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Parchment paper is the go-to tool for home bakers and individuals who routinely cooks things in their oven. It turns any pan or dish into a functioning non-stick surface and saves you the pain of having to clean it, especially if your food is greasy or sticks! We all know the feeling of having to scrape the burnt bottoms off a pan! Yuck!
Yet when all is said and done, how do you dispose of your parchment paper? Do you throw it away or recycle it? Is parchment paper compostable?
The answer, it turns out, is that it depends.
Some varieties of parchment paper are biodegradable and perfectly good to compost. Other varieties, like those with additional coatings, will not break down in a compost pile and must be recycled or thrown away.
So how do you know which variety you have? Well, while it might not always say compostable directly in the packaging, understanding the different varieties will help you make the right decision at the time of disposable.
What is Parchment Made of?
There are many different varieties of parchment paper available but they all start from the same base material: paper. Paper is a great addition to any compost pile, but does that mean that you can compost parchment paper as well?
Well, just like writing paper, the paper used for parchment paper originates from the pulp of natural materials like wood or agricultural residues. This paper will either be bleached white or come unbleached. Unbleached papers are more environmentally friendly because large quantities of chlorine and chlorine residues become contaminates after the bleaching process.
This paper is then bathed in a solution of sulfuric acid, this gelatinizes the paper giving it the non-stick and heat resistant properties we look for in parchment paper. While pure sulfuric acid does not occur in nature, it does occur in small quantities diluted in water. It is actually what makes acid rain acidic. Alternatively, it may be treated with zinc chloride instead, usually for thick paper.
In most cases, this parchment paper will receive a coating of silicon or Quilon to further increase its heat resistant and non-stick properties. Silicone coated parchment paper is a bit more expensive but is reusable, has greater non-stick properties, and is safer for both the consumer and the environment. In contrast, Quilon parchment paper is cheaper, single-use, and contains the heavy metal chromium which poses health risks to the consumer.
Parchment paper is NOT the same as wax paper contrary to the belief of many. Wax paper is paper coated with petroleum-based wax and is not heat resistant. Wax paper is not compostable.
Which types of parchment paper are compostable?
Unbleached and Uncoated Parchment Paper is 100% biodegradable and safe to compost.
Since it is made from natural materials, the bacteria and fungi that fuel the decomposition process can readily consume it. Numerous brands provide this product but you will have to check the packaging. They may or may not say compostable right on the package. These are the best option for the environment and arguably for your health as well. It may take a while for it to break down but you can speed this up by cutting it into smaller pieces.
Remember it’s mostly made from the carbon-rich plant-derived pulp so you will need to mix it with a nitrogen-rich material like food scraps or manure for it to effectively decompose. The biggest downside to uncoated papers is that they are less water-resistant, making them not very ideal for storing moist foods.
Silicone coated parchment paper is not biodegradable because silicone is inorganic and does not decompose. Silicone is the main component of rocks and sediments like sand, for this reason it is biologically inert. One of the benefits of silicone coated parchment paper is that it is durable so it can be reused several times. Unfortunately, the silicone coating makes it non-recyclable. If the non-coated parchment paper is not available then this may be your second best environmentally friendly option.
Quilon coated parchment paper will not break down and may contaminate your compost pile with the heavy metal chromium. It must be sent to the landfill. This is the least recommended parchment paper because it is of inferior quality and poses health risks. If you’re in Europe then Quilon parchment paper is uncommon but in the United States, it is often the least expensive option.
How do I compost Parchment Paper?
To begin make sure your parchment paper is unbleached and not coated with silicone or Quilon. After using (and possibly reusing your parchment paper) you may want to consider cleaning any remaining food that is left on the paper before adding it to your compost pile. This is recommended to prevent attracting rodents, raccoons, or any other critters that you don’t want around. Cats and dogs may also be tempted to dig through your pile if they smell anything that interests them.
Depending on your pile and patience, you may decide to break it up before adding it to your compost. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they’ll break down. Place this into a compost pile with a good source of nitrogen-rich materials like food scraps, grass clippings, or manure. Readily mix the pile with standard compost practices and wait for it all to break down.
If vermicomposting is your composting method of choice you’ll probably want to give composting parchment paper a pass. It is not recommended to place parchment paper into worm bins as it is not rich in nutrients nor will it bring an added fertility to your compost. The point of composting parchment paper is more to reduce your contributions to the landfill and to process your waste.
So, in summary:
- Unbleached and Uncoated Parchment Paper is 100% Compostable.
- Coated Parchment paper is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable.
- Always reuse parchment paper whenever possible.
- When composting make sure to mix with high nitrogen resources to balance out the high-carbon parchment paper.
Knowing exactly what your options are when it comes to disposing of parchment paper will help you avoid unnecessary contributions to the landfill and help feed your compost. Make sure to check your options when purchasing parchment paper by reading the packaging. Using compostable parchment paper is typically better for your health and the environment when compared to other options. Make sure to manage your compost properly to promote proper decomposition and the growth of healthy microorganisms.
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