[USCC] Safety in composting paper
Fri Nov 24 14:22:02 2000
At 03:34 PM 11/07/2000 +0000, you wrote:
>Hello, I am a local activist trying to educate residents of Otsego County
>and New York state on hazards of backyard trash burning. We are
>encouraging persons to compost things like Paper towels used on dairy
>farms, shredded newspapers, bailing twine, etc. Is this a safe
>practice? Are there heavy metals and chlorine in paper that would
>contaminate the soil. Thank you for your help. Martha B. Clarvoe
I was just browsing the list and noticed that no one replied to your inquiry.
For about five years I spent hours on bulletin boards, news groups, and
discussion lists talking about composting issues. By far and away the
number one question has been the safety of paper in compost and in the
soil. Here is a summary of the issues and my responses.
The issues raised vary, but have included:
1. Printed paper contains heavy metals, particularly colored inks.
My information is that since lead printing plates were banned over 25 years
ago, that North American paper is free of lead. There may be some concerns
about composting old books or paper from countries that still use lead
printing plates. Heavy metals in inks are insignificant and are at
virtually background levels, certainly far below the EPA 503 rules.
2. Inks are made from hydrocarbons which are a biohazard.
Composting is a technique of treating many hydrocarbons through
bioremediation into benign products. Most hydrocarbons have volatilized
off the paper long before the paper is composted anyway. Using soy inks
promotes sustainable and renewable inks, but has little effect on the
safety of paper used for composting.
3. Glossy paper such as magazines should be avoided
It is clay that makes paper glossy and clay is not a biohazard or
contaminant to the soil in levels, up to 20%, found in magazines.
4. Chlorine and dioxins are a contaminant in paper
They are both found in all types of bleached paper. Chlorine is a concern
in the production of paper, not in the paper itself. Dioxins have been
greatly reduced over the past decades and are in q-tips, napkins, feminine
hygiene products, milk cartons, and virtually all bleached paper
products. If the dioxin levels in paper, which are in the parts per
trillions, are a concern for the soil, then we are at the point where we
should be banning all paper products. It is not appropriate to single out
composting as a carrier of dioxins. The real culprit with dioxins is
incineration, not composting.
5. Paper is a non-renewable resource and should be recycled, not composted
This is the argument of the Environmental Defense Fund which is countered
by the position of the Composting Council in 1993 which states clearly that
composting is recycling. Recycling paper should occur where it is
economically feasible and composting paper should occur where it is
economically feasible. Neither is better than the other. Our soils need
humus and the world needs more tree farms. Philosophically, I am opposed
to old growth and even old second growth forests being used to grow paper
fiber. But that is a separate issue from whether or not paper should be
used in the composting process.
Jim~ McNelly "The Compost Man"
NaturTech Composting Systems, Inc.
Visit the US Composting Council site