Can You Compost Parchment Paper? What You Need To Know!
Savvy bakers understand the hidden value of parchment paper. More than just a non-stick layer to keep your pans clean, this wonderfully simple kitchen utensil is the secret to even heating and creating a perfect crisp on many baked goods. And if you’re an at-home gardener, you can even use parchment paper in your compost!
With something so easy, effective, and safe for cooking, the only downside to parchment paper is that it’s not reusable. Trashing a dutiful piece of paper is unfortunate (and borderline tragic). But by using it in your compost and keeping it out of the landfill, you can help yourself and the environment.
When Can You Compost Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is made of cellulose, an organic compound derived from plant fibers, most commonly wood fibers. The cellulose goes through processing in paper pulp form. Manufacturers treat it with sulfuric acid to make it heat-resistant, water-proof, grease-proof, and non-stick. Many types of parchment paper also have a thin silicone coating, further increasing its non-stick and heat-resistant properties.
A natural material, wood fiber common to many parchment papers is biodegradable and a valuable carbon source for a compost heap. The silicone coating is not biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmful. Silicone is synthesized silicon, a metal derived from naturally occurring silica. Although it has plastic-like qualities and applications, silicone doesn’t leach toxic materials like phthalates, BPA, or heavy metals.
Bleached vs. Unbleached Parchment Paper
Minor amounts of non-biodegradable but non-toxic silicone may not impact your compost heap in a meaningful way. But it is still crucial to distinguish between bleached versus unbleached parchment paper.
If you want to compost parchment paper, you should use an unbleached variety. Bleaching whitens paper via a chlorine application. At high temperatures, these materials have been shown to release toxic dioxin. It’s unlikely that your compost heap will get so hot that it starts to leach, but chlorine and other chemicals are never healthy additives in any situation.
Along with bleached parchment papers, you should avoid adding wax paper, foil-backed parchment paper, or dyed baking paper to your compost. Don’t compost paper with leftover food residue, either, as meat oils and bits can become rancid and attract pests.
If you want to be certain that your parchment paper is safe to put in the compost, look for the label. Brands like Reynolds and If You Care market their unbleached parchment papers’ compostability on the package. Many of these products are also FSC-certified, meaning that the products were sourced responsibly. FSC certification doesn’t necessarily mean that the paper is compostable, but it is an added perk for environmentally conscious bakers.
How Do You Compost Parchment Paper?
Thanks to the treatments and silicone layers, parchment paper can be slow to decompose. To speed up the process, cut the paper into small pieces and soak them in water before adding them to your compost.
Consider parchment paper’s acidity when adding it to compost. During treatment, the wood pulp mixes with sulfuric acid or zinc chloride. These substances partially gelatinize the paper to make it more stable and durable. These substances are acidic, and introducing them into compost may impact its pH levels.
When there’s a broad mix of materials, parchment paper’s acidic side should be a minor consideration. Whether you add parchment paper or not, you should check the acidity of your compost after it has gone through decomposition. A wet and poorly aerated heap can become too acidic, so you must turn it every few weeks. If you test your compost with a pH meter and find that the pH is too low, you can also take steps to neutralize the acidity, such as composting with wood ash.
Parchment Paper in “Brown” Material
Parchment paper is one of many types of “brown” material. These are dry, bulky, and slow-to-decompose items that provide carbon for the microorganisms that break everything down. Brown materials also provide aeration so oxygen can penetrate the pile. Other brown materials include dead leaves, pine needles, hay, twigs, and wood chips.
Brown material works alongside “green” material consisting of nitrogen-rich plant and food scraps to make compost. A well-formed compost heap should be about 75% brown material and 25% green material. You can add a decent amount of parchment paper if you have a large pile. But it’s crucial to make it a small part among several different types of brown material.
There are countless reasons to use parchment paper instead of aluminum foil for baking. It’s safer to use, more versatile, and more efficient. And now, you can add eco-friendly and compostable to the growing list of benefits! Follow these tips on composting parchment paper, and you can start feeling good about making progress in the garden and reducing your footprint in the kitchen.
Featured Image Credit: MIGUEL G. SAAVEDRA, Shutterstock