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Compost vs Recycling (of paper)

2011/12/31

The residents of Prince Edward Island (that includes me) have access to waste disposal, recycling and composting.  That means that when it comes to disposing of paper, we have two good options: we can compost or we can recycle.  But which is better?

Well, if your paper is free from pizza stains (or any other food stain), turns out recycling is slightly better.  First, recycling paper reduces the need for cutting down forests, which has a variety of benefits from the storing of carbon, to the protection of biodiversity, to reducing the risks of floods.  Second, making recycled paper uses 80% less water, 65% less energy and produces 95% less air pollution than making virgin paper.  Please keep those numbers in mind the next time you are shopping for printer paper (or any kind of paper for that matter).

Photo: recyclereminders.com

Photo: recyclereminders.com

However, if your paper is not recyclable or it is marked by the above-mentioned stains, composting it is the way to go.  And adding paper to the compost bin actually has many benefits.  First, the paper absorbs water which helps with the smell of the compost and reduces the risk of leaks.  Second, adding paper to you compost increases its ratio of carbon to nitrogen (which is good), increases its density (good) and reduces its salinity (also good) creating better quality compost.  Finally, using compost made with paper in an agricultural field actually reduces irrigation needs and nutrient leaching since that compost is able to hold more water than compost without paper.

Having said all of that, don’t forget: Reducing is best.  Second is reusing.  But if neither of those are possible, you now know what to do!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/01/02 12:36 am

    JP any idea on how long paper takes to decompose? I’ve used newsprint and kraft paper for some gardening projects during planting time to keep down weed growth but not much in the compost pile. Any other info?

  2. 2012/01/03 6:37 pm

    earthonestation: When I wasn’t living in an apartment, I used newspaper in my compost quite frequently. It seemed to absorb a lot of the excess moisture that can make the compost get a bit stinky. I would usually throw in some about every 2-3 weeks, shredded into about 2cm x 5cm (roughly!) strips.

    Hope that helps

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