Composting Parchment Paper: Can you compost parchment paper?

Parchment paper has traditionally been made from cellulose fibers that come from wood pulp or cotton. The fibers are laminated with silicone to create the non-stick surface.

While standard parchment paper works wonderfully for cooking, its materials also make it challenging to compost. Most conventional parchment paper contains synthetic materials and chemicals that do not break down readily in a compost environment.

However, with the rise in environmental awareness and composting, some manufacturers are now producing parchment paper made with compostable materials. This eco-friendly version offers the same non-stick convenience while being backyard compostable.

Can You Compost Regular Parchment Paper?

The short answer is no. Regular parchment paper is treated and coated in a way that makes it very slow to decompose. The cellulose fiber may technically be compostable, but the other added ingredients are not.

Here are some of the reasons why regular parchment paper is not usually compostable:

  • Contains synthetic materials: Standard parchment paper goes through a laminating process to give it a silicone coating. This makes it non-stick, but silicone is a human-made material that does not biodegrade easily. Some brands also add unnatural chemical enhancers.
  • Bleached paper: Many types of parchment paper go through a bleaching process. This uses harsh chemicals that can be toxic in the compost and do not break down well.
  • Waxed paper: Some parchment paper contains wax coatings, which resist water and oxygen. This waterproofing allows it to function as parchment paper, but waxes biodegrade very slowly.
  • Manufacturing chemicals: Even unbleached and unwaxed parchment paper may contain residual chemical residues from manufacturing that take a very long time to break down.

While compost regular parchment paper may be technically possible, it would likely take over a year to break down because of these synthetic materials and chemicals. Most home compost piles are not able to facilitate this slow degradation process.

Signs That Parchment Paper is Compostable

With so many types of parchment paper, how can you know if a certain brand is compostable? Here are a few tips:

  • Look for compostable labels: Many eco-friendly parchment paper products will be clearly labeled as commercially compostable, backyard compostable, compostable, biodegradable or home compostable on the packaging. This takes the guesswork out.
  • Choose unbleached: Unbleached parchment paper is brown rather than white. Without chemical bleaching, it is more likely to contain natural materials that can decompose.
  • Avoid wax coatings: Wax coatings, like silicone, are human-made and resist breakdown. Unwaxed parchment paper has a better chance of being compostable.
  • Check ingredients: Examine the listed materials and ingredients. If the package specifies plant-based or non-toxic ingredients, that is a good sign. Avoid parchment paper listing silicone, wax, PTFE or chemical additives.
  • Know the brand: Brands like If You Care and Reynolds Kitchens have launched compostable parchment paper lines. Familiarize yourself with manufacturers making compostable products.

With so many parchment paper products available, it is important to vet brands and read labels to know which varieties can be composted. Choosing unbleached, non-waxed and compostable-labeled options are your best bet for finding backyard compostable parchment paper.

Compostable Parchment Paper Brands

Several eco-friendly companies now produce parchment paper products designed specifically to be compostable. Here are some of the top options to look for:

If You Care Unbleached Parchment Paper

  • Made from unbleached, chlorine-free paper bonded with natural starch instead of silicone
  • Certified commercially compostable and breaks down in backyard compost piles
  • Available in pre-cut sheets or bulk rolls

Reynolds Kitchens Unbleached Parchment Paper

  • Unbleached paper coated with a plant-based, compostable material
  • Designed to biodegrade in home compost piles and industrial facilities
  • Offered in sheet and roll formats

Comfy Package Compostable Parchment Baking Sheets

  • Crafted from organic bamboo fibers with non-toxic binders
  • Naturally non-stick and heat resistant up to 450°F
  • Can be composted or recycled after use

Bee’s Wrap Compostable Parchment Wraps

  • Made from certified compostable organic cotton and plant cellulose
  • Used as an alternative to plastic wrap for covering food
  • Designed to break down in backyard compost bins

BioBag Compostable Parchment Bags

  • Plant-based parchment paper bags for storage and baking
  • Commercial compostable and break down within 90 days
  • Grease-resistant while still being compostable

This is just a sampling of the compostable parchment paper products starting to emerge from environmentally-conscious companies. Be sure to verify the compostability claims on any product packaging or website before purchasing.

How to Compost Parchment Paper

Once you have acquired compostable parchment paper, adding it to your compost pile or bin is simple. Here are some tips for successful composting:

  • Shred into small pieces: Cut or shred the parchment paper into 1-2 inch pieces before adding to your compost. This gives microorganisms more surface area to start breaking it down.
  • Bury in the pile: Bury the shredded parchment pieces under 10-12 inches of other compost. This prevents the paper from blowing away and allows it to decompose in the microbial environment.
  • Mix and aerate: Mix or turn the compost periodically to incorporate the parchment pieces fully. Proper aeration speeds up the microbial activity needed for decomposition.
  • Mind moisture: Your compost should always have the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge. Parchment paper needs sufficient moisture to break down.
  • Give it time: Be patient. Compostable parchment paper may take 2-3 months to fully compost, longer in cold weather. Avoid digging into the pile until it finishes decomposing.

Adding compostable parchment paper helps provide carbon-rich “browns” that, when combined with nitrogen-rich “greens,” creates the perfect balance for your compost. Over time, the parchment pieces will completely disappear into usable, nutrient-rich compost.

Is Parchment Paper Curbside Compostable?

While some parchment paper is designed for backyard compost piles, most types are generally not accepted by municipal curbside compost programs. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Fiber length: Curbside composting utilizes industrial composting facilities. These systems require longer paper fibers to mechanically breakdown. Parchment paper fibers tend to be too short.
  • Contamination risks: Compost facilities want to avoid any plastic contamination. Silicone-coated parchment sheets could be mistaken for plastic and ruin batches.
  • Slow breakdown: Much curbside compost is turned into fertilizer quickly. Parchment paper may not fully decompose within these short time frames.
  • Lack of certification: Most curbside programs only accept paper products certified as commercially compostable. Parchment paper often lacks this official certification.

While curbside compostable, some eco-friendly parchment paper is starting to emerge. BioBag and other brands are getting certified compostable products on the market. However, always check with your local compost pickup rules before including any type of parchment paper in curbside bins. When in doubt, leave it out.

Is Parchment Paper Better Than Wax Paper for Composting?

For composting purposes, parchment paper is generally better than wax paper. Here is how they compare:

  • Faster breakdown: Parchment paper is made from wood pulp fibers that, when compostable, break down more quickly than wax coatings.
  • Fewer contaminants: Unbleached, non-coated parchment contains fewer human-made materials than wax paper. This makes it less risky as a compost contaminant.
  • Better aeration: Parchment paper allows more air circulation, unlike thick wax coatings that resist water and oxygen. Good airflow is key for rapid composting.
  • Higher carbon content: Compost needs a lot of carbon, found in paper. Parchment provides more usable carbon for microbes than the thin paper layer in wax paper.
  • Less lingering residues: Wax leaves behind sticky residues that take longer to disappear in finished compost compared to compostable parchment.

Wax paper also requires high heat, moisture and agitation to break down at all in backyard compost piles. While not ideal, compostable parchment paper makes a much smarter choice if you want to add paper to your compost.

Items You Should Not Compost

When it comes to paper products, certain items should never go into your compost:

  • Wax paper: As discussed, wax paper decomposes too slowly due to its thick wax coating. Always throw used wax paper in the trash instead.
  • Plastic-coated paper: Materials like plastic-coated cups or frozen food boxes contain plastic that does not compost. Avoid anything labeled as plastic-coated.
  • Treated deli/butcher paper: Deli and butcher paper is often coated in food-grade chemicals that are toxic to compost microbes. Do not compost unless unlabeled or explicitly compostable.
  • Paper towels/tissues: These are designed to hold up to moisture. As such, they take a very long time to break down and should go in the trash.
  • Magazines/mail: Glossy paper and inks make magazines, junk mail and envelopes a no-go for compost piles. Recycle these instead.

When in doubt, keep items like waxed paper, tissues, paper towels and any plastic-coated paper products out of your compost. These will contaminate the compost and potentially never break down.

Greasy Parchment Paper

Grease-stained parchment paper requires some extra consideration when it comes to composting:

  • Small amounts ok: Minor grease staining is fine, as the oils help feed microbes. But large quantities can overload the compost and encourage pest issues.
  • Use paper towels first: Before composting, blot excess oils off with paper towels whenever possible. Discard soaked towels in the trash.
  • Shred/bury well: Thoroughly shredding and burying greasy parchment deep in the compost pile allows microbes to absorb the grease safely.
  • Limit meat grease: Meat fats break down slower than plant-based fats. Try to remove as much meat grease as possible before composting.
  • Monitor for odors/pests: Keep an eye out for foul odors or an influx of pests, which may be signs too much grease is overloading your compost.

With proper caution, small amounts of greasy parchment paper can be composted safely. But parchment paper soaked through with meat juices, bacon grease or other oils may be better disposed of in the trash. When in doubt, throw it out.

Tips for Using Parchment Paper Sustainably

Parchment paper offers convenience for cooking, but it also generates waste. Here are some tips for using parchment paper sustainably:

  • Use reusable liners: Try silicone baking mats or unlined baking sheets when possible to cut down on parchment use.
  • Reuse unsoiled sheets: Let unused portions of lightly cooked parchment paper cool completely, then reuse for future baking.
  • Invest in compostable: Spend the extra money on certified compostable parchment to allow proper disposal.
  • Optimize sheet size: Choose sheets that closely match your pans to reduce excess paper waste.
  • Recycle clean sheets: After use, recycle any clean, unused sections of parchment paper if not compostable.
  • Limit unnecessary uses: Avoid overusing parchment when simple greasing or flouring pans will suffice.

With some mindfulness, you can reduce parchment paper waste through reuse and recycling. When composting, be sure to only add certified compostable parchment products to your compost pile or bin after thorough pre-treatment and shredding. Together, these strategies help make parchment paper more sustainable and eco-friendly for any home cook.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I put parchment paper in my worm compost bin?

Worm composting does not usually get hot enough to break down parchment paper efficiently. Plain white paper works better for vermicompost. However, some very thin compostable parchment sheets may be okay in small amounts. Avoid anything heavily coated or thick.

How small should compostable parchment paper pieces be?

Ideally shred or cut parchment paper down into 1-2 inch sized pieces before adding to your compost pile or bin for quickest decomposition. The greater surface area gives microorganisms more access to start breaking down the paper.

Should I worry about ink or dyes on parchment paper?

Quality compostable parchment paper uses plant-based, non-toxic inks when dyed. These are safe for compost piles. If worried about potential toxins, stick to unbleached natural brown parchment paper to be safe. Ink is less of a concern than the paper composition itself.

Can I put compostable parchment paper in my backyard compost tumbler?

Yes, tumbler compost bins provide the heat, moisture and aeration needed to break down compostable parchment effectively. Just be sure to shred or tear the paper into small pieces first. Monitor moisture levels since tumblers tend to dry out faster than traditional compost piles or bins.

How do I know if my municipal compost accepts compostable parchment paper?

Check with your city or local waste management company to understand their accepted materials list. Most curbside compost only takes longer-fiber paper products or those certified as commercially compostable. When in doubt, leave parchment paper out of curbside bins or carts to prevent contamination.