Over the years, wax paper has become a very popular item in the kitchen. Being a durable, yet lightweight material, wax paper is often used for packaging food, rolling sticky items such as dough, and even during baking. However, being a very popular household item, one must wonder if there is an eco friendly way to dispose of wax paper, which raises a pretty obvious question; is wax paper compostable?
What is wax paper made of?
Wax paper, as the name suggests, is literally paper with a wax coating on it. Three layers of tissue paper are placed on top of each other and coated with wax on both sides. The wax seals the pores of the paper which makes it waterproof and gives it that extra durability.
The wax is made from a material called paraffin, which is created either using petroleum or vegetable oil. Another, less common form of wax is made from soybean oil, which is slowly gaining popularity as a suitable alternative to paraffin-based wax. Since the wax is made from potentially combustible material, it is not recommended for lining cookie trays as the uncovered paper will start to smoke.
However, wax paper is still considered a safe alternative to parchment paper when baking cakes as the cake mix would completely cover the sheet preventing direct contact of heat with the wax paper.
Is wax paper compostable?
Now, moving on to the important part; is wax paper compostable? Normally paper is easily broken down by microorganisms because it is made from plant-based materials, but since this paper is lined with wax all over it, it becomes a completely different story. Wax generally is hard to break down by microorganisms. The complex, durable structure of the wax is resistant to breaking down naturally.
When lined with wax, the micro-organisms in the compost need to first penetrate the durable coating before exposing the paper underneath, but what makes it even more difficult is that wax paper is usually coated on both sides which means the micro-organisms have to deal with the wax twice in order to break the paper down completely.
The type of wax used to line the paper is also a great determinant of whether the wax paper is compostable. The wax can either be paraffin-based or soybean-based.
Soybean-based wax is considered an organic wax since it is made from plant-based material. Organic waste (especially plant-based) is suitable for composting since it can be broken down by microorganisms easily to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. However, the wax is generally hard to break down and although it can be composted, it may take a longer time than expected in your backyard.
Paraffin is a bit more complex since it may involve either organic and inorganic ingredients. We can break down paraffin into two categories:
- Plant-based (Vegetable oil)
Petroleum-based paraffin is inorganic, and since it is made from fossil fuel, it simply cannot be composted. The microorganisms are unable to penetrate through the structure of petroleum, making it unsuitable for your compost pile, so the answer to that is a resounding NO.
Paraffin made from vegetable oil is considered organic, but the same conditions apply to this type of paraffin as with soybean-based wax. Since it is wax, the microorganisms take a lot of time to break down the material but eventually are able to do so. Therefore, technically we can compost vegetable-oil-based wax paper.
How to check if your wax paper is compostable?
Simple! Always check the packaging of the wax paper to see if the one you’re buying the one that has vegetable oil or soybean oil as an ingredient. If you find that the ingredients contain any petroleum-based material, stay away from it since it’ll never break down in your compost. Pro tip: If you want to go that extra mile, look for wax paper that also has eco friendly packaging like bamboo, so you can add that to your compost as well!
Small grocery stores also offer separate wax papers that you can buy for a fraction of the price. These usually don’t come with the packaging so it’s always best to ask the shopkeeper which type of wax is coating the paper.
Should you compost wax paper?
Now that we know which type of wax paper is compostable, should you go for the extra effort and try to compost wax paper? We know that wax made from soybean or vegetable oil is organic and can be broken down by microorganisms, it is still wax and the complex structure makes it hard to break down.
But does the difficulty in composting mean that you shouldn’t compost wax paper at all? Wax paper is still one of the most widely used items in the entire household, and to just throw away waste that can be utilized elsewhere is indeed a naive thing to do.
Making compost at home is one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do at home. However, to keep your compost pile active you should actively continue to add more organic waste like vegetable peels and paper. Although the wax paper may be difficult to break down, you should definitely add it to your compost; it saves paper from being wasted away as well as helps feed your compost.
The final verdict
Is wax paper compostable? It definitely is! Should you add wax paper to your compost? You definitely should! However, if you’re not composting at home, make sure to throw the wax paper in the organic waste bin so that it can be industrially composted instead of rotting away in landfills.
Finding more waste to compost at home is an eco friendly tactic that can not only help you save the environment but also doesn’t cost you a dime. However, finding what you cannot compost is also equally as important. For example, wax paper made from petroleum-based material is not compostable, whereas the ones made from plant-based paraffin can be composted. When done properly, composting can prove to be one of the most rewarding ways to go eco friendly.