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I want to start composting my food scraps, however I want to make sure I have a good mix of browns and greens to minimize odors. I live in an apartment, so I don't have any soil, leaves or other yard scraps that I could use as browns. I don't subscribe to a newspaper, although every week I get one of those ad circulars printed on newsprint. What can I add to my bin for appropriate carbon, and what is the ratio of these items to food scraps?

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The primary function of browns is to supply food to soil organisms and to reduce the moisture of the mix, so basically you can use anything high on carbon that is reasonably dry and will compost, e.g.

  • cardboard boxes
  • empty toilet paper rolls
  • empty kitchen paper rolls (or the kitchen paper itself for that matter)
  • empty egg cartons
  • paper bags
  • printing paper
  • coffee filters
  • egg shells

Just tear everything up in pieces and try to use stuff with little or no printing on it because some inks can contain harmful chemicals. Also beware of anything with a waxy or shiny coating.

  • We throw everything into our compost. Even the waxy coated stuff. It does all break down (eventually, the waxy stuff takes longer). I do worry about what harmful chemicals we might be introducing in the inks or the waxes. – Daniel Bingham Feb 4 '13 at 21:25
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    Sawdust is good. Find an arborist, sawmill, or woodworker in your area. They'll give it away for free. Be careful with planar shavings, they take forever to break down. – Jay Bazuzi Feb 5 '13 at 6:18
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    @DanielBingham: you might be interested in two questions related to composting "waxy coated stuff": "Cereal boxes for mulch?" and "Can these non-food items be composted?" relating to – bstpierre Feb 5 '13 at 14:02
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    Just to note, glossy paper usually has more harmful inks than newsprint (which usually has soy-based ink). – Chris Travers Feb 6 '13 at 4:13
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    @JayBazuzi Indeed sawdust will make a good brown. Just make sure it isn't from chemically treated wood and mix it good with greens because otherwise it tends to clog up and compact. – THelper Feb 6 '13 at 14:08

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