It’s a question I hear all the time, and it can be confusing, especially with the amount of paper waste we see today. But, before we get into it, there’s an important question we need to clear up.

What does biodegradable mean?

Biodegradable means materials can degrade with the presence of oxygen and sunlight, which then allows valuable nutrients to return to the earth. So, is paper biodegradable?

I’m going to share my knowledge with you.

Does Paper Decompose?

Given time paper is biodegradable, leaving nutrients to return to the earth, this, in turn, feeds new life, and so the cycle continues.

The process can take anywhere between two to six weeks before you’ll notice it start to degrade; unlike biodegradable plastic, which can take years.

Now, you might be wondering, What makes paper biodegradable?

Paper is biodegradable because it’s made from 100% natural materials, but like anything, it takes time to degrade completely.

So, can you speed up the biodegrading process?

Yes, by controlling the conditions within your compost pile, you can speed the process of breaking down biodegradable materials.

So, what conditions do we need to improve the compostability?

  • Heat
  • Rainfall
  • Humidity
  • Oxygen

Without these conditions, you’ll find paper isn’t as biodegradable as you’d expect. If the truth be told, in many landfill sites paper doesn’t degrade at all.

If this is the case, is there a more eco-friendly option?Paper in a compost heap

Well, paper is fully biodegradable and compostable. It can break down in your compost heap, Unlike many biodegradable plastics.

Plastics tend to poison the soil and anything around it. So, I wouldn’t suggest placing any biodegradable plastic waste in there; even if it claims to be biodegradable.

Using a composting system allows you to control the conditions needed for biodegradable materials. This allows any biodegradable materials to degrade quickly.

For added speed you can add worms to the mix, they love eating our biodegradable waste and turning it into fresh soil.

Is Paper Eco-Friendly?

Surprisingly, this is a difficult question to answer. In some ways, you could argue that using biodegradable plastics is more environmentally friendly than using paper.

I know it, sounds like a stretch.

So, why do I think using paper can be worse than using biodegradable plastic materials?

To start with, you need to think about the deforestation problems that come with producing the paper we use every day.

Out of the 32 million acres of forest that gets chopped down or burnt every year, 35% of that goes to producing paper materials.

That’s over 11 million acres every year getting destroyed for our gain.Deforestation for paper

So, although I don’t condone using plastics, biodegradable or not, is it actually any worse for the environment?

Luckily, there is a way of making the biodegradable paper more eco-friendly:

So, what are our options?

Firstly we need to recycle any waste paper we use; this will reduce the need for more trees to get cut down unnecessarily.

Secondly, we should be checking if the paper we use is sourced in a sustainable fashion, for example:

  • Is the biodegradable paper made with recycled materials?
  • Or, is it made with 100% biodegradable materials?

When it comes down to the significant cooperation’s, we want them to take part too. We need corporations to use recycled materials where ever possible.

Another thing we want to see from major companies is that they start taking part in planting more trees to help reduce deforestation.Planting trees

The goal is to make biodegradable plastic/paper more sustainable.

Is Using Paper Bad For The Environment?

Unfortunately, the misconception that paper is actually good for the environment isn’t the case. I’ve spoken a little bit about what it does to our forests.

But, what else does it to our planet?

Let’s start with the paper processing plants which use some extremely harsh chemicals to produce paper. In fact, paper mills are one of the biggest polluters of US water. Due to the fact they dump their chemical solution back into natural resources.

These chemicals include:bottle of formaldehyde used in paper mills

  • Toluene
  • Methanol
  • Formaldehyde

I mentioned earlier that using paper products isn’t any better than using biodegradable plastic. And the use of chemicals is just another reason why using paper isn’t always the best option.

The fact is, biodegradable plastics and paper are both having an effect on the environment, and it’s not for the better.

What can we do to make a difference?

Because most paper is fully biodegradable, it also means it’s compostable. If we start home composting, we can help to cut down on the greenhouse gases produced at landfill sites.

Also, as mentioned before, recycle as much as you can, whether it’s paper waste or biodegradable plastic. Remember, biodegradable doesn’t always mean it’s good for the environment.

What Type Of Paper Is Biodegradable?

Most paper is biodegradable and can be entirely environmentally friendly. But, does that mean all paper biodegradable?
The problem lies with the time and conditions the paper waste requires to break down effectively. Below you can see a table I made to give you a clear view.

Let’s take a look:

    Paper Waste Is it Biodegradable? How Long Does It Take
    to break down? (Months)
    Printing Paper Yes 2
    Cardboard Yes 3
    Newspaper Yes 6
    Milk Carton No 60
    Photography Paper Yes 3
    Toliet Roll Yes 36
    Magazines Yes 12
    Paper Bag Yes 1-2

You might have noticed I’ve marked milk cartons as non-biodegradable even though they can break down over time. I did this due to the plastic that’s used inside. After the containers have degraded, you’ll be left with tiny pieces of micro-plastic left behind.

One thing that surprised me was how long it takes for toilet paper to break down and return to the environment. I can only put this down to the lack of oxygen and light it receives in septic tanks.

What’s The Verdict?

So, is paper biodegradable? Yes, In terms of biodegradability as long as it’s not lined with plastic and it’s processed correctly; you’ll have no problems with the paper being biodegradable.

But, what about cardboard, is that biodegradable too? find out here!

If you’re looking for more answers about anything biodegradable, check out our blog pages or our Twitter account. Comment below and click the share button we’d love to hear from you.