Is Parchment Paper Compostable? Here’s What You Need to Know

Many people are increasing their efforts to reduce global warming through more sustainable living. Using biodegradable products and compost piles provides a big help in reducing carbon footprints. If you like doing composting at home, sometimes you may wonder, is parchment paper compostable or biodegradable?

The short answer is yes. However, as with most recycling, it’s important to understand the condition under which parchment paper is compostable material.

Professional cooks and bakers have sworn by parchment paper for decades. Manufacturers treat it, so it is resistant to heat and flame. As a result, cooks can use it in ovens. The paper is ideal for this purpose because bakers can place it on top of a baking mat or pan.

There is no mess on the parchment baking sheet, and the product comes out perfectly because it cannot stick to the sheet or pan. Also, because no grease or oils are needed, the greaseproof paper provides a health benefit.

Can I Put Parchment Paper In the Compost?

Not just any parchment paper biodegrades. Many bleached parchment paper or wax paper are non-biodegradable. In fact, many wax paper are actually plastic laminated paper. But you can’t go wrong from a composting standpoint with unbleached parchment or soy bean wax paper because they are 100% biodegradable. You can even opt for glassine paper, which is made of wood pulp.

Unbleached parchment, which is brown, contains no chemicals that interfere with biodegradability. Manufacturers treat bleached parchment, which is white, with chlorine. Chlorine, when heated, leaks the chemical dioxin, which prevents the paper from breaking down in a landfill or compost pile.

In addition, dioxins could be a health risk. Certain studies linked them to reproductive or developmental problems and cancer risk.

Unbleached parchment paper and glassine paper serves as a carbon source for your compost pile in most cases. However, some conditions destroy its compostability. Unfortunately, if the paper becomes contaminated from residues, such as fish, dairy, or meat, you must dispose of it in the regular trash.

In addition, you should avoid putting the following types of parchment papers in the trash:

  • Fluorescent colored parchment paper.
  • Glossy parchment paper.
  • Any parchment paper contaminated by cooking
  • Parchment paper with printing.
  • Parchment paper containing metallic foil.
  • Waxed paper.

Can You Recycle Parchment Paper?

Unfortunately, you must never throw baking paper in the recycling bin. However, the box it comes in is recyclable, so even if you have no compost pile, you can contribute somewhat to sustainability.

Parchment paper is not recyclable because makers treat it with acid. In addition, they use a silicone coating, which further diminishes its recyclability. Silicone or wax coatings are necessary for creating a non-stick surface and heat resistance, without which parchment would be of no use in baking.

In addition to the coatings, silicone parchment paper used for baking often becomes contaminated with cooking residues, such as oils, crumbs, and juices. As a result, unlike writing paper, it becomes unfit for recycling.

The purpose of paper recycling comes down to creating new, usable paper products, thus conserving the raw materials needed for paper manufacturing. The technology does not currently exist to easily recycle treated, coated, or oily papers because the quality of the new paper would be unacceptably low. Also, the need to sort parchments according to coatings and residues creates too much of an obstacle.

Fortunately, you can usually use parchment paper or butcher paper for several baking jobs. In addition, parchment paper used for food storage, such as in freezers, can also be reused.

How Do You Dispose of Parchment Paper?

If you have a compost pile of food scraps, you can add uncontaminated parchment paper. Make sure the paper is clear of food residues. Many cooking processes render parchment paper unrecyclable. To obtain the best results, cut the parchment paper into several smaller pieces before adding to the green bin.

Those without compost piles should dispose of parchment paper. Since the coatings and any food residues are likely to make it unrecyclable, there is no reason to add it to the recycling bin.

Is Parchment Paper Better for the Environment Than Aluminum Foil?

Parchment paper has the advantage in the sustainability department because you can add it to a home compost pile. Though food residues can sometimes require you to throw it away instead, if you can keep the parchment paper relatively clean after use, it is 100% biodegradable.

Aluminum foil, on the other hand, does not biodegrade. Therefore, you cannot add it to your compost pile, nor will it break down in a landfill.

Though aluminum foil is technically recyclable, in practice, it almost always ends up in a landfill.

Many people are frustrated by the widespread inability to recycle aluminum foil. After all, aluminum cans are recycled just about everywhere.

The problem comes in at the recycling center level. All aluminum foil is recyclable, but centers can only handle clean aluminum foil. Since most foil contains food residue and other contaminants, recyclers would have to separate all the dirty foil from the clean foil and then throw away all the foil with contamination. 

Since the vast majority of foil is too dirty for recycling, minimal yield results. As a consequence, recyclers simply do not accept aluminum foil.

The Bottom Line

Parchment paper provides an excellent baking surface. It allows cooks to create excellent dishes without food sticking to baking sheets or pans. This saves on cleanup and improves the quality of baked goods.

But, is parchment paper compostable? Many people wonder if they can recycle parchment paper or put it in a compost pile. Unfortunately, the technology for recycling parchment paper does not exist. As a result, it must be thrown in the trash unless you have a compost pile.

Unbleached parchment paper is 100% compostable, provided it has not suffered contamination from juices and other food residues. For best results, cut the parchment paper into pieces before composting.

By contrast, aluminum foil is never compostable. In addition, most recycling programs cannot recycle aluminum foil because sorting contaminated and uncontaminated pieces are far too expensive. As a result, aluminum foil ends up in a landfill.

With climate change already wreaking havoc, sustainability has become a key concern for many people. Using parchment paper and composting it is one way to help reduce carbon footprints.   


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