We shred a lot of typical white paper at work because of confidentiality concerns. Is this paper safe to use in garden compost? I'd love to be able to use it but don't know about the chemicals in the paper or the printer ink.
--Katy in La Canada Flintridge, California
As any inmate of a cubicle can tell you, the paperless office has not arrived: we're using 4 million tons of copy paper a year. The good news is that only a third of the material to make paper comes directly from trees. A third of it is from recycling and another third from sawmill waste, according to the EPA.
It is indeed safe use this office paper in compost, according to the U.S. Composting Council and other sources. I have even come across studies that show that paper actually has lower levels of contaminants than typical yard waste—not that your typical yard waste is unsafe. Paper helps absorb water, which can help prevent your compost from stalling into the saturated, odorous gunk that tends to trouble the fastidious composter. It also provides carbon, an essential ingredient in compost, since a 30-to-1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen is ideal for happy production.
If mulching works in your garden (i.e., doesn't shelter slugs and snails), you could also use the frizzy paper for this purpose.
In general, however, the soundest use of this paper is simply to recycle it to make more paper. After all, paper can be recycled five to seven times before the fibers become too short to be resurrected into new paper.