Monty Don's tip will improve the health of your compost – using cardboard and paper leftover from the holidays

A valid excuse to skip the recycling bin

Monty Don wearing navy jacket and smiling
(Image credit: Getty Images/mtreasure)

The aftermath of the festive holidays is usually filled with a lot of waste, mostly caused by paper and cardboard from delivery parcels and presents. While most of us would probably add these to the recycling pile without a second thought, Monty Don just shared a gardening tip to put leftover paper and cardboard in your garden compost instead.

You may already have been wondering whether you can recycle Christmas gift wrap, and now we've got a new route for you to look at if you've joined the home compost contingent. The all-knowing gardening expert took to his popular blog to share that adding paper and cardboard to your compost this time of year will improve its overall health and make it richer in nutrients. 

And that’s what you want after all since compost is perfect for delivering those important nutrients to your plants. So this is how to make a compost with leftover cardboard and paper from your Christmas celebrations.

Wrapped Christmas presents and hanging printed giftwrapping paper

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

Monty Don’s garden compost tip

In the January instalment of his gardening blog, Monty Don noted on the garden compost, ‘One of the fall-outs of Christmas is the enormous amount of paper that it generates. But all the wrapping, packaging and cardboard can go on the compost heap. At this time of year there can be a shortage of ‘green’ or nitrogen-rich material such as mown grass to leaven the carbon-rich material like cardboard and paper, but it all rots down and will end up as part of the mix over the coming months.’

In compost-lingo cardboard and paper are called ‘brown waste’ and are a recommended addition to a garden compost by more than Monty Don. But we’re always grateful to the horticulturist for introducing us to new gardening ways, whether that’s Monty’s autumn leaves hack or his greenhouse advice.

‘Paper and cardboard can be added to the garden compost. It is especially important to add these materials during the winter and after the holidays when there is likely to be an abundance of paper and cardboard waste,’ says Jack Sutcliffe, gardening expert and co-founder of Power Sheds. ‘Paper and cardboard can help to provide carbon to the compost, which is essential for the composting process.’

And that’s not the only benefit that adding cardboard and paper to the compost has.

Monty Don wearing navy jacket and smiling

(Image credit: Getty / Colin McPherson / Contributor)

Benefits of brown waste in the compost

‘Paper and cardboard aid in moisture retention, preventing the compost pile from drying out too quickly, which can be especially helpful during dry winter months,’ says Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench.

But at the same time, it prevents the compost from becoming too wet. ‘It will help to absorb excess moisture, which can help to prevent the compost pile from becoming too wet and slimy,’ Jack says.

And lastly, ‘They create air pockets, promoting airflow within the compost pile and preventing compaction,' continues Steve. 'They act as a habitat for beneficial bacteria and bugs that aid in breaking down organic matter, leading to the creation of even more nutrient-rich compost. Paper and cardboard compost really is a sustainable practice that enhances soil quality and promotes healthy plant growth.'

But there are a few things that you should keep in mind when adding brown waste to the compost.

Cardboard boxes filled with Christmas decorations

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)
Steve Chilton portrait
Steve Chilton

Steve is a passionate and knowledgeable garden expert with several years of experience within the field. As the director of LeisureBench, an industry-leading garden furniture company, Steve has developed strong expertise for all things nature and plants. 

How to add brown waste to the compost

Firstly, don’t throw large chunks of cardboard into the compost as that’s likely to take a long time to break down.

‘It is important to shred or tear the paper and cardboard into small pieces before adding it to the compost to ensure that it breaks down quickly,’ Jack says.

And secondly, just like with recycling, not all paper is suitable for the compost.

‘Avoid adding holiday paper and cardboard that has been treated with glossy, shiny or metallic coatings because these materials often contain additives or inks that may not be suitable for composting,’ says Petar Ivanov, gardening expert at Fantastic Gardeners. ‘Additionally, avoid items with excessive tape, glue or any non-biodegradable items.’

Wooden garden compost being turned

(Image credit: Getty Images/Grandbrothers)
Petar Ivanov portrait
Petar Ivanov

Petar Ivanov is one of the company's top-performing experts and manages over six teams of gardeners, delivering stunning landscape results and fostering a deep connection with nature through his work.

Lastly, don’t forget to regularly turn your compost, even in the winter months as Monty Don himself pointed out, ‘Even though we think of the process of turning and making compost as heating it up in fact the important thing to do is to add oxygen and this stimulates bacteria to digest the material, be it kitchen waste or Christmas packaging, which in turn generates heat, even in mid winter.’

News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home decor and interiors, as well as trend-led pieces, shopping round-ups and more. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors, working with the likes of 91 Magazine and copywriting for luxury bed linen brand Yves Delorme among others. She feels that fashion and interiors are intrinsically connected – if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.