Is newspaper biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: July 26, 2022

Newspapers sales are on the decline due to the increasing access to news online. But the top papers still sell thousands and thousands of copies every single day – in terms of waste, this is astronomical. Newspapers are, generally, recyclable at curbside but what are the other disposal options? Are they fit for your home compost pile? Thankfully, yes! Here we take a look at some of the finer details…

Firstly, what is newspaper made of?

Knowing what newspaper is made from is a great start when determining whether it is biodegradable and it can, ultimately, be added to the compost pile.

Newspaper is made from an inexpensive, thin type of paper called newsprint. This type of paper is primarily made from wood pulp, whilst the print tends to be water or soy-based. 

Is newspaper biodegradable?

If an item is said to be ‘biodegradable’, it can be broken down naturally by microbes such as bacteria. These microbes only tend to feast on materials that have come from nature. So, newspaper which is mainly made from wood pulp, will make a nice lunch for them! Over time, the newspaper will be broken down into its component parts by the microbes and, in essence, return to nature.

This does not mean we should take a casual approach when disposing of newspaper. Most assume that if an item is biodegradable it will break down happily in landfill with no environmental consequences. This is not the case, generally. Landfill sites tend to be packed – oxygen and moisture are hard to come by, making the breakdown slow even for the most biodegradable materials. This is why it is so important to divert items, even biodegradable ones, from landfill as much as possible.

So, can you compost newspaper?

The process of composting allows us to dispose of household waste. You are, basically, providing the best conditions for natural breakdown – and reaping the rewards in the form of nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden!

As we have established, newspaper is biodegradable – so it must be fit for composting, right? This is a common myth amongst the general public but, unfortunately, this is not the case.  It is important to remember that, although all compostable items are biodegradable, not all biodegradable items can be composted. There can be several reasons why an item is not compostable.  For example, they may be biodegradable but contain chemicals that could cause contamination and damage plants that you use the final fertilizer product on. Some items, on the other hand, may even attract unwanted pests in your yard. There are several reasons why a biodegradable item is not fit for composting.

As far as composting goes though, it doesn’t get much easier than composting newspaper – its thinness might be a hindrance to the reader, but it is perfect for the compost enthusiast!

Newspaper does not provide the most nutrients when compared to other items such as food scraps. However, in addition to adding to the carbon-rich portion of the ratio, it can play an important role in other ways too. Newspaper within the compost will help give the pile some extra structure. This allows air to flow freely which aids the breakdown process. It can also soak up extra moisture – which, if left, will perhaps lead to unwanted odors.

Things to consider when composting newspaper….

To speed up the breakdown process of your newspaper in the compost pile, you can cut it into smaller pieces (or better still, shred it if you have the means). In addition to giving the microbes a larger surface area to munch on, it will also ensure that you can mix the newspaper and all its carbon-rich goodness throughout the pile.

It is also important to note that this article only applies to newspaper – not the glossy magazines that may be included along with them. Their gloss is often created using chemicals (or plastics) that aren’t suited to the compost pile. These can contaminate the pile and, ultimately, affect the plants that they are meant to be helping. You can pop the magazines in the recycling instead.

If you are new to composting, we have answered some beginners questions here – take a look!

The bottom line

Newspaper is biodegradable and fit for the compost pile. This is especially good to know if your newspaper isn’t fit for recycling – particularly if it is soggy or too dirty. Although not the most nutrient-rich ingredient to add to your pile it will give it a carbon boost and soak up any excess moisture. Just rip/shred it and mix it in – and in a matter of months the microbes will have worked their magic. Just don’t add the glossy magazines!