Q: I am an avid gardener who takes advantage of composting at every opportunity. I work out of my home office and shred considerable paper which I would like to use in amending my garden soil. Is office paper from an inkjet printer or photocopy machine usable, or are there undesirable chemicals in the paper? Further, are the inks or photocopy chemicals harmful to soil quality? Can I shred old newspaper and use that? (My shredded paper would be rototilled into the soil.)
A: No problem at all composting shredded paper. The ink is carbon and soybean-based nowadays. Mix it with lots of leaves so it doesn’t mat down.
Q: You recently recommended using newspaper as a vegetable garden mulch. Is the Atlanta Journal/Constitution printed with safe inks?
A: According to the editor of the Home and Garden section, the entire paper is printed using soy-based inks. You can use the paper for mulch or you can compost it! Composting paper or cardboard is best done by shredding it and then mixing it with leaves or grass clippings. The newspaper can be food for the mind AND food for the soil!
Q: My office produces a lot of shredded paper. I have been thinking about collecting it and composting it. Will this work?
A: You can compost anything that is organic in nature: shredded paper, shrimp shells, peanut hulls, etc. All that matters to the bacteria and fungi who perform the composting operation is that they get the moisture and oxygen they need. The problem you’ll face in composting the shredded paper is keeping it from matting together and excluding oxygen from the creatures who need it. If you had unlimited time and muscle power, you could flip the pile every day or two until the microbes did their work. Guessing that this is not what you have in mind, I’d say that the best use of the paper is as a mulch under your shrubs and trees. Spread it out, wet it down and cover it with a bit of pine straw. The resulting paper mache’ will prevent weeds better than most other mulches and will let water and fertilizer through just fine.