Archived Story

Fiber can be recycled or composted

Published 9:08am Monday, March 5, 2012

Column: Randy Tuchtenhagen, Solid Waste Officer

Paper-based materials are recyclable or compostable. What is a preferred method of disposal? It depends.

Randy Tuchtenhagen

During and after the holidays we seem to have a lot of paper and boxes around that could be recycled. Maybe it would be better to compost them. Recycling has the edge, however, because when we recycle fiber materials we help prevent old-growth trees from being cut and it supports increased jobs and energy savings to industry.

Recycling paper uses 80 percent less water, 65 percent less energy and produces 95 percent less air pollution than virgin paper production.

But what about soiled fiber items? Pizza boxes, waxy milk cartons and shredded documents from tax records can all be composted, and composted in different manners. The compost bin we have for our food wastes likes the carbon source of fiber and small amounts of contamination or soiled paper doesn’t seem to affect the ability or quality of the compost.

People often call our office to ask about disposal of paper from their shredder. Not only can that be composted with your food waste, but it works great in the garden rows to keep weeds from growing. Wetted paper around flowers and other plants is a nontoxic and easy way to control weeds without the use of harsh chemicals.

Also, placing shredded paper in bottom of flower pots will help hold moisture. Cut or tear up those waxy milk cartons and wax coated freezer boxes to put into your garden, the compost pail or in the soil of flower pots. The wax is an excellent carbon source for a compost project and will enhance growth in plants. Just don’t get carried away.

Experiment with how much fiber should go into the soil and still have enough nutrient to grow plants. Fiber materials used in compost should remain wet. The paper will compost best when damp. If it dries out the wind will blow it away and composting may stop.

At our rural recycling drop bins (there are 15 of them throughout the county) we are receiving huge volumes of paper products. People are doing a great job of tying them in a bundle, using paper sacks or otherwise securing them to reduce blowing and litter. The rule of thumb is that if it is made from wood pulp, it’s probably recyclable unless it was in the freezer or refrigerator. We will take old books (leave the covers in tact), magazines, junk mail and lots of other paper products.

Check the recycling instruction sheets that can be found on the county web site at

As I collect the 2011 recycling data for our county it appears that the fiber tonnage has increased over 2010. We are happy to see the increase and hope to see even more fiber material being recycled in the future. Please! No plastic bags, no exceptions!


Randy Tuchtenhagen is the solid waste officer at Freeborn County Environmental Services.