Is Paper Biodegradable?

A picture of biodegradable paper

We have all walked on the street and seen paper waste. It’s an eyesore, and it probably makes many think that it’s there to stay. But it’s a question with a simple yes or no answer.

But first, what does biodegradable even mean?

If a product is biodegradable, it means it degrades with the presence of oxygen and sunlight. This then allows nutrients to go back into the earth.

And yes, paper is biodegradable!

Is Paper environmentally friendly?

Whether or not the paper you use is environmentally friendly depends on a lot of parameters and deeper knowledge of where that paper comes from.

Paper in itself is quite environmentally friendly, but paper mills still require a lot of energy to turn wood into the final paper product. A lot of paper mills have also been known to pollute water, but these are effects that can be improved, and even removed, depending on the way the mill is built and operates.

A lot of paper also uses chemicals that are bad for the environment when it degrades, which can cause a lot of damage. So paper isn’t always the best type of packaging, but again like so much else, it depends on the production.

What Type Of Paper Is Biodegradable?

Almost all types of paper is biodegradable, but there are exceptions. A lot of, if not all, milk cartons use plastic inside the paper. This means it could degrade, depending on the plastic used, but it’s not something you can be sure of.

The issue with a lot of the plastic used in milk cartons and similar products means that you will be left with micro-plastic during the composting process.

But not all types of paper are made the same. Printing paper usually takes only a few months to break down, and the same goes for paper bags and cardboard boxes.

On the other hand, toilet paper can take years to break down. The reasons for this is because after it has been used, toilet paper sees very little sunlight during the process, and it’s also made to be quite durable.

The Environmental Impact Of Using Paper

There are quite a few negative aspects of paper usage and production.

Here are some of them:

More than 30 million acres of forest are destroyed annually

 This is of course not just down to paper production, but it does have a significant impact.

On the plus side it’s important to note that most paper producers do it sustainably from a reforesting perspective. They will plant what they cut, because it’s the only way for them to keep up production in most countries. But in some, this is not the case. The Amazon has famously decreased year-on-year for decades, and that is something really worrying.

Paper emits methane during the break down process

When paper rots, it emits methane, which is a greenhouse gas, causing significant environmental damage. And when it’s composted or burned, it emits Carbon dioxide, which is the most significant greenhouse gas.

The Best Way To Dispose Of Paper

Today, most places around the world will accept paper at waste management facilities, most likely by pick-up from your garbage man. Perhaps you can find more information about recycling here.

However, the paper you throw away should be as pure as possible. Because in order to recycle paper, it has to have little to no contamination. Make sure your bins don’t mix plastic and paper. Don’t throw your biodegrable golf balls with the paper.

Pizza boxes for instance, will contain a lot of fat, which has contaminated the paper, making it impossible to recycle.

Currently the contamination rate on paper is 4-5% in developed countries, but we need to play our part to make sure this drops further, so that we get as much of the non-contaminated paper recycled as possible.

Can I Compost Paper at Home?

Yes, you can. This goes back to the contamination issue above. Paper that is contaminated should not be composted, as they will take very long to break down, and could emit gasses that are bad for the environment.

Composting in order to use with plants and trees is good, all things considered. We just need to make sure we do it right.

Our verdict

Whether paper is environmentally friendly is not a straight up yes or no question. As you’ve seen from this article, there are many different aspects to consider. It’s better than a lot of things, but it has several big drawbacks, which is a cause for concern.

What can we do?

Make sure you recycle all paper. This means fewer trees will be cut down, which makes the production of paper far more environmentally friendly.

We can also ensure that the paper we buy contains no plastics or other non-biodegradable parts. At the same time, it would be beneficial to make sure that the paper you buy is made from recycled paper.

It’s not perfect, but together we can dampen its effect on the environment we all share.