Greaseproof paper is a staple in most kitchens but how environmentally friendly is it?
Although useful for your baking, this blog post will take a look at whether greaseproof paper is bad for the environment or not.
To give you the short answer, greaseproof paper has pros and cons when it comes to the environment. Traditional greaseproof paper is bleached and is treated with chemicals, but you can now buy eco friendly compostable greaseproof paper which is much better for the environment.
Keep reading to find out more details, where we’ll discuss how this special paper is made, about greaseproof paper recycling, if it’s compostable and list out a few greener alternatives.
What is greaseproof paper?
Greaseproof paper can also be known as baking paper or parchment paper.
It’s a sheet of bleached or unbleached paper, often with a layer of silicone on top (we’ll talk about how it’s made just below). The key characteristic of greaseproof paper is that it non-porous to oil and grease – hence the name greaseproof!
The silicone coating is a stick and oil resistant covering which lends its use in baking, cooking and even in food packaging. It makes baking cookies, making cakes and storing food easy and mess free!
So, if greaseproof paper is a type of paper, surely it can be recycled? And if so, surely it is not bad for the environment?
How is greaseproof paper made?
Greaseproof paper is usually produced through refining regular paper to make a special type of paper with low porosity.
This simply means that the paper will not absorb water or other liquids, keeping it water-resistant. It’s also what gives greaseproof paper its characteristic glazed look.
The process of making greaseproof paper involves passing the paper through rollers, pressing it into a material called glassine. The glassine is then treated with other materials, such as starch, which fill the holes and pores in the paper.
It can also be treated with other chemicals such as silicone, which allow it to be repellent and stick-resistant.
During the manufacturing process, baking paper can be bleached with chemicals such as chlorine or left unbleached. Unbleached greaseproof may show a logo on the packaging, such as TCF, which stands for Totally Chlorine Free.
Can baking paper be recycled?
Simply put, baking paper and greaseproof paper cannot be recycled through your household collection.
The reasons which make traditional greaseproof paper so useful in the kitchen are the very same reasons it cannot be recycled.
This is all to do with silicone – greaseproof paper has a thin layer on top which prevents anything from absorbing through. Very useful for cooking and baking, but not very good for the environment.
Silicone is made from processed sand but can also be treated with other chemicals – some people refer to it as a type of plastic, whilst others consider it as part of the rubber family.
Regardless of how we classify it, our current recycling methods just cannot cope with this silicone layer, meaning greaseproof paper sadly belongs in general waste. You can read in more detail here to see if silicone is environmentally friendly or not.
Another issue with the silicone layer is that some people don’t realise it cannot be recycled. This leads to us accidentally contaminating our recycling, which can cause more harm than good when processing.
There is good news though!
New inventions, such as non-traditional baking paper, have been specially made to be eco-friendly that are also recyclable. Others are biodegradable and can be composted.
Can greaseproof paper be composted?
More often that not, greaseproof paper is made from paper and silicone. We all know that paper is made from nature’s own trees and silicone is made from processed sand.
Both of these materials are originally taken from nature, but does this mean that they are biodegradable?
Being biodegradable means that the materials will break down in nature via microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi etc) which digest them. This process is natural degradation decay – the materials break down into their respective elements and work their way back into the soil.
It’s important to note however that not all greaseproof paper is compostable.
For example, the two major types of baking paper are bleached and unbleached.
Bleached paper (white) cannot be composted as it’s been chemically treated. Untreated and unbleached greaseproof paper (with a brown appearance) may be compostable. It all depends on the individual type of paper.
To compost unbleached greaseproof paper most effectively, cut the paper into smaller pieces, soak them in warm water and then add them to the compost pile. The smaller the pieces, the quicker the decomposition will be. It usually takes between 30-90 days to fully decompose.
Or perhaps if you want to move away from traditional baking paper? Check out our alternatives below.
Alternatives to greaseproof paper (quick list)
Depending on what you’re needing greaseproof paper for, there are many alternatives which are either reusable, recyclable or compostable. These alternatives are a more sustainable kitchen option and much better for our environment.
These good greaseproof paper alternatives include:
- Reusable silicone baking mats – Silpat uses reusable silicone reinforced with fibreglass mesh. They’re durable, non stick and oven safe.
- Glass baking trays and dishes – long-lasting and multi-purpose.
- Reusable wax paper – fabric or paper covered in beeswax, primarily used for for food storage and packing. You can also get beeswax wraps.
- Reusable baking foil – tear resistant and heat resistant foil for multiple different uses.
- Compostable greaseproof sheets – made from FSC-certified paper, such as Green Man and If You Care products.
- Basic greased baking sheet – a metallic baking sheet covered in fat or butter.
Is greaseproof paper bad for the environment?
In short, it does depend on which type of greaseproof paper you buy as to whether it is environmentally sustainable.
Bleached, non-recyclable and non-compostable baking paper is bad for the environment.
Unbleached, recyclable, compostable and reusable greaseproof papers are much better for the environment.
The only difference between bleached and unbleached baking paper is the appearance. Treated with chlorine, bleaching does nothing else apart from cause environmental damage and use up energy.
Round-up on greaseproof paper
Using traditional greaseproof paper is not a very sustainable choice. It’s single-use, bleached and is destined for landfill.
If we make a collective effort to use compostable greaseproof paper or reusable varieties, we’ll be fighting to reduce landfill waste, not contaminate our recycling and with the added benefit of restoring our natural soils.
As always, we should be looking to cut down our consumption and waste – so if we can use multi-use reusable products, the world will thank us. Using less is always more! And as I say, keep it simple and sustainable.
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I’m the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. Away from the laptop, I love spending time in nature and with my young family (plus Murphy the dog!). I write and send out the Eco Life Newsletter.