Rather than let old newspapers pile up around their homes, experienced composters use the paper waste to add valuable carbon to their compost bins. Made from wood pulp, newspaper has a high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, which varies but typically measures approximately 200:1. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, carbon provides essential energy necessary for the decomposing bacteria to convert organic waste to nutrient-rich humus. Thick clumps of wet newspaper discourage oxygen pockets in your compost, so make sure you combine your newspaper with other lightweight carbon-rich waste that promotes plenty of oxygen flow in your compost bin.
Collect equal amounts of nitrogen-high organic waste and carbon-high organic waste. Make sure your newspapers don't account for more than ¼ of the volume of your compost waste. Look for a variety of other high-carbon materials, including dead leaves, corn stalks, straw, wood chips and branches. Scour your home, yard, garden and barn for an assortment of nitrogen-rich waste, such as fruit peels, coffee grounds, vegetable waste, cow manure and fresh grass clippings.
Tear your newspaper scraps into long, thin strips that measure less than 1 ½ inches in width. Mix the newspapers thoroughly with the rest of your dry, carbon-rich organic waste. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of your mixed carbon-rich waste across the bottom of your compost bin. Spray the waste with water, using the misting setting on your garden hose, if possible, to ensure that the newspaper pieces don't clump up. Add just enough water to make the waste as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich organic waste on the carbon layer and sprinkle several handfuls of finished compost or plain topsoil on top of the protein-rich nitrogen materials. Add a second layer of carbon materials and wet them down again before putting another layer of nitrogen waste on top. Repeat this layering and wetting process until your compost bin is full of organic waste. End with a layer of carbon-based waste to minimize possible odors from the nitrogen materials.
Allow your newspaper compost to heat up for about two weeks before mixing the layers together with a manure fork to add fresh oxygen to the waste. Check the moisture levels by squeezing a handful of the waste. If you can squeeze out more than one or two drops of moisture, then the compost is too damp. Add extra shredded newspaper to soak up the extra water, if necessary. Turn your compost and check the moisture level every two to four weeks to produce finished compost within approximately six months.