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As the title suggests, the question boils down to which one is more environment friendly?

I started composting few weeks back. After reading about composting on various internet resources, I tried using some paper in my compost bin. This is non glossy paper such as news paper (Yes, I still get it and like to read in paper format) and various bills/statements. While my composting efforts are getting to its desired state, I was thinking if composting paper makes sense?

At the community where we reside, we have three bins in different colours for waste disposal. Normal garbage, recycle and green bin for garden refuse. Before composting, all paper would normally end up in recycle bin, sensitive documents in shredded form along with other recyclables as recommended by service provider.

I am trying to decide which one will be more environment friendly? Commercial recycle operations can be much more efficient for environment as they might use paper waste to create recycled paper products. The paper gets another life and is put to use again. Little less number of trees are needed because of recycled paper.

On the other hand, there might be costs in terms of energy (transportation, creating new paper etc.) involved in creating the paper.

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  • I think your question has been answered here link – ViSu Apr 29 '14 at 6:47
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It's hard to say for sure, so I think I'd take a practical, half and half approach. You have 'sensitive' paperwork which you shred - don't shred it, tear it up a bit and put that in your compost. You're not then using electricity to shred the documents, and since you don't need a huge amount of paper in the compost, you can add some more from newspaper if you want, and recycle the rest. You're recyling your paperwork yourself by composting it, and that doesn't need any processing or transport or use any power - nature does it for you without much assistance, and you then use the compost you've produced. Seems like a perfect, carbon free cycle to me...

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Recycling paper is more environmentally friendly based on scale, reach, and results.

I think it is best to compare these at a macro level as well as the populations that are able to compost vs. recycle. Recycling paper at scale has a greater cumulative effect on the environment by helping to offset the use of trees for virgin paper manufacturing.

The US EPA found that recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper. While trees are often considered a renewable resource, harvesting creates a negative impact on wildlife and the majority of trees are sourced from old-growth and primary forests.

The pool of individuals that can successfully and repeatedly compost is a tiny fraction of those that can contribute to recycling. Even where organized or curbside neighborhood compost collection exists, it is dwarfed by the extent of recycling programs.

This paper conundrum is also a first-world problem:

http://www.atlas.d-waste.com/

Global Charts > Economic > Paper Content vs GNI per Capita

Composting generally ends the cycle unless it is collected and contributes physically or monetarily to a mulch product that is used municipally or re-sold, not necessarily contributing to any environmental friendliness.

Of course, you certainly shouldn't worry if you have a good use for papers as ground cover, worm cover, weed barrier or if you are able to reuse a paper bag.

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Very interesting question. It would be interesting to have a life cycle assessment of the impacts of the recycling versus the composting. Here is an interesting text on LCA: http://www.michaeldbaker.com/MDB_WP_live_site/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Guidance-on-Life-Cycle-Thinking-031014.pdf

Composting will be less energy intensive than recycling, but it is a good idea to keep track of any chemicals that might get back to you depending on how you plan to use your compost.

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