Can you compost colored newsprint or glossy magazines?

Marjory Wildcraft
Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

I've got a new paper shredder as a part of my project to reduce my waste stream to ... almost nothing? So shredding and composting junk mail and light cardboard seems like a good idea.

Anyway, years ago the wisdom was that colored inks were made from soy, and glossy paper was made from clay, so composting colored newsprint or glossy magazine was OK.

Does anyone know if this is still true? I've been worried that colored inks might have heavy metals in them, or the glossy pages might have, well, who knows what in them.



  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,810 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have found lots of odd information on this subject.

    The above is related to newspapers and should be a trusted source.

    The next question is concerning computer printouts, magazines and junk mail.

    Hmm, food for thought.

  • greyfurball
    greyfurball Posts: 591 ✭✭✭✭

    Because of allergies I had this one checked out quite thoroughly when I started gardening and I continue checking into it occasionally to make sure nothing has changed. What I've been told by a local newspaper office which has a weekly publication to 6 different counties is this:

    1. While most colored inks are now soy-based this is not necessarily true for all. Yes the inks are available but some businesses still have the option of using the older varieties if they desire. But even soy inks do have a downside to them because binders, solvents, additives and chelating agents are often added to this type of ink for all-purpose and specialty uses. None of these have to be itemized for the general consumer 's interest.
    2. Glossy magazines still should not be composted because many of the inks can still be toxic. Often the glossy paper itself is defined with the use of plastics or various chemicals to achieve that superior glossy effect. It is recommended this type of magazine can be recycled but not composted

    Some pretty good info on this subject can be found here at this site

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    OK, so it looks like we've got a mixed bag of info here... I'm going to keep digging, and this is a good summary from this site... but gosh I realize it is going to take a lot more digging to get a straight answer -uh, and there may not be anything so 'balck and white' LOL

    Most printer ink is made of what is a base of linseed or soybean oil, or a heavy petroleum distillate used as the solvent. This is then combined with pigments to create ink that is designed to dry by evaporation. This base is often referred to as varnish.

    Black Ink

    Black ink is created through a combination of carbon black and varnish.

    Color Printing Ink

    Color pigments are composed of salts and multiring nitrogen-containing compounds, or dyes including:

    • Peacock blue
    • Yellow lake
    • Diarylide orange
    • Phthalocyanine green

    Though not as common, inorganic pigments are also used. These include chrome green (Cr2O3), prussian blue (Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3), cadmium yellow (CdS), and molybdate orange (a mix of molybdate, sulfate, and lead chromate).

    White pigments, such as titanium dioxide, can be used alone or to modify the characteristics of particular colored inks. These pigments are mixed with varnish to formulate color printing ink. 

    Additions, or additives, are added to what printer ink is made from to alter given physical properties to suit various situations. The additions are mixed with the resins and solvents or dispersants prior to the introduction of pigments.

    Some of these additions include waxes to promote rub-off resistance, lubricants, and drying agents, which separate from the ink's body and allow print to bind to surfaces and dry quickly. Other ingredients added to impart particular characteristics include antioxidants that delay the onset of oxidation and act as anti-aging agents, and alkali, which controls the solubility and viscosity of ink so it doesn’t get too thick.

  • greyfurball
    greyfurball Posts: 591 ✭✭✭✭

    @monica197 yes, that's what it means.

    While some inks are headed in a cleaner direction there is still too many solvents, dyes, caking/anti-caking agents and binders, varnishes and petroleum ingredients plus other mixed bags of unhealthy products added to the ink mixes to get the desired effect.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    Yeah... I think it does. Bummer. Super Bummer.

    Well at least I can compost the mostly white stuff????

  • SuperC
    SuperC Posts: 900 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft I have heard that glossy ads are not allowed in the compost.

  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,810 ✭✭✭✭✭

    The worms would ultimately be poisoned by it, even if they didn't eat any, the chemicals would absorb through their skin.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    Monica, yes, as @shllnzl says, the worms will probably die.

    I wonder if there is some kind of 'home remediation" that could be done. You know they use musrhroom or other biologiacals to clean up oil sippls or the other toxic messes.

    Hmm, I also wonder about the ability of healthy soil microbes to transform some of it... like petroleum products.

    I am not as concerned about the chlorine in bleached white paper as the humates will bind with that.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    I hope to next year purchase some Oyster mushroom spawn and use it to breakdown paper "waste" as my city stopped recycling paper. Mushrooms are said to be able to disassociate heavy metals and the like.

  • hippeastrum99
    hippeastrum99 Posts: 6 ✭✭✭

    Wonder, what does it mean to "disassociate heavy metals"? What would this mean in practice, i.e., will the mushroom take up the heavy metal, or somehow let it loose?

  • dottile46
    dottile46 Posts: 437 ✭✭✭
    edited December 2019

    @hippeastrum99 I tried to find a simple answer and quickly found out I wasn't smart enough. lol I did find that some plants disassociate heavy metals by "moving" them from the soil solids into the soil solution. When using plants to decontaminate soil it is called phytoremediation. Here is an article with a picture explaining phytoremediation. I think that will help explain what it means to disassociate heavy metals. Hope this helps.

    Edited to add this link

  • hippeastrum99
    hippeastrum99 Posts: 6 ✭✭✭

    Hmm, so one should not use those plants used to phytoremediate, as the plants could be full of toxins.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    @Obiora E would you be able to eat the oyster mushrooms afterwards? Or have to discard them somewhere else?

    We had a Summit presentation a few years back on soil remediation using plants to pull up heavy metals, and the presenter (Leslie) said that using plants for heavy metals extraction is being done on a large scale as a way to 'mine' for the metals. The plants grew, picked up the heavy metals, then the pants were harvested and I guess burned? to get down to the heavy metals they had accumulated.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft Off the top of my head I do not know the answer to your question but I will reach out to both Tradd Cotter and Paul Stamets (I have attended workshops by both and have one of Paul's books) so as to not answer ignorantly. Have a Happy New Year!

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    @Obiora E Oh I can't wait to hear what they say. BOth Paul and Tradd are awesome. I've been trying to get them to present at our summits forever....

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft Happy New Year and good afternoon! I have received a response from both (well not directly from Paul but but from an employee) and am including them below:

    from Tradd:

    yes they would be edible if the growing media does not contain heavy metals.

    foreign inks may be suspect but minimal, ,adhesives and such not a concern they are broken down and not translocated to fruitbodies.

    from Fungi Perfect:

    Mushrooms may bioaccumulate heavy metals or other toxins from their environment. Unless you know that the substrate is toxin-free, harvested mushrooms should be tested for safety prior to use as a food or health supplement.

    I am going to default to the actual response from Tradd. I will start the decomposition in the next couple or several weeks.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    Hi @Obiora E thanks! Yeah, definitely looks like Fungi Perfect was CYA'ing it :)

    But both said that heavy meatls weren't going to be good. But from the thread above, the use of heavy metals for inks is farily rare... although there was that one "orange" that had lead :(

    Hey can you post some photos of your project? I would love to follow that.

    What would be a fun experiment would be to take a bunch of colored and glossy magazines and papers and grow mushrooms on them, and then run tests on the mushrooms. Let me know if you are interested in doing this experiment - let's talk and perhaps I can help with funding the testing (it's expensive).

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft You are very welcome. Yes I have to agree about Fungi Perfecti.

    I will definitely post some photographs of it and I am definitely interested in the experiment! It sounds right up my alley and I have a mixture of paper that I plan to use, so I am down with the get down. We can talk later this month or early next month to talk more in depth about it.

    Thank you again.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,541 admin

    @Obiora E awesome! be sure to ping me when you are ready.

    This will be fun! I love experiments.

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Lots of good info!

    Perhaps I should be more cautious about composting. Composting is so healing and microbes are amazing.

    We soak the paper, the water is poured into an environmental flower bed. The soggy paper is added to the worm bin and compost pile. Been doing this for years and it's been ok. Bacteria have a way of balancing things.

    If you did this everyday, for months or years one may notice variants that were unexpected. Larger piles and bigger worm bins should be able to filter somethings. I could be totally wrong, but our worm population is going strong.

    Mushrooms are amazing! They are used to clean up so much. @Obiora E great suggestions.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Hassena I agree...I was involved with a project with vermicomposting some years ago and hope to get back into it. Thank you.

  • Iris Weaver
    Iris Weaver Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    @hippeastrum99 You should not use the plants that have been used for phytoremediation, as they do contain toxins they have extracted from the soil. They also should not go in the compost heap. Either have a place where you sequester all contaminated plants, that is away by itself, or put the plants in the trash. Not great, but at least not horrendous.

  • Clare_Vanessa
    Clare_Vanessa Posts: 1 ✭✭✭
    edited January 2020

    Also not sure if anyone else mentioned it, but my biggest concern when thinking of composting or using newspaper or printed materials on the garden was whether the soy inks were GMO (which as we know, the majority of soy products are) - not knowing if these ever break-down or their effects on the soil, I stopped using these materials on my property entirely (and send them off to the council-composting facility instead).

    I have also heard, but haven't personally tried, that worm farms can eat through quite a bit of contaminated chemicals and break them down - if anyone has any experience or data about that it might be the best option? Of course, one would need to soil-test the end-product, however, it still offers some level of composting and could then be used somewhere safely I am sure.

  • Obiora E
    Obiora E Posts: 517 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft I sent you a message through your profile, is that what you meant by me "pinging" you?

  • dipat2005
    dipat2005 Posts: 1,203 ✭✭✭✭

    Many years ago I discovered that Lane Forest Products had garden soil with composted things in it plus 5 fertilizers. I decided to use that soil called Nature's Best for my raised bed gardens. Lane Forest Products is a business in Springfield and Eugene, Oregon. The weed population was not overwhelming and much less than other soil preparations I have used in the past. All of the seeds I used to start plants came up and the items that were transplanted did well. Nature's Best is also sold in bags.

  • Fts
    Fts Posts: 16 ✭✭✭

    There have been some questions about using shredded newspaper and other colored paper in wormbins. I have been using shredded garden catalogs and junk mail as the main bedding in my worm bins for about 5 years with no noticeable negative effects. And the worm compost produced has increased the health of the seedlings I grow out noticeably.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,821 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I've sometimes wondered if there's an issue with using colored newsprint to start our fires in the woodstove. Unfortunately color is used on many pages of the paper, so I haven't found it practical to use only black-and-white sheets. So far I've just done it and not worried about it.

    Glossy stuff, no, I won't burn (or compost) that. Recycle it if they'll take it, otherwise discard.

    I use a few layers of newspaper on top of grass with soil over it when starting a new bed, but beyond that I have not been composting newspaper or junk mail because of these concerns. It's a shame, because it could be a significant source of carbon for the garden. Now that Vermont is mandating composting of more waste, perhaps we'll get some more guidance on this.

    It's a sad world when simple inputs like manure (aminopyralids) and newspaper (see posts above) may not be safe to use in the garden.

  • erikawinterton
    erikawinterton Posts: 98 ✭✭✭

    I have burned alot of these items (newspaper, magazines, and colored prints) for a very long time. I scatter the ash on my garden and haven't noticed any adverse effects (on the plants or eating them). I am super sensitive to my food and can taste the chemical used in a non organic cucumber before I even put it in my mouth. I am not sure what the burning effect has on it; that is different than just letting the microbes in compost or any other living organism consume it first. But for me it is a solution to a mental anxiety, that my food, soil, and eventually my family have consumed toxins.

  • karen
    karen Posts: 80 ✭✭

    i am lucky in that I am no longer a recipient of junk mail, and I rarely pick up a newspaper and never a magazine anymore. that said i generate a lot of paper and shred it all. I include the cardboard boxes big and little that encompass all manner of purchases from supplement/medication boxes to large ones set to be garbaged by local stores - especially hardware. All free. i remove all tape before using.

    i had a lengthy argument on this forum about the use of cardboard. Hmm the other's point was already mentioned here about gmo crops to produce the raw material and then the kinds of solvents and glues used, to turn plants into papers.

    I did quite lot of digging into the process first.. it just isnt a big deal and that has been discussed here again a little bit.

    the source is the big issue. I know people will take me on over this but i would rather bring it home and compost than see this stuff go into landfill and create the horrid problems we know of. I really do not see any science that says that chemicals from a gmo plant when broken down into paper using some heavy duty processes or composted at home and watered etc will have terrible consequences. It is just not the same as planting gmo seeds to begin with. that i wont do.

    In the meantime lobby against GMO and try not to buy non gmo produced paper - good luck with that outside of craft produced paper - or any gmo produced plant materials. There is a company in the states that has started to do just that but sorry i have lost the reference.