We at Green Action Centre often hear from people asking what they can do with paper products like heavily soiled pizza boxes that they are told they should not recycle. What do you do when you are faced with this situation? Can you put it in your compost bin?
Tell us about your experience with paper products that you can’t recycle.
Most paper materials are both recyclable and compostable. The question might be which is the best option for a specific situation. For paper that is not recyclable, such as that greasy pizza box, the options are either compost it or throw it in the trash. Composting is definitely the better option here and based on the responses to our myth, just tear it up into small pieces and toss it in. One Green Action Centre staffer says that she tears off the parts that are not greasy, like the top and sides, and recycles that portion. The greasy part goes to the compost bin.
Kevin’s response to the myth got a discussion on the thermal paper used for receipts and whether the BPA contained in these receipts represented a serious concern for your compost. No clear answer emerged from the discussion and it would appear that more research may be needed on this subject. While receipts represent only a very small proportion of the final compost product, for now each of us will have to decide for ourselves whether these are better recycled and kept out of our compost.
A question that did not emerge from this discussion was whether it is better to recycle paper or compost it? It’s great that we have two alternatives for our waste that doesn’t involve sending it to the landfill and in some cases we need both.
When it comes to most paper, recycling is the slightly better option. One of the reasons for this is that when we recycle our paper we reduce the number of trees that need to be harvested. In addition recycling paper requires less energy, uses less water, and creates less air pollution than paper production from virgin materials.
There are those times however when composting is the better alternative. We already know that those greasy pizza boxes are best composted, but are there other paper products that are better composted? Well there are those soiled napkins and tissues that you can’t recycle. And what about that shredded paper, might it be better to compost? It’s already in small pieces and will break down quickly in your compost pile. If you check out the City of Winnipeg’s FAQ’s on recycling you’ll find that you need to pack it tightly in your Blue Box or you can put it into a large (77 litre) see through plastic bag. These large bags are then separated from the rest of the recycling and emptied by hand before the rest of the recyclables go through the automated plant. Once again each of us needs to decide for ourselves what works best, but please make sure that you keep it from blowing down the street.
There are also some papers that shouldn’t be recycled or composted such as glossy magazines and foil wrapping paper. These types of paper have strong dyes, heavy inks and other printing chemicals that make them unsuitable. The best option is to avoid them in the first place.
I have several books of unused checks from an account I recently closed. My question is whether they are compostable or not. I have not been able to find an answer on this. I do compost shredded paper but not sure about the checks.
I would not hesitate in composting the unused cheques. Just make sure you remove the cheques from the book (don’t compost the binding), and I would also recommend ripping up the cheques into smaller pieces as it will take much longer for them to break down when they’re in larger pieces.
People and governments who worry about landfill space should have more concern and policies about cheap Chinese products that get broken easily and used up in our landfills. E.g. cheap versions of bonded leather furniture just get worn out after a year and people just throw these cheap sofas into the garbage. They should ban these cheap imports. The extra space that can be saved for landfills around the world can use to build affordable housings.
Quick question about ink- I know multiple people have asked similar questions, but specifically-
I started composting this year. I have been lining the container in my kitchen with ads I get in the mail. I initially found advice that newspaper or newspaper-like material was great as long as it was not shiny- now I’m seeing a lot of posts that colored ink can be harmful. Basically everything has colored ink that I have used… thoughts on if my compost is now compromised? Thanks!
Hey, I have a few notebooks I write a lot of stuff in. I use all nontoxic pens. Is it safe to compost this paper? Some of it is notebook paper, so there’s blue lines on it. Is that all safe?
Hi Michelle. Yes, this should be fine to compost. Better yet though would be to recycle this paper rather than compost it. Just make sure to remove the papers from the notebook binding/coils as these would not be recyclable.
are brown paper bags (not soiled) from Mcdonals & Burger King compostable? I wonder What kind of ink these companies use on these brown paper bags?
Hi Lilly – although we can’t guarantee what kind of ink is used on those bags, we typically say that a small amount of ink that isn’t vegetable based (most newspapers, as well as a long of other printers these days are) shouldn’t be a problem in a healthy bin. As long as the paper isn’t glossy or shiny at all, like magazines or sleek flyers, you should be good to go. Just make sure you rip it up into small pieces rather than putting the bag in whole.
Here is the info I found: I’m going to see how I can recycle this barrel. I’m defietly not going to use it as a compost bin at all.
IS INK ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?
According to energy central:
Ink printers and their ink are made up of several ingredients, most of them chemicals that have the potential to be damaging to you and the environment. Some of these include butyl urea, which prevents your paper from curling; cyclohexanone, which helps ink adhere to polymers; several dyes including reactive red 23 dye, acid yellow 23 dye and direct blue 199 dye, which contains sulphur; ethoxylated acetylenic diols which modify the surface tension of the water and colours; Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) which is full of contaminants and ethylene glycol.
The harmful environmental factors of ink cartridges can be felt since they are manufactured. When you produce a new laser cartridge, you consume more than three quarts of oil. For inkjet cartridges, you require about three ounces of oil.
There are many adverse effects of just throwing away an old ink or toner cartridge as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals present will pollute the soil and water when they reach landfills.
Unfortunately, more than 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are thrown out every year, and end most of them end up in landfills. To get some perspective on that fact, this means that 11 cartridges per second and 1 million cartridges per day are thrown away. For a print cartridge to fully decompose in a landfill site, it takes 1000 years, which gives you an extent of how damaging these cartridges can be to the environment.
Another damaging effect of not properly disposing of ink cartridges is that the toner (carbon black) has been classified as a potential carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Ink printer cartridges and their ink contain harmful chemicals, most of which are bad for the environment.
Ink cartridges are made from oil. The oil and heavy metals present in the ink help contribute to water and soil pollution when spent ink cartridges are disposed of in the trash and end up in the landfill.
Three hundred seventy-five million ink cartridges are thrown away each year and it takes 1000 years for a print cartridge to fully decompose in a landfill.
To add insult to injury, printer toner (carbon black) is a classified potential carcinogen.
However, it is not all doom and gloom, proper disposal (recycling) of printer cartridges can help negate these dangerous statistics.
Thank you so much for sharing, Kim! I hope you find a good way to recycle the barrel. Other barrels you could upcycle for a compost tumbler might be sourced from food services (those are food safe, extra bonus!) or an old garbage bin with a lid that can be firmly attached.