Is Paper Biodegradable? Let’s Find Out!

If you’ve ever wondered whether paper is biodegradable, the answer is yes, but it depends on a few factors. In this article, we’ll explore what it means for something to be biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. We’ll also take a look at different types of paper and whether they are biodegradable, as well as examine the environmental impact of paper production.

What does biodegradable mean?

When something is biodegradable, it means that it can break down naturally through the actions of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. This process can occur with or without oxygen, and the resulting material can be assimilated into the natural environment.

What does compostable mean?

Compostable products are those that can decompose into non-toxic, natural elements within a specific and controlled timeframe. Unlike biodegradable products, which may take an undetermined amount of time to break down, compostable products will decompose within a set period.

What does recyclable mean?

Recyclable products can be broken down into their basic materials and used to make new products. This process involves human intervention and industrial processing.

Biodegradable or not? An Overview per Paper Type

Different types of paper have varying levels of biodegradability, depending on how they are manufactured and whether they contain any additives or coatings. Here’s a table summarizing whether different types of paper are biodegradable or not and their biodegradation period and a more detailed explanation below.

What Type of Paper is Biodegradable + Biodegradation Period

Type of PaperBiodegradableBiodegradation Period
Printing PaperYes2-6 weeks
CardboardYes2-3 months
Paper CupsNoNot biodegradable
Photo PaperDepends on typeVaries
Wax PaperGenerally yes, but some types may contain non-biodegradable materialsVaries
Parchment PaperCan’t biodegrade, but can be recycledN/A
ReceiptsNoNot biodegradable
TetrapakNoNot biodegradable
MagazinesUsually not biodegradable, but can be recycledN/A
Hemp-based paperYes1-6 months
Recycled cotton paperYes1-5 months
Reclaimed straw paperYes1-3 months
Bamboo-based paperYes3-6 months
Stone paperYes3-6 months
Sugar cane based paperYes2-3 months
Seed paperYes1-3 months
Recycled paperYes2-5 months
Toilet PaperYes2-4 weeks
Tissue PaperYes2-4 weeks
Paper ConfettiYes2-4 weeks
Greaseproof PaperYes2-6 weeks
Kirkland Toilet PaperYes2-4 weeks
Charmin Toilet PaperYes2-4 weeks

Is printing paper biodegradable?

Yes, most printing paper is biodegradable, and it takes approximately 2 to 6 weeks to decompose.

Is cardboard biodegradable?

Yes, cardboard is biodegradable, and it takes approximately 2 to 3 months to decompose.

Are paper cups biodegradable?

No, paper cups are not biodegradable because they are typically coated with plastic or artificial wax.

Is photo paper biodegradable?

It depends on the type of photo paper used and whether plastic is present. Some types of photo paper can be biodegradable and compostable, but others are not.

Is wax paper biodegradable?

Wax paper is generally biodegradable and can be composted, but some types may contain petroleum-based paraffin, which can pollute the soil.

Is parchment paper biodegradable?

White parchment paper cannot biodegrade or compost, but it should be recycled.

Are receipts biodegradable?

No, receipts are typically not biodegradable because they are not made entirely of paper, and they end up in landfills.

Is Tetra Pak biodegradable?

No, Tetra Paks are not biodegradable or compostable because they contain plastics, which can release microplastics into the environment as they break down.

Are magazines biodegradable?

No, magazines are not typically biodegradable or compostable because they are coated with synthetic materials, but they can be recycled.

Other Paper Types

Is tissue paper biodegradable?

Yes, tissue paper is biodegradable, and it takes approximately 2 to 5 weeks to decompose.

Is paper confetti biodegradable?

Yes, paper confetti is biodegradable, and it takes approximately 2 to 5 weeks to decompose.

Is stone paper biodegradable?

Yes, stone paper is biodegradable and can be recycled, but it may take longer to decompose than traditional paper.

Is toilet paper biodegradable?

Yes, most toilet paper is biodegradable, and it takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks to decompose.

Is Kirkland toilet paper biodegradable?

Kirkland toilet paper is made from 100% virgin fiber and is biodegradable, but it may take longer to decompose than other types of toilet paper.

Is Charmin toilet paper biodegradable?

Charmin toilet paper is made from virgin fiber and is biodegradable, but it may take longer to decompose than other types of toilet paper.

Is greaseproof paper biodegradable?

It depends on the type of greaseproof paper used. Some types may contain plastics or other non-biodegradable materials, while others are biodegradable.

How long does it take for paper to biodegrade?

It usually takes around 2 to 6 weeks for paper to start to decompose. In comparison, biodegradable plastics can take years before the process begins.

If you want to speed up the biodegradation process, you can create optimal conditions in your compost bin. These include water, oxygen, humidity, and heat. Maintaining these conditions in your composting system can help you achieve faster degradation.

You can also add worms and food waste to your compost pile to help break down the paper even faster. Worms can eat up to half their body weight in biodegradable waste daily, and they produce incredibly nutrient-rich soil that can be used for gardening or house plants.

It’s important to note that while paper can quickly decompose in a compost pile at home, it can take longer if it’s not disposed of properly. If not disposed of correctly, paper waste can harm the environment.

The Environmental Impact of Paper Production

While paper is generally considered a more sustainable option than plastic, its production still has a significant environmental impact. Paper production contributes to deforestation and the manufacturing process uses harsh chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.

What’s more, paper mills are one of the biggest polluters of US water, as they dump their chemical solutions back into natural resources. These chemicals, such as toluene, methanol, and formaldehyde, can have a negative impact on the environment.

Using biodegradable plastics and paper is not always the best solution either. It’s important to understand that both have an impact on the environment, and just because they are biodegradable doesn’t mean they are good for the environment.

So, what can we do to make a difference? Well, we can start by home composting to cut down on greenhouse gases produced at landfill sites. We can also recycle as much as possible, whether it’s paper waste or compostable plastics. It’s important to remember that biodegradable doesn’t always mean it’s good for the environment.

Eco-Friendly Paper Alternatives

Did you know that there are many eco-friendly paper options available that are just as good as traditional paper? These sustainable fibers are affordable and commonly used:

By choosing one of these alternative paper types, you can help reduce the environmental impact of traditional paper production and make a positive impact on the planet.

Paper vs. Plastic: Which is More Sustainable?

When it comes to sustainability, paper is generally considered the better option compared to plastic. However, it’s important to keep in mind that both materials have an impact on the environment. Ultimately, reducing our consumption of single-use products, including paper and plastic, is the best way to minimize our impact on the environment.


In conclusion, we’ve learned that paper can be biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable, but it depends on the type of paper and how it’s produced. By choosing eco-friendly paper options like hemp, recycled cotton, or reclaimed straw, we can reduce our environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future. So next time you’re in the market for paper products, consider opting for the more eco-friendly options.