Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is my compost toxic?

I'm always getting green tips from the internet or books, and composting is no exception.

I have two bins I started on my porch last summer, and in each I did something based on a recommendation I'd read. Since then, I have been afraid I've ruined both batches.

For the first, I added a few briskets of charcoal. I read this recommendation in a children's book about going green, which suggested the tip as a way to reduce odor (the charcoal absorbs it).

Since then, I've read that charcoal should be buried as deeply in the ground as possible, away from anything you're trying to grow, because it's so toxic.

In the second bin, I added shredded personal documents. I read this recommendation in several places online, as a good way to get rid of documents you don't want to add to your recycling bin while still intact because of identity theft concerns. Shredded paper shouldn't be added to recycling bins either, because the small scraps are difficult to recycle, and they are hard to separate from everything else, thus corrupting the other materials (e.g., glass or plastic) to be recycled. So shredding these documents and adding them to a compost bin as part of your "browns" (i.e., paper and leaves) should be an ideal solution, right?

Well, other sites say no. Newspaper is OK, because most newspaper is printed with soy ink. But the ink generally used on business paper is more toxic, which can then contiminate your bins, harm your plants, etc.

So have I totally ruined these two bins? Should I just bury the stuff, or are the naysayers exaggerating the issue? (With both bins, the amount of charcoal and shredded paper I added was minimal compared to the total content). Any guidance on this will be appreciated!

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