating, which won't be too difficult to sift out of the finished product, unless the whole thing was shredded on its way in.
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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i have used all of the above for compost or sheet mulch..some office paper has some starchy materials in them that causes them to clump  together even when shredded as a sheet mulch..so are best mixed in with some other materials before mulching..such as tumbled compost..that loosens it up ..junk mail is the same..best to be mixed with something
Posts: 63
Location: Tacoma, WA [8B-7B]
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I was told by a vermiculturist, c.2007 not to worm-bin the purple egg cartons then found mostly at Costco. He said the dye killed the worms. Since then, I've been nervous about heavily/entirely/brightly colored cardboard products, including berry baskets. He also mentioned not to use your dryer lint if there is the possibility that polyester fibers are contained therein, as polyester (synthetic) fibers will also kill the worms.

Posts: 14
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So it's Okay to compost the shiny and glossy parts of newspaper inserts? How about soda and beer cartons?
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