Composting Newspapers

Composting is one of the best ways to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. And surprisingly, newspaper makes an excellent addition to any compost pile.

Newspapers are usually readily available and make a free, easy source of “brown” material that provides carbon for your compost. However, newspapers have high lignin content which makes them decompose slowly. With some care and effort though, you can successfully compost newspaper.

Newspapers make a useful addition to compost for several reasons

  • They are abundant and free.
  • They are rich in carbon which microbes in the compost pile need for energy.
  • They soak up excess moisture which improves aeration.
  • Recycling newspapers by composting keeps them out of landfills.

However, newspapers decompose slower than other materials like fruit and vegetable scraps. But with the right composting methods, you can speed up the process.

The main considerations for composting newspaper

Particle size – Shredding makes newspaper break down faster.

Ink safety – Standard black and white ink is fine but avoid glossy/colored papers.

Balance – Mix newspaper with nitrogen-rich greens and don’t add too much at once.

Moisture – Newspaper soaks up moisture so monitor and add water as needed.

It may take several months for newspaper to fully decompose but the end result will be a quality compost that was created through recycling.

The Benefits of Composting Newspaper

Composting newspaper offers several advantages:

1. Recycles and Repurposes Waste

Americans generate over 5 million tons of newspaper waste each year. Much of this ends up in landfills where it slowly decomposes while taking up precious space.

Composting allows this newspaper waste to be recycled and repurposed rather than being discarded. It’s a simple way to give newspaper a new life rather than sending it to the dump.

2. Provides an Abundant Source of Browns

Compost needs a proper ratio of carbon-rich “browns” and nitrogen-rich “greens” for the microbial decomposition process to work optimally.

Dry, crumbly materials like dead leaves, sawdust, and paper provide lots of carbon. Newspaper makes an excellent addition to the browns category. It’s free, easy to use, and widely available.

You probably get more newspaper than you’ll realistically compost. But adding some to your pile helps balance the greens from food scraps and grass clippings.

3. Improves Aeration and Absorbs Excess Moisture

Newspaper’s absorbent quality helps soak up excess moisture in the compost pile. This prevents soggy conditions and improves air circulation for better decomposition.

Some compost materials like fruit and yard waste release lots of moisture as they break down. Mixing in shredded newspaper regulates the moisture level.

4. Creates Nutrient-Rich Compost for Soil

While newspaper breaks down slower than other waste, the end product is a dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich compost.

The compost contains macro and micronutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. When added to garden beds or containers, compost boosts the soil’s organic matter and water retention.

So instead of newspaper taking up space in a landfill, it becomes a valuable fertilizer full of nutrients returned back to the earth.

What to Consider Before Composting Newspaper

Composting newspaper is easy and beneficial but there are a few factors to keep in mind:

High Lignin Content

Newspaper decomposes slower than other organics because of its lignin content. Lignin is a complex polymer compound that gives paper its stiffness and structure but resists breaking down.

Microbes in the compost work to break bonds in lignin and other components of newspaper like cellulose and hemicellulose. But the lignin makes this process slower.

Shredding newspaper helps overcome the lignin barrier by giving microbes more surface area to attack. Expect newspaper to take at least several months to fully compost.

Ink Safety

Normal black and white newspaper ink should not harm compost. Soy-based inks have largely replaced more toxic petroleum-based inks. Avoid using glossy paper sections like magazines which may use other inks.

Colored inks can potentially leach metals and other contaminants. So it’s best to stick to standard newsprint sections if you plan to compost or recycle your newspaper.

Potential Limiting Factors

Too much newspaper in one spot can restrict air flow in a compost pile. It can also throw off the ideal carbon-nitrogen ratio if not mixed properly with greens.

Newspaper doesn’t provide any nitrogen and has very little moisture. So the microbes breaking it down need nitrogen and water from other sources.

With proper ratios and turning, newspaper can compost successfully. But it takes patience since the lignins make it a slower-decomposing brown.

