A while ago, a friend asked me which was better, composting paper or recycling it.
That is a really good question that required me to do a bit of research.
And the answer is that it depends.
Paper is not infinitely recyclable (unlike glass), it’s fibers eventually degrade in quality after being recycled 5-7 times. Printer and office paper require strong fibers, so its fibers have only been recycled a couple times. Newspaper, wrapping paper, and tissue paper, on the other hand, can use lower quality fibers.
Here is what should be recycled and what should be composted and in what situation:
- Glossy magazines, advertisements, and catalogs (these are more likely to contain toxic additives you won’t want in our compost if you are using it to grow produce)
- Office paper
- Sticky notes
In general, paper that is of higher quality should be recycled so that it can be used again, thus saving resources compared to virgin paper production.
- Paper products that are soiled with food waste, like napkins, paper towels, and paper plates (they can’t be recycled anyway)
- Brown paper bags with food stains from takeout
- Greasy pizza box
- Shredded paper (even if it is shredded office paper, it cannot be recycled)
As for composting, it is better to add lower quality paper that is less likely to be recycled. In addition, adding paper is good for the health of your compost pile, helps keep it from being smelly, and absorbs water.
Unfortunately, some paper products can’t be recycled or composted and have to be reused or ultimately end up in the trash can.
- Plastic coated paper products like coffee cups
- Glittery, glossy, and metallic wrapping paper
- Glittery tissue paper
So there you go!
There are some other things to remember though.
- When buying paper products, opt for post-consumer recycled content to save as many trees as possible. There needs to be a demand for it!
- Soley composting high-quality paper keeps those good fibers from the production stream, meaning there is less recycled paper to work with, also meaning more virgin resources being used.