Condo Blues: How to Compost Paper

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Compost Paper

The clay soil in my garden is so bad,

"How bad is it?!" you say.

That I was so frustrated, tired, and sore from a week jumping on the shovel with my whole body to dig into the dirt and turn it I named my blog Condo Blues.

It took a good long while to amend our soil and get it healthy enough to grow something that didn't die the following year. What is the secret to our now thriving landscape?


This is what the compost in my compost bin I built from a storage tub looked like when I checked the bin in last spring.

Proof you can compost paper. It might take a little longer, but it can be done!

This compost is not quite ready to use because this compost is too wet. There is an easy fix. Add more browns/paper, mix it up and let the compost sit until everything looks like dark crumbly soil without bits of paper, leaves, etc in it.

Learn how I made a compost bin from a storage tub here.

Husband and I are just as surprised as you are because for every person who said I could use paper in place of grass clippings and leaves in my compost there was another who said I couldn't or shouldn't.

5 Tips for Composting Paper

  • No matter what you use for browns (leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, etc.) add about three times more browns to your bin for every bunch of greens (food scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc.) so the items break down and create the right ratio of nutrients in your compost. If your compost smells like pee, you need to add more browns. Yes it did and yes I did - add more browns I mean. I didn't piddle in it. That is a place I am so not going to go.
  • Try to compost unprinted cardboard and paper or paper printed with soy inks. Some conventional inks contain heavy metals you don't want in your soil especially if you are going to grow vegtables or herbs. Soy printing ink is common and most items printed with soy ink usually have it listed somewhere on the package or on the paper.
  • Shred your paper and cardboard before you add it to the bin so it will break down faster. I use the paper shredder we have in our computer room. It is more than a little satisfying to shred and compost all of those fake low rate credit card and home loan junk mail offers that I get whether I want them or not.
  • Shredded paper, cardboard, cereal boxes, etc. holds more moisture and for longer than grass clippings so you need good drainage in your bin. I didn't drill enough, OK, any, drainage holes in the bottom of my first DIY compost bin I made from a plastic trash can (get the tutorial here) and got a case of dog vomit slime mold in my compost. You can read more about it here
That's why I made the second blue compost bin with a zillion aeration holes that keeps my compost nonslime moldy.

  • You have to mix/ paper composting more often because the damp paper clumps together and won't break down as quickly. Husband and I forget to do this with the blue compost bin. Not turning it or breaking up the paper clumps won't hurt your compost if you ignore it like we do, it just will take a little longer to break down into compost. What can I say? We like playing with Lacey is more we like than flipping the compost bin end over end to mix it. 

June One Small Green Change: Get a Compost Nanny (a Tumbling Compost Bin)

Husband and I are great about chucking our greens into the compost bin, need to be better about adding more browns, and stink at turning the bin often because it is a pain to flip end over end when it is full. We could totally use a Compost Nanny.

We also want a bigger compost bin so we can make a bigger compost batches than our little blue compost bins hold.

June's One Small Green Change is to upgrade to a tumbling compost bin.

Some of cheaper tumbling compost bins came with flimsy metal legs and didn't get good reviews. I don't want the stand of our tumbling compost bin to bend or break under the weight of a full tumbler.

Our new Keter Dynamic Compost Bin. 
You can get more information about it here.

We decided to buy the Keter Dynamic Compost Bin from Amazon because it has a handle on the side to make it easier to turn than our current method of flipping the tub compost bin end over end (in theory) and a  set of extra paddles inside the bin to help up break up potential paper clumps more easily. 

It's under $100 so it is not the cheapest tumbling compost bin, but it is not the most expensive either. The crank handle alone is worth the price we paid for it.

The Keter also has the sturdiest base we could find to encourage it to stay put during wind storms. It is one of the few tumbling compost bins with a crank handle that makes it easy for me and my macaroni muscles to the mix the compost so it breaks down faster. 

In fact, we actually turn the compost every time we toss something into the bin because the handle makes it so easy. It seems to be breaking down more quickly but it is hard to tell since we filled it with food scraps and yard waste that are half way to compost when we started using this bin. 

Do you compost? What are your tips?

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