Is all paper biodegradable?

Paper is biodegradable. It is common knowledge that it is made from wood. Plant materials, as we know, are biodegradable. Paper can even be recycled up to 6.7 times before the paper fibers break down into smaller pieces which can also be turned into paper again.

The natural biodegradable cycle can take anywhere between two to six weeks before you’ll notice it begin to start to degrade; unlike biodegradable plastic (plastic bags), which can take long years.

What does biodegradable mean?

By definition, biodegradable means materials can degrade with the aid of oxygen and sunlight. These elements allow important nutrients to return to the earth. Because paper can degrade in the presence of both, it is indeed biodegradable.

Despite paper being biodegradable as it is made from natural materials, it will take time to degrade completely.

Can we speed up the biodegrading process of paper? 

Yes. If we exert effort in controlling the conditions within your compost bin, speeding up the process is possible.

There are four conditions that we do need to upgrade the compostability.

  • Heat
  • Rainfall
  • Humidity
  • Oxygen

If these four conditions are missing, you will find paper isn’t as biodegradable as you think. 

If you really think about it, paper doesn’t seem to degrade at all in landfills. This only shows that even if paper is fully biodegradable and compostable, where you try to decompose it matters a lot. Compost piles may be a better option to degrade paper.

Using a composting system allows you to control the condition needed for biodegradable materials. This allows any biodegradable materials to degrade quickly. To further upgrade the process and shorten the time you have to wait, you can also try adding worms to the mix. They love eating biodegradable waste and turning it into fresh soil, which is nearly the same as a composting facility.

  Why are paper cups bad for the environment?

Is paper eco-friendly?

This is a hard question to answer. 

There are quite a lot of factors to consider in determining which products are actually friendly for the environment. 

In the case of paper, we need to think about the supply chain deforestation problems that come with producing the paper we use every day.

Out of the 32 million acres of forest chopped down annually, a whopping 35 percent goes to the production of paper materials. That makes up more than 11 million acres every year getting destroyed. We certainly cannot argue that making paper has a horrible impact on the environment.

Is using paper bad for the environment?

Paper processing plants use some extremely harsh chemicals along with plant materials to produce paper. 

In fact, paper mills are known to be among the biggest polluters in the water. They dump their chemical solution back into natural resources. 

These chemicals include:

  • Toluene
  • Methanol
  • Formaldehyde

As a matter of fact, both biodegradable plastic and paper negatively affects the environment, and it’s not for the better. They both have too much carbon footprint. The only edge paper has over plastic is that it decomposes.

What type of paper is biodegradable?

Most types of paper are biodegradable and can be entirely environmentally friendly. However, we should carefully choose which paper products to use. Not all of them are entirely made of paper. 

Take paper cups, for example. They are lined with plastic, so they are not easily decomposed.

As a bottom line, the problem lies with the time and conditions the paper waste requires to break down effectively. 

  Are paper bags really better than plastic?
Paper WasteIs it biodegradable?How long does it take to break down? (in months)
Printing paperYes2
Cardboard boxesYes3
Milk cartonNo60
Photography paperYes3
Toilet rollYes36
Paper bagsYes1-2

Common questions about biodegradable paper

Does paper biodegrade in a landfill?

No. As mentioned, biodegradable wastes need oxygen and sunlight to decompose. In landfills, paper materials are kept in a bag where they are not exposed to what they need to biodegrade. If paper ever decomposes in landfills, it will release methane, which is even more harmful to the environment. This happens because they would most likely decompose without oxygen.

Why is paper bad for the environment?

Producing paper needs acres of forests to be cut down and burned. A lot of paper products cannot be made with recycled paper, needing virgin pulp every time. When paper breaks down in landfills without the aid of oxygen, they release methane. Methane is a gas considered to be more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

How many trees are cut down for paper?

Studies show that at least 80,000 trees need to be cut down every day to sustain the global need for paper.

Most paper is fully biodegradable, which also means they’re compostable. If we begin composting at home, we can help cut down on greenhouse gasses produced at landfill sites. Recycle as much as you can. Whether it’s paper waste or compostable, eliminating our wastes is best for the environment.


We have to rethink how we are doing it all. It is important to consider our footprint! Susan has been writing on this blog since 2020, but it has been on her mind for a lot longer!

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