Unveiling the Truth: Are Paper Bags Truly Compostable?

April 22, 2022 in recycling, Sustainability

Article summary and Key takeaways: This article addresses the compostability of paper bags and provides key information for readers. It explains that compostable paper bags are those that meet specific standards and certifications, such as ASTM D6400 and EN 13432. Compostable paper bags are beneficial for collecting food waste and contribute to the composting process. The type of ink used in paper bags is important, with soy-based ink being safe for composting and petroleum-based ink being best avoided. Composting regulations and guidelines vary by country and region, so it is important to check with local authorities. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s paper bags may be compostable, but it is advisable to confirm with the stores. Brown paper bags are generally suitable for the green bin, but coatings or treatments should be considered. Paper towels should not be composted due to potential chemicals and oils. Composting and recycling paper bags have different environmental impacts, and the choice depends on availability and overall impact. Compostable bags made from plant-based materials are a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. While paper bags are biodegradable, composting provides a quicker process. Understanding the compostability of paper bags allows for informed choices and a greener future.

Are Paper Bags Compostable?

When it comes to sustainable packaging and waste management, composting has gained significant attention in recent years. Composting offers a natural way to recycle organic waste and reduce landfill waste. Many individuals and businesses have started composting at home or implementing composting programs to promote sustainability. However, there is often confusion about the compostability of different materials, such as paper bags. In this article, we will explore the topic of whether paper bags are compostable and delve into various aspects related to this question.

What does it mean for a paper bag to be compostable?

Compostable refers to a material’s ability to break down into natural elements in a composting environment, usually within a specific timeframe. The process of composting transforms organic materials into nutrient-rich soil that can be used for gardening and agriculture. For paper bags to be considered compostable, they must meet specific standards and certifications.

There are several standards and certifications for compostable packaging, such as the ASTM D6400 and EN 13432. These certifications ensure that the paper bags meet specific criteria, such as biodegradation, disintegration, absence of toxic substances, and ability to support plant growth. When purchasing paper bags for composting, it is essential to look for these certifications to ensure their compostability.

Compostable paper bags for food waste

Using compostable paper bags for food waste offers numerous benefits. These bags provide a convenient way to collect and transport food scraps to the compost bin while keeping them separate from other waste streams. Compostable paper bags can withstand moisture and help prevent odor, making them an excellent choice for storing food waste.

When compostable paper bags are added to the composting process, they facilitate the breakdown of organic materials. These bags help create the ideal environment for microorganisms to thrive, promoting the decomposition of food waste. They contribute to the overall compost quality by providing carbon-rich material to balance the nitrogen-rich food waste.

Can you compost paper bags with ink?

Paper bags often have ink printed on them for branding and labeling purposes. The ink used in paper bags can be either soy-based or petroleum-based. Soy-based ink is considered more environmentally friendly as it is derived from a renewable resource and has lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The impact of ink on the composting process depends on the type and amount of ink used. Soy-based ink is generally considered safe for composting, as it breaks down along with the paper and poses no harm to the environment. However, petroleum-based inks may contain toxic substances and are best avoided for composting purposes.

If you have paper bags with ink, it is recommended to check the packaging or contact the manufacturer to determine the type of ink used. When in doubt, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and avoid composting paper bags with petroleum-based ink.

Are paper bags compostable in the US?

Composting regulations and guidelines vary by country and even by region within a country. In the United States, composting practices are regulated by federal, state, and local authorities. While composting paper bags is generally encouraged, it is essential to follow specific guidelines to ensure compliance with local regulations.

A good practice is to check with your local waste management authority or composting facility to understand their specific requirements for compostable paper bags. They can provide guidance on whether paper bags should be placed in the compost bin or recycling bin, or if they need to be handled separately.

Are Whole Foods paper bags compostable?

Whole Foods, a popular grocery store chain known for its commitment to sustainability, has made efforts to reduce plastic bag usage. They offer paper bags as an alternative to plastic bags, but it is important to determine if these paper bags are compostable.

Whole Foods’ paper bags are typically made from recycled paper and may have compostable certifications, making them suitable for composting. However, it is advisable to check the labeling or consult with Whole Foods staff to confirm the compostability of their paper bags.

Can brown paper bags go in the green bin?

The green bin, also known as the compost bin or organic waste bin, is specifically designated for collecting and processing organic waste. Brown paper bags, typically made from unbleached kraft paper, are generally suitable for the green bin.

However, it is essential to consider any coatings or treatments on the brown paper bags. Some bags may have wax or plastic coatings, which can affect their compostability. For optimal composting, it is recommended to use uncoated brown paper bags without any additional treatments.

Are Trader Joe’s paper bags compostable?

Trader Joe’s, another well-known grocery store chain, has also taken steps towards sustainability by offering paper bags as an alternative to plastic bags. Similar to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s paper bags may be compostable. However, it is advisable to check with the store or look for compostable certifications to ensure their suitability for composting.

Are paper towels compostable?

While paper towels may seem similar to paper bags, they have some significant differences in terms of compostability. Paper towels are often used for cleaning and may come into contact with chemicals or substances that are not suitable for composting. Additionally, paper towels are generally more heavily soiled and may contain oils or grease, which can interfere with the composting process.

Therefore, it is recommended to avoid composting paper towels and instead dispose of them in the regular waste bin.

Comparison between composting and recycling paper bags

Composting and recycling are both sustainable waste management practices, but they have different environmental impacts. Composting paper bags allows them to return to the earth as nutrient-rich soil, promoting plant growth and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Recycling paper bags, on the other hand, requires energy and resources to convert them into new products.

When choosing between composting and recycling paper bags, it is important to consider the overall environmental impact. If you have access to a composting facility or a compost bin at home, composting paper bags is an excellent choice. However, if composting is not readily available or practical, recycling paper bags is still a better option than sending them to the landfill.

What bags are actually compostable?

Various types of compostable bags are available on the market, including those made from plant-based materials such as cornstarch, sugarcane, or potato starch. These bags meet the necessary certifications and can be composted along with organic waste. It is important to note that these compostable bags should be used specifically for composting and not mixed with regular plastic bags.

Compostable bags are a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bags, which can take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. By using compostable bags, we can reduce our reliance on single-use plastics and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Can paper bags be biodegradable?

Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to break down naturally and return to the environment. While paper bags are biodegradable to some extent, their biodegradation process is much slower compared to composting. Paper bags can take several months or even years to fully biodegrade under natural conditions.

Composting, on the other hand, provides an optimized environment for the rapid breakdown of organic materials, including paper bags. Therefore, composting is the preferred method for disposing of paper bags if the goal is to maximize their biodegradation.


In conclusion, paper bags can be compostable if they meet specific standards and certifications. Compostable paper bags offer benefits for collecting food waste and contribute to the composting process by providing carbon-rich material. It is important to consider the type of ink used in paper bags and avoid composting bags with petroleum-based ink. Compliance with local composting regulations and guidelines is crucial when deciding whether to compost paper bags. While specific stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s may offer compostable paper bags, it is advisable to verify their compostability. When it comes to brown paper bags, they are generally suitable for the green bin unless they have coatings or treatments. Paper towels, however, should not be composted due to the potential presence of chemicals and oils. Choosing between composting and recycling paper bags depends on the availability of composting facilities and the overall environmental impact. Compostable bags made from plant-based materials offer a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bags. While paper bags are biodegradable, composting provides a quicker and more optimized process for their breakdown. By understanding the compostability of paper bags, we can make informed choices and contribute to a greener future.

Question 1: Can I put paper bags in the compost bin?
Answer: Yes, paper bags can be put in the compost bin.

Question 2: Is it better to compost or recycle paper bags?
Answer: It is better to compost paper bags.

Question 3: What bags are actually compostable?
Answer: Bags made from materials like cornstarch, potato starch, or other plant-based materials are compostable.

Question 4: Can paper bags be biodegradable?
Answer: Yes, paper bags are biodegradable.


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About the author 

Jordan Miller

Hi there, I'm Jordan! I graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Environmental Policy, but my real education has been in the field, turning theory into practice. My days are filled with implementing sustainable solutions and teaching communities how to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle. I believe small changes can make a big impact, and I'm here to guide you through every step of going green.