How to Compost Newspaper Effectively

Follow these tips to speed up newspaper decomposition and make it a beneficial addition to your compost:

Shred or Tear into Small Pieces

The smaller the newspaper pieces, the faster microbes can break them down. Whole sheets of newspaper decompose very slowly.

Use a paper shredder if you have one, or simply tear pages into smaller strips or pieces by hand. Aim for pieces no more than a few inches wide at most. The newspaper will compost quicker this way.

Avoid Thick Clumps of Newspaper

Mix and layer the shredded newspaper as you build your pile. Don’t add thick piles of newspaper in one spot.

Too much newspaper in a dense clump restricts air flow. This slows decomposition and can lead to anaerobic conditions that produce foul odors.

Scatter newspaper lightly between layers of greens like food scraps, grass clippings, plant waste, etc. This allows better air circulation.

Monitor and Maintain Proper Moisture

Newspaper soaks up moisture, so the pile may dry out faster with lots of newspaper. Check moisture weekly and water or add fruits/veggies if needed. Aim to keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Conversely, too much moisture can lead to heavy, compacted newspaper. Turning or fluffing the pile helps add oxygen to soaked newspaper.

Proper moisture ensures the newspaper-decomposing microbes thrive without the pile getting overly dry or soggy.

Mix Newspaper Well With Greens and Browns

For healthy decomposition, compost needs a 30:1 ratio of carbon (browns) to nitrogen (greens). Newspaper provides lots of carbon but no nitrogen.

Mix newspaper with fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and other nitrogen sources. These complement the newspaper and supply nitrogen for the microbes.

Also include other browns like dead leaves, straw, sawdust, etc. Besides newspaper, variety among browns provides different nutrients.

Turn and Aerate the Pile Periodically

Turning the compost ensures the newspaper inside gets aerated. Use a pitchfork or compost aeration tool to fluff and remix the pile’s contents.

This distributes air, rebalances pockets of wet/dry newspaper, and allows the microbial decomposers to access new surfaces.

Aim to turn the compost at least every 1-2 weeks for faster newspaper breakdown. More frequent turning speeds the process further.

Allow Several Months for Decomposition

With proper moisture, aeration, and ratios, newspaper will fully compost but takes a while. Expect newspaper to take at least 2-5 months to decompose depending on pile conditions.

Outdoor composting allows larger piles that hold heat and decompose faster. Smaller indoor bins work too but may take longer without as much mass and insulation.

Regardless of your setup, allow sufficient time for newspaper composting. The microbes need time to break down the sturdy lignins.

Alternative Uses for Newspaper in Composting

Besides adding shredded newspaper directly to your pile, here are a couple other compost uses:

Compost Pile Insulation

Whole sheets of newspaper make an insulating cover for outdoor compost piles. This helps retain heat and moisture which aids decomposition.

Simply wrap the pile loosely in several layers of newspaper like a blanket. This blocks heat loss and wind drying. Replace the newspaper cover as it decomposes.

Weed Barrier in Bins

Line the bottom of your compost bin or tumbler with a few sheets of newspaper before adding waste. This blocks weeds from growing up into the bin and contaminating your compost.

The newspaper decomposes eventually but acts as an effective weed barrier in the meantime. It also absorbs excess moisture from the bottom of the pile.

You can layer more sheets of newspaper on top of the compost as well. This deter weeds and retains moisture as the compost finishes decomposing.

Mulch for Paths

Scatter shredded newspaper as a walkway mulch around your compost bins or piles. The mulch suppresses weeds and mud buildup.

It will gradually decompose and add organic matter to the soil below. After a few months, refresh the newspaper mulch or move it to your active compost pile.

DIY Compost Bins

Get creative and construct homemade compost bins using newspaper! Roll sheets into logs and stack into bins or walls. Fold newspaper into origami bins or bricks to hold compost.

These newspaper compost containers will slowly decompose as you compost. After one batch of compost, tear down the newspaper bin walls and compost the material.

What Not to Include When Composting Newspaper

While standard newsprint makes good compost, some paper products are better to avoid:

  • Glossy paper – Contains dyes, inks, and chemicals that may not be safe. The glossy shine comes from clay coatings.
  • Colored paper -Dyed paper may leach inks, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Stick to black and white newspaper sections.
  • Coated paper – Materials like wax, plastic, foil, etc. do not break down. Avoid waxed cardboard, coated paper plates, etc.
  • Paper towels & napkins – These are thicker and may contain chemicals from cleaning products if used. Best to compost these sparingly or not at all.
  • Magazines – Many use too much glossy, dyed paper and thicker pages. Magazine paper often has chemical treatments too.

When in doubt, stick to thin black and white newspaper sections. Or call your local composting authority for advice on other questionable paper products.

Troubleshooting Newspaper Composting Problems

Composting newspaper does take some patience and effort. Here are some common issues and solutions:

Problem: Pile seems too dry and lacks moisture after adding newspaper.

Solution: Mix in juicy food scraps like fruit peels or check moisture levels. Water pile if needed.

Problem: Excess moisture and soggy newspaper in pile.

Solution: Turn pile and add more browns like leaves or sawdust to absorb moisture.

Problem: Thick newspaper clumps prevent aeration.

Solution: Break up clumps and remix pile contents to improve air flow.

Problem: Unpleasant odor from pile.

Solution: Turn pile to aerate and add more browns if odor smells rotten. May be excess nitrogen.

Problem: Evidence of insects like flies or gnats.

Solution: Bury food scraps under 8-12 inches of compost. Turn pile to disturb pests.

Problem: Weeds growing in outdoor bin.

Solution: Add newspaper on very top and bottom of pile to block weeds.

With proper ratios, moisture and aeration, your newspaper compost should finish decomposing beautifully after several months. Re-check fundamentals if you notice any issues.

FAQs About Composting Newspaper

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about composting newspaper:

Is newspaper toxic in compost piles?

No, standard black and white newspaper ink is non-toxic and safe to compost. Newspapers use mostly soy-based inks nowadays. The small amounts of metals like zinc and lead are not hazardous.

Can I put magazines or junk mail in compost?

It’s best to avoid glossy magazines and junk mail with colored inks, dyes and unknown chemical coatings. Stick to black and white newspaper sections without glossy pages.

Do newspapers acidify soil when composted?

No, composted newspaper does not acidify soil or alter pH. Newspaper has a neutral pH around 6.5-7. Finished newspaper compost maintains a balanced pH level.

How small should I shred newspaper?

Aim for newspaper pieces no more than a few inches wide. The smaller the pieces, the faster it will break down. But any shredding or tearing helps speed decomposition compared to whole sheets.

Can I compost newspaper without shredding it first?

It’s best to shred or tear newspaper to allow microbes full access. But if you have just a small amount you can include whole sheets. Just monitor your pile’s aeration and moisture levels closely.

How much newspaper can I add to my compost?

There’s no set limit but too much newspaper can restrict air flow. Aim to make newspaper 10-25% of the total volume along with other browns and greens. Mix it well rather than adding thick clumps.

Do I need to use less newspaper in winter?

You can use newspaper year-round but piles decompose slower in winter. Use a bit less newspaper in cold months since the microbes are less active and piles take longer to break down.

Final Thoughts

Composting newspaper is an excellent way to reduce waste and recycle this abundant resource. While it requires some time and effort, your diligence pays off in quality compost.

Shredding newspaper and mixing it properly with greens and other browns helps the pile decompose optimally. Maintain airflow and moisture levels for healthy microbial breakdown.

In a few months, you can expect finished compost full of nutrients that newspaper waste has contributed. Your plants will reap the benefits of this black gold for the garden!

Composting offers environmental, financial and practical benefits by transforming trash into treasure. Newspaper makes a sustainable, earth-friendly addition that almost anyone can compost at home.