Parchment paper is a godsend in the kitchen, the multi-functional sheet that can handle any task. As climate change moves to the forefront of our common mind, people are beginning to reconsider all of their choices. So is parchment paper biodegradable, compostable, or bad for the environment?
Parchment paper is used in baking to line cake tins and trays so that the batter does not stick while cooking. It is grease-resistant due to the silicon coating the paper gets. It is heat-resistant and non-stick so ideal for all kinds of baking.
There are two types of parchment paper, white and brown. The brown paper is unbleached and the white parchment paper gets treated with chlorine to bleach it.
What does biodegradable mean?
When we describe a substance as being biodegradable, we mean that it is capable of being broken down organically. Bacteria and other living organisms start the process of decomposition on biodegradable substances, avoiding polluting the environment.
Biodegradability does not have a set of criteria to measure up to, and there is no universal definition of what makes something biodegradable. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created some guidelines and has taken legal cases out against companies who use the lack of concrete definition to mislead customers.
The FTC guidelines currently say the entire product should fully break down and decompose “within a reasonably short period of time” after it has been disposed. There are currently proposals in the pipeline to specify the time period. The suggested timescale is under a year after disposal for complete decomposition to occur.
The FTC also states that items intended for disposal in landfills, recycling, or incinerating should not be called biodegradable as decomposition is likely to take over a year. Garbage in landfills decomposes at a much slower rate than when left exposed to the elements. This is because there is not as much sunlight, moisture, and air coming into contact with most of the garbage.
There is also an organization called the BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute). Their work is to educate the general public and large corporations about biodegradability and composting. If a product is biodegradable, there will be a BPI certification on the label.
What does compostable mean?
When we talk about compostable products, we mean things that break down into natural substances in a compost heap, leaving no toxic materials in the ground. Where biodegradable labels do not have a set time limit, compostable materials must break down in around 180 days or less. This process can happen as quickly as 60 days with the correct conditions.
There are strict laws to ensure consumers are not mis-sold products falsely certified as compostable in the US. The American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) performs tests on various products to ascertain whether the manufacturer’s claims are valid.
In reference to compostable materials, look for the words “meets ASTM-D6400 standard” or “ASTM-6868 standard”. Some manufacturers will also label their products as compostable.
So is parchment paper biodegradable and compostable?
Unbleached parchment paper is completely biodegradable, however, you will need to check with the manufacturer’s information to see if bleached parchment paper is.
Most are likely to be biodegradable, but the chlorine bleach used releases dioxins. These may cause health issues if they make their way into the food or water systems.
If the parchment paper is wax-free it will compost easily. This is the case with many baking parchment papers as they are made without wax.
It is recommended to cut the parchment paper into small pieces prior to placing on the compost heap to help speed up the decomposition process.
If the parchment paper is coated in a non-stick material (like silicone) it will not compost.
What brands are considered biodegradable and compostable?
If You Care parchment paper is FSC certified. The sheets are made of unbleached and greaseproof paper. If You Care products are completely chlorine-free, ensuring no chlorine run-off finds its way into the water system.
The paper is oven safe up to 428 degrees Fahrenheit. It is certified compostable and is suitable for home and commercial composting. The sheets of parchment can be reused. 70 sq. ft. of this parchment paper will set you back $5.49 on Amazon.
Reynolds makes 75% unbleached parchment paper that is free from chlorine. It meets EN composting standards 13432 to prove the sheets compost.
The parchment paper can be composted in all commercial composting facilities. You can find this on Amazon for $3.49 for 45 sq. ft.
SMARTAKE makes pre-cut sheets of unbleached, greaseproof parchment paper. They are non-stick and non-toxic and can handle temperatures of up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
The parchment sheets are biodegradable and a set of 200 sheets will set you back $16.99 on amazon.
The Hiware parchment paper comes with 200 pre-cut sheets in the package. It is made from natural wood pulp and is BPA free. The paper is fluorescent free, chlorine-free, unbleached, and non-toxic. The sheets are also waterproof and made of food-grade materials.
It is safe for use up to temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit and can be microwaved. For 12×16” sheets, it will set you back $14.99 on Amazon.
If you are looking for a more eco-friendly alternative, there are many companies that make reusable silicone sheets suitable for baking. They are usually sold in multipacks and are reusable.
These sheets are easy to clean and most tend to be dishwasher safe, although this should be checked with individual manufacturers. They are oven safe up to around 450 degrees Fahrenheit and eradicate the need for oil or disposable parchment paper.
You can buy them in all sizes and shapes, to suit your culinary needs. Some even come with outlines stenciled on to help ensure your bakes are evenly sized and come out consistently perfect.
Prices for silicone sheets on Amazon range from $10 to $30, although these are definitely an investment for your home.