At Naked Binder, we care. We also garden. So when Grist’s column “Ask Umbra” ran question as to whether it was safe to use newspaper in the garden to control weeds, we perked up.
We are re-posting part of that here for you. Listen and learn about what and where your toxins are coming from! (the whole article is here)
Q. I am able to buy from our local newspaper company the ends of their rolls of newsprint. They are too small to be run through the machinery, so they are not printed on. I am considering using long strips of this unused newsprint as mulch in my vegetable garden, but I’m wondering if it will supply dioxins or other undesirable chemicals to the soil as it degrades?
A. Dearest Peter,
What’s black and white and read all over, and protects your veggies from weeds? Newsprint, that liner of birdcages and bulker of papier-mache projects everywhere, is also often touted as a useful garden or compost additive. But is it really safe to lay the classifieds alongside your cucumbers?
In your case, it sounds like we don’t even need to consider any inks (head over here for that discussion) – it’s just a matter of whether or not that familiar, ashy-gray newsprint passes environmental muster. I won’t make you wait for the answer here, Peter: It does. The paper, composed primarily of wood fibers, breaks down rather slowly, making it an effective option for weed control that doesn’t introduce anything undesirable into the soil. If you decide to go this route, the West Virginia University extension has some tips for you.
You mention that you’re specifically worried about dioxins, so you probably know that these cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, all-around-nasty chemicals are a byproduct of paper-bleaching processes that use chlorine (among a number of other sources). Fortunately, though, “There is no reason to expect there to be dioxins in newspaper,” notes Martin Hubbe, professor of paper science at North Carolina State University, via email. Newsprint is instead typically bleached with the more environmentally benign hydrogen peroxide.
This isn’t necessarily the case for other white paper products, such asglossy magazine paper, paper towels, or coffee filters, by the way, but any chemical present is in such small amounts as to be considered safe by the EPA. If you’d rather keep your arugula as dioxin-free as possible, though, keep that in mind and steer clear of bleached papers.