Can You Compost Printed Paper? A Step-By-Step Guide

In today’s environmentally conscious world, composting has gained significant popularity as a sustainable practice. Composting is a natural process that converts organic waste into nutrient-rich soil, which can then be used to fertilize plants and gardens. While many people are familiar with composting food scraps and yard waste, a common question arises: can you compost printed paper? In this article, we will explore the answer to that question and provide you with a step-by-step guide on composting printed paper effectively.

Composting is an eco-friendly way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil. By recycling organic materials, we can divert them from landfills and minimize the environmental impact. However, not all materials are suitable for composting, and printed paper falls into that category. Let’s dive deeper into the topic to understand why.

What is Composting?

Before we delve into the specifics of composting printed paper, let’s first understand the basics of composting. Composting is a natural process where organic materials, such as food scraps, yard waste, and certain paper products, decompose and break down into nutrient-rich compost. This compost can then be used to improve soil fertility, retain moisture, and promote plant growth.

Benefits of Composting

Composting offers several benefits, both for the environment and your garden. Some of the key advantages include:

  1. Reduced Waste: Composting diverts organic waste from landfills, reducing methane emissions and alleviating pressure on waste management systems.
  2. Nutrient-Rich Soil: Compost enriches the soil with essential nutrients, improving its structure and fertility.
  3. Water Retention: Compost helps soil retain moisture, reducing the need for excessive watering.
  4. Improved Plant Health: The nutrients in compost promote healthy plant growth, increased resistance to diseases, and enhanced root development.

Types of Composting

There are different methods of composting, including traditional composting, vermicomposting (using worms), and bokashi composting (fermentation). Each method has its unique advantages and is suitable for different environments and levels of commitment.

Composting Printed Paper

When it comes to composting printed paper, it’s important to exercise caution. Most printed papers contain inks and dyes that can be harmful to the soil and plants. Additionally, some papers may have a glossy or coated finish, which further hinders the composting process. Therefore, it is generally recommended to avoid composting printed paper.

Considerations for Composting Printed Paper

While composting printed paper is generally discouraged, there are a few considerations to keep in mind if you still want to compost it:

  1. Ink and Dye Content: Opt for printed paper with soy or vegetable-based inks, as they are less likely to contain harmful chemicals.
  2. Coatings and Finishes: Avoid composting paper with glossy or coated finishes, as they can slow down the decomposition process.
  3. Shredding: Shredding printed paper into smaller pieces can help speed up the decomposition process.

Step-by-Step Guide to Composting Printed Paper

  1. Select Suitable Paper: Choose printed paper that is free from glossy coatings and uses environmentally friendly inks. Look for papers that are labeled as soy or vegetable-based inks, as they are less likely to contain harmful chemicals. Avoid papers with glossy or coated finishes, as these can slow down the decomposition process.
  2. Shred the Paper: Before adding the printed paper to your compost pile, it’s beneficial to shred it into small pieces. Shredding the paper increases the surface area, allowing for quicker decomposition. You can use a paper shredder or simply tear the paper into smaller strips.
  3. Layering: In order to maintain a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, it’s important to alternate layers of printed paper with other organic materials in your compost pile. Carbon-rich materials, such as dried leaves or straw, help to balance the nitrogen content in the printed paper. This helps create optimal conditions for decomposition. Layering also prevents the compost pile from becoming too compact, allowing for proper airflow.
  4. Moisture and Aeration: Adequate moisture and aeration are crucial for successful composting. The compost pile should be moist, but not overly wet. To maintain moisture levels, water the pile periodically, especially during dry periods. Additionally, turning the compost pile regularly helps promote aeration and prevents the formation of compacted layers. Aeration allows oxygen to reach the microorganisms responsible for decomposition, speeding up the process.
  5. Patience: Composting takes time, so it’s important to be patient. The decomposition process can vary depending on factors such as temperature, moisture levels, and the materials used. It may take several months for the printed paper to break down completely. Regularly monitor the compost pile’s progress and make adjustments as needed, such as adding more carbon-rich materials or adjusting moisture levels.
  6. Monitoring and Adjustments: Keep an eye on the compost pile and monitor its temperature, moisture, and odor. The ideal temperature for composting is between 120°F (49°C) and 160°F (71°C). If the temperature is too low, the decomposition process may slow down, and if it’s too high, it can kill beneficial microorganisms. Adjust moisture levels by adding water if the pile is too dry or incorporating dry materials if it’s too wet. Regularly turning the compost pile helps distribute moisture and ensure even decomposition.
  7. Harvesting the Compost: Once the printed paper and other organic materials have fully decomposed, you can harvest the compost. The compost should have a dark, crumbly texture and a pleasant earthy smell. To harvest, remove the finished compost from the bottom of the pile, leaving any unfinished materials to continue decomposing. The harvested compost can then be used to enrich garden soil, potting mixes, or as a top dressing for plants.

Remember, successful composting requires regular maintenance and attention. By following these steps and providing the right conditions, you can compost printed paper responsibly and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment.

Troubleshooting Composting Issues

Sometimes, issues may arise while composting printed paper. Here are a few common problems and their solutions:

  1. Slow Decomposition: If the composting process is slow, add more nitrogen-rich materials, such as grass clippings or vegetable scraps, to speed up decomposition.
  2. Unpleasant Odors: Unpleasant odors may indicate a lack of aeration or too much moisture. Turn the compost pile more frequently and adjust moisture levels accordingly.
  3. Pest Attraction: To prevent pests, avoid composting meat, dairy, or oily food products, and ensure the compost pile is well-covered.


While composting is a fantastic way to reduce waste and nourish your garden, composting printed paper is generally not recommended due to the inks, dyes, and coatings used in the printing process.

However, if you still wish to compost printed paper, follow the considerations and steps mentioned in this article to do it responsibly. Remember, composting is a valuable practice, and by making informed choices, you can contribute to a greener future.


1. Can I compost newspapers and cardboard boxes?

Yes, newspapers and cardboard boxes are suitable for composting as long as they do not have glossy coatings and are free from harmful inks.

2. Can I compost paper towels and napkins?

Yes, paper towels and napkins can be composted as long as they are made from unbleached paper and do not contain chemicals or synthetic materials.

3. Is composting better than recycling printed paper?

Composting and recycling serve different purposes. Composting returns organic materials to the earth, enriching the soil, while recycling preserves resources and reduces energy consumption. Both practices are important for sustainable waste management.

4. Can I compost glossy magazines?

It is best to avoid composting glossy magazines, as they are usually coated with materials that hinder decomposition.

5. What should I do if I’m unsure about composting specific paper products?

If you’re unsure about composting specific paper products, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and dispose of them in a recycling bin or consult local waste management guidelines for proper disposal methods.