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Are Brown Paper Bags Compostable?

Substituting the use of plastic bags with brown bags seems like an excellent idea for many reasons. But are brown paper bags compostable? Are they the best alternative in eliminating plastic pollution?

Plastic packaging and carrier bags are some of the biggest pollutants in the world today. But with people becoming more environmentally conscious, there has been a huge clamor for environmentally friendly packaging and carrier bags. Enter brown paper bags.

They are increasingly being considered as the better alternative to plastic bags because they are manufactured from sustainable materials and can be disposed of easily and safely.  

However, as you may already know, not all paper bags are the same. Even though they are all made of paper, some other things are added during manufacturing to create different textures and designs. And though they can be recycled easily, this question remains; are brown paper bags compostable?

Are Brown Paper Bags Compostable?

Paper bag with vegetables and bottle of juice on table

Almost all brown paper bags can be composted or recycled. They can be shredded, turned into pulp, and used to make new bags. But it is not possible to collect all brown paper bags and return them to a manufacturing company to be reprocessed into new ones?

The answer is no! Hence the need for another disposal method like composting.

This answers the question; are brown paper bags compostable? Most brown bags are compostable. But there are exceptions.

This is because they are made from natural materials that are easily compostable. The assumption here is that all brown paper bags are made from unadulterated natural materials like plain paper and cardboard.

And because composting is only done using natural ingredients, if you mix waste brown paper and other ingredients like kitchen waste and grass clippings, you get the perfect compost for your garden and flowers.

However, not all brown bags are made purely from natural materials. For example, greaseproof brown paper bags contain a grease-proof lining. So can brown paper bags be composted? Yes, but to be composted, treating them with organic waxes is necessary.

Mixed Brown Paper Bags Should be Handled Differently

Woman holding brown paper bag

Mixed brown paper bags are usually lined with non-biodegradable material like plastic, thin metal, or wax. Some are also treated with chemicals that are hard compost.

For those coated with plastic, separating the plastic material and the paper bag may not be possible. This then means that such bags cannot be composted. They have either to be recycled or disposed of in a different way that may not be environmentally friendly.

Waxed paper bags are also treated differently. If organic wax is used, it can be compostable as the microorganisms in the compost pile can digest the organic wax.

However, for some waxed paper bags, petroleum-based additives are used. If you try composting them, the petroleum additives will kill the microbes and worms in the compost.

In addition, unless labeled, it is usually difficult to know the waxing elements contained in a particular paper bag. Therefore, deciding on whether to compost or not becomes hard.

Types of Brown Bags

Are brown paper bags compostable? Below are some of the different kinds of brown papers bags with information on whether each is compostable. Where not, alternatives that are readily available on Amazon will be provided.

1. Simple Supermarket Paper Bags

small grocery brown bags

These are brown papers bags that are commonly used to carry different kinds of goods like grocery items. They are found in departmental stores and supermarkets and are provided for free or at a minimal cost to the customers.

The bag is made using simple brown kraft paper. And for it to be strong enough to carry items, another layer of paper is added to the bottom to reinforce it.

Are brown paper bags compostable? Yes, these supermarket paper bags are easily compostable. But they have one major drawback – durability. As with any bag made of simple paper, you can only reuse very few times before it wears out. This means you will be having a huge amount of paper bags that need composting which is not environmentally sound. 

If you want a more durable environmentally friendly alternative, you can try mesh bags made from cotton. They are stronger than paper bags and can be used for a longer period. Mesh bags are also compostable.

2. Brown Paper Lunch Bags / S.O.S. Bags

Brown Paper bag and apple placed on a table

S.O.S stands for a self-opening satchel. These are paper bags that are designed to hold a variety of items. Thus they are perfect for carrying small items like foodstuffs.

Because they can stand on their own, they are easy to load. Most people and businesses use them for carrying takeaway food. So it is common to see them with school children or office workers. They can also be used for packaging gifts.

So are brown paper lunch bags compostable? Yes, because they are made from brown paper. You can reuse, recycle, or compost them.

But although they can get the job done, you can only use them for dry foods. The good news is there are other more versatile and environmentally friendly alternatives like these bio-bag resealable compostable sandwich bags. They are ideal for storing all types of foods including greasy or wet foods.

See Related: Eco-Friendly Stand-Up Pouches

3. Pinch-Bottom Paper Bags

Bag of food with fresh vegetables, fruits, pasta and canned goods

These are brown paper bags that resemble an envelope. They still retain their shape even when they have nothing inside them. Pinch bottom bags also have a wide top to facilitate loading but they have a tapered end with a seal-like that of an envelope.

Most also have a grease-resistant lining which could metal or plastic film or even wax. They are mostly used to store and carry small items and especially baked foods and greasy products.

You can reuse them or even recycle. But depending on the material used on the grease-resistant glassine lining, they may not be compostable. So it is important to find out what the lining is made of before deciding on how to dispose of them off.

For the avoidance of doubt, you can use the 100 percent biodegradable snack bags manufactured by UNNI.

4. Merchandise Paper Bags

Empty shopping bag  placed on a table

Merchandise paper bags are usually of very high quality. They have to be tough and sturdy enough to carry different kinds of merchandise.

They are commonly used for business packaging. As a result, they are also highly customized as a way of promoting the business and merchandise concerned. So you will find most merchandise paper bags branