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Everyone wants to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle these days – including me!
The good news is it’s easier than ever before, with so many products and eco-alternatives on the market. For instance, I’ve taken to using mason jars for storing grains, eco-liquids for washing up, and trash cans to collect recycling.
All of this matters, but it isn’t just storage and cleaning up that needs some eco-attention; it’s the cooking and composting process too! When was the last time you thought about the parchment papers you use for baking?
If you’re like most people, you go for the cheapest product on the market or most readily available.
Chances are these parchment papers will be bleached and therefore impossible to compost – you definitely don’t want any contamination in your garden. But don’t worry, there are plenty of alternatives that don’t cost the earth.
So, is parchment paper compostable? Read on to find out.
What Does “Compostable” Mean?
Although they are often spoken of as the same thing, there’s a difference between “degradable” and “compostable”. Degradable means a product will eventually break down through natural processes, but that doesn’t mean it will be non-toxic. Technically, anything is degradable.
Both banana skins and plastic bottles are degradable, but one will degrade in a couple of years while the other will take hundreds of years to decompose. One will also degrade and be completely non-toxic while the other releases toxins into the environment that enter the food chain.
When something is “compostable,” it is certified to biodegrade into completely non-toxic materials such as water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. This decomposition process must occur within 12 weeks for it to be certified compostable. It should also decompose outside commercial composting facilities.
Is Parchment Paper Biodegradable?
There are two types of parchment papers: bleached and unbleached. Non-bleached paper is biodegradable and compostable, but bleached parchment is toxic. The bleached paper uses chlorine to change the color and might also have a silicone coating that won’t decompose safely.
Since the unbleached parchment paper is made entirely of natural components, it can be put into a wood pulp compost, and microorganisms will break it down within 2 to 6 weeks. The bleached parchment will also biodegrade, but since it has been treated with chlorine bleach it isn’t non-toxic.
For this reason, we can say that bleached parchment is degradable but not compostable. The bleached parchment might also be toxic since heating the parchment paper can release dioxins, causing food contamination. Dioxins can cause developmental and immune system issues.
Which Types Of Parchment Paper Can’t Be Composted?
Not all parchment papers can be composted; in fact, most of them can’t be put in the compost because of how the pre-cut sheets are treated or coated. In addition, there are various types of parchment designed for special purposes – while effective, it is not always the most eco-friendly option.
Bleached Parchment Paper
Bleached non-stick parchment is made using chlorine to turn the color white. The bleached parchment is less expensive than non-bleached paper, and it’s much easier to find in supermarkets. Although non-stick bleached paper is biodegradable, it can’t be composted because of the dioxin chemicals.
Glossy/Fluorescent Parchment Paper
Non-stick parchment is designed to have a non-stick surface and to prevent excess moisture from building up. Some brown paper is coated with silicone molds on one side but not the other to support this function. Unfortunately, while silicone is made from sand, it contains some other chemicals as well.
Parchment With Printed Foil
Foil-lined greaseproof paper is supremely versatile; it gives you the same parchment base for cooking and baking on, but it holds its shape much better.
The parchment can be folded over the edge of baking trays and cake tins. However, since it’s made from aluminum, it needs to go through the paper recycling process.
Parchment With Lots Of Grease
Often, chefs use additional grease on their parchment to prevent it from moving around in the oven or when the food is taken out. While additional grease serves a purpose when cooking, it’s not as advantageous in the compost. Grease causes your pile to rot and attracts animals to your compost.
Wax paper is coated with a substance that derives from soybean, vegetable oil, or petroleum. It is mostly used to line a kitchen countertop before preparing food, not in the oven like other types of parchment. This paper uses some chemical derivatives in its makeup and can’t be composted.
How To Compost Parchment Paper
If your parchment is unbleached brown paper and naturally derived, there’s no reason not to put it in the compost heap and let it biodegrade – this should happen in a period of 2 – 6 weeks.
But is it as simple as throwing the paper into the compost heap with the food-grade materials, or can you speed up the decomposition process?
A compost heap is made up of organic materials mixed together. This material contains bacteria and microorganisms that use a combination of water and oxygen to break down the mass and turn it into compost you can use for the garden.
The process produces heat that is centralized in the mass.
Compost can be used in the topsoil of your garden and provides nutrients to plants and trees. It is known as a soil amendment, meaning it combines with the minerals of the natural soil to create a nutritious “humus” that supports your garden. Unbleached paper can also contribute to this.
Naturally, microorganisms take longer to break down larger matter, so the pre-cut sheets need to be cut into pieces to speed up the process.
If you add parchment paper to the compost fully formed, you can’t expect fast results; conversely, smaller pieces will decompose efficiently in a matter of weeks.
Remember to check the type of parchment paper before you add it to the compost. If the paper is bleached, or it’s one of the types of parchment paper on the list above, it can contaminate your compost and therefore your garden.
In addition, if you grow vegetables or herbs, these will also become contaminated.
For more information on recycling, check out how to recycle and reuse your trash for a cleaner environment.
Environmentally-Friendly Parchment Paper Alternatives
Although parchment paper can decompose in your compost, it may not be the most environmentally friendly option. Some parchments can’t be composted due to their lining, while others require time and resources. So, is parchment paper environmentally friendly?
Reusable Parchment Paper
If you really want to be eco-friendly in the kitchen, consider reusable parchment paper! This is usually unbleached brown parchment paper, but if it’s glossed, it can’t be composted. Still, the parchment paper can be reused up to one thousand times; it is heat resistant up to 500 degrees and can be safely used in the dishwasher.
As with reusable baking paper, Silpat can be used again and again. You can reuse Silpat up to 300 times before it needs to be replaced; far more effective than a roll of use-once parchment paper. In short, Silpat is a silicone baking mat that effectively replaces traditional baking paper.
Pyrex/Glass Baking Sheet
Although Silpat is a good eco alternative to baking paper, it will become obsolete after multiple uses; that is not the case with a Pyrex or glass baking sheet. As it’s made of glass, these baking trays are zero-waste and can be recycled – but remember that glass can affect the outcome of your baking.
Another excellent alternative to baking paper is to avoid using it completely; instead, coat your baking tray with natural substances like oil or butter to cut down on materials – remember that butter and oil can clog your pipes, so put the remains in the food waste, not your recycling bin.
Find more : Parchment Paper Substitutes
If you’re putting unbleached parchment paper in your compost, make sure it’s brown unbleached and doesn’t have any gloss, wax, or aluminum that will contaminate the environment.
If it is eco-friendly, it will fully decompose in 6 weeks; other types of bleached parchment paper might need commercial composting facilities.
The short answer is yes! You need to inspect your non-stick multi-functional sheet carefully and know the difference between one that is unbleached and compostable, and one that isn’t. Sometimes this is shown on the packaging; other times, you will have to do your own research, but it’s worth it!
Not all unbleached brown paper is wax-free and recyclable! Some brands create wax with naturally derived materials like soybean and vegetable oil; others use paraffin or petroleum. Naturally derived wax is fine to put in your compost, but chemicals like petroleum will contaminate your garden soil.
Compost parchment cannot be recycled, so it’s a good idea to research the best eco-alternatives for your cooking. Even unbleached parchment paper still has a wax coating, meaning it can’t be recycled but can be put in the compost bin. Reusable parchment paper, Silpat, and Pyrex help to reduce waste.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.