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Are Paper Bags Compostable? (And Are There Any Exceptions?)

Are Paper Bags Compostable? (And Are There Any Exceptions?)

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A common question that used to be asked when going to the grocery store was “paper or plastic?” These days, at least in our area, most stores default to plastic.

Most of us like to do what we can to cut down on the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill. So, can choosing paper over plastic help us to be more environmentally friendly?

Paper bags can be recycled, so that’s one way to keep our grocery bags out of the trash bin. However, does composting offer us with another alternative, one that can benefit our garden?

Let’s find out.

Can You Compost Paper Bags?

Wooden Compost Bin

Generally speaking, yes, brown paper bags are safe to compost. They are considered brown material (not because of the color of the bags), which means they will add carbon to your compost pile.

Not only are they safe to compost, but they can actually contribute to the health of your compost pile.

Are There Any Exceptions?

While basic brown paper bags are absolutely safe to compost, there are some exceptions to keep in mind.

If your bag is covered in ink, you’ll want to do a little research before composting it. Soy or water-based inks should be fine, but you’ll want to verify the type of ink to be sure.

Many paper bags these days are coated with a thin layer of metal or plastic as well. If your bag doesn’t look like plain paper, you’re probably better off keeping it out of your compost.

Along the same lines, some bags have a water-resistant coating or another chemical coating of some sort. It’s best to keep these out of your compost pile as well.

Lastly, if your paper bag is heavily coated in non-compostable waste, you might be better off keeping it out of your compost pile.

How to Compost Paper Bags

Composting brown paper bags isn’t difficult by any means, but it’s still important that you’re aware of a few simple steps to take.

1 – Shred It

Shredded Brown Paper

While some people use their brown paper bags to collect other compostable items, then throw the entire bag into their compost, it’s better to shred (or at least break apart) your paper first.

Shredding the paper helps it decompose more quickly and allows you to evenly mix the paper with your other compostable items.

2 – Remove Non-Compostable Waste

Depending on the original use of your paper bags, you might need to wipe them down before adding them to your compost pile. Some items, like meat and dairy, don’t do so well in a compost, so if your bag came from a takeout meal, you might have to do a little light cleaning before putting the bag in the compost.

3 – Keep Your Compost Balanced

Putting Vegetables Into Compost

When adding anything to your compost pile, it’s always important to consider the carbon to nitrogen balance. As mentioned earlier, brown paper bags will add carbon to your compost. Make sure you mix in plenty of nitrogen-rich sources (like plants) as well to keep things balanced.

4 – Mix Well

Along the lines of #3, make sure you mix your compost well. This will help ensure that your compost isn’t too concentrated with one type of material in one area, which can lead to undesired results.

Final Thoughts

As long as your bags are the basic type of paper bags, rest assured that they’re safe to add to your compost. Not only are they safe, but they contribute brown material to your compost.

If you’re looking for an even more environmentally-friendly alternative for your grocery trips though, consider using reusable bags. We’ll save that conversation for another article…

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Sunday 25th of July 2021

Hi, thank you for the information. Do you know if the glue used in the paper bags is also compostable?