The other day I noticed that a friend of mine puts paper towels and facial tissue into her compost. Are you really allowed to add these?
Carly, Vancouver

Paper products can be a welcome addition to any compost pile. The goal is to alternate layers of nitrogen-rich greens (yard trimmings and vegetable peels) and carbon-rich browns. You see, backyard composting is really a colour co-ordination project.

Other types of “browns” include leaves, twigs, straw, corn cobs and stalks, brown paper bags, newsprint and even the inside cylinders of empty toilet paper rolls. A simple trick is to chop, shred or tear your browns – greens too – to speed up decomposition.

What you shouldn’t add are any greasy paper towels or napkins – they might attract unwelcome visitors. And, if you plan to put your compost in your garden, don’t add bleached paper towels or napkins. Instead, purchase 100 per cent post-consumer wastepaper products processed chlorine-free. Better yet, switch to reusable cloth napkins and hankies to cut down on the waste leaving your home, even if it is compostable. Learn more about Composting Do's and Don'ts in my fact sheet at David Suzuki Foundation

Lindsay Coulter gives you the straight goods on living green. Send your questions to For more great tips, visit The David Suzuki Foundation at

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