Parchment paper is a frequently used item by bakers, and now with increased awareness around recycling and composting – you may be wondering if parchment paper is recyclable or compostable.
What is Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is a paper often used for baking. The material is an odorless, tasteless paper made from cotton fiber or pure chemical wood pulp. It has non-stick properties, which is why it’s commonly used to line cookie sheets or cake pans. Bakers love it because it makes clean-up easy and eliminates the need to grease the pan.
There are two main types of parchment paper:
- Unbleached paper is brown and color and has not been treated. This variety is usually compostable and recyclable.
- Bleached paper has been treated to make it white. This variety is not compostable but may be recyclable.
Parchment paper is different from wax paper. You may know this already, but I’ve made this mistake in the kitchen before, and let’s say it wasn’t pretty (the wax paper melted in the oven!).
Is Parchment Paper Recyclable?
It depends. Bleached and unbleached parchment paper that is clean and uncontaminated with food products can be recycled. Parchment paper contaminated with food products cannot be recycled.
Note that parchment paper with any waxy coatings will not be recyclable. You can check the packaging on the parchment paper and your local recycling program to see whether the paper is recyclable in your community. To check what your local recycling program accepts, you can search for the name of your city or town, with “recycling program” after the name. Typically, a recycling guide is available on a web page or a linked PDF document.
Do grease circles count as contamination?
You might be wondering whether those grease circles left behind after baking cookies “count” as contamination. Unfortunately, yes, it does count as contamination — so in most cases, you will not be able to recycle parchment paper after baking.
Is Parchment Paper Compostable?
Unbleached parchment paper that is not waxed is compostable. If the parchment paper is bleached, waxed, or contains synthetic material such as silicone, it should not be composted.
Why can’t you compost bleached parchment paper?
Most bleached parchment paper has been treated with chlorine bleach and releases dioxins, which are harmful to the microbes in the compost pile and to the plants you apply the compost around. Parchment paper that has a wax coating (wax paper) also cannot be composted since the waxy coating will not break down properly.
Should I compost or recycle parchment paper?
As you may know, what you put in the recycling is not always recycled. If you have compost paper that can be recycled or composted, I’d always opt for composting. With composting, I can be confident that the item is biodegrading and not ending up in a landfill. Recycling can be more uncertain.
How to Compost Parchment Paper
If you compost at home, you can add parchment paper as a great source of brown material. Just make sure you have the brown, unbleached, and unwaxed variety. Do not compost bleached or waxed parchment paper. To expedite the process, you can shred the paper into smaller pieces. You can also soak the pieces or add water to further expedite the process of the parchment paper breaking down.
In my case, I am signed up with a local composting service that picks up our compostable waste biweekly, so I would simply add the parchment paper to my bin without shredding or soaking it.
RELATED: Composting Paper Plates
Can Parchment Paper be Reused?
In many cases, it can. This was new information to me, and I was pleased to learn over at King Arthur Baking Company that parchment paper can be reused in many cases!
However, it should not be reused if the parchment paper was used for meat or fish.
In other cases, the sheet of parchment paper you used to line your cookie sheet is reusable. Just wipe clean and store the paper stacked on top of your baking sheets. You can reuse it several times until the paper starts to deteriorate.
RELATED: Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials
Eco-Friendly Parchment Paper Alternatives
- Made of silicone and reinforced with fiberglass mesh
- Heat resistant up to 480 degrees
- Nonstick surface
The silpat is an alternative to parchment paper that is endlessly reusable. These are silicone mats that you can use for baking to eliminate the need for parchment paper or greasing a pan.
If you’re a serious baker, you may have some opinions on how well these work compared to parchment paper. They may give you slightly different results, and you might need to make some adjustments if you’re not used to baking with these. Hop over to Serious Eats if you’d like to learn more about cooking with silpats.
RELATED: Paper Free Kitchen
Oil or Grease
Parchment paper is often used for easy cleanup, but if you’re looking to cut down on its use, you can nearly always use oil or grease (for example, butter) to prevent sticking of your baked goods.
The unbleached and unwaxed variety of parchment paper is biodegradable. This means that it will break down by microorganisms naturally.
You should not use parchment paper when cooking or baking at temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, parchment paper may be rated for around 425 degrees, and using paper at temperatures higher than it is rated for can put you at risk of kitchen fires.
No, they are different. Some consider wax paper a type of parchment paper, but these are two different materials. Wax paper cannot be used for baking like parchment paper can (trust me, I’ve tried it on accident — it melts!). While parchment paper is heat resistant, wax paper is moisture resistant.
Parchment paper does not burn due to its heat-resistant properties, which are effective to a certain point. Parchment paper may be rated for around 425 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it can catch on fire if exposed directly to a flame — in other words, it is not flame retardant.
RELATED: Is Wax Paper Recyclable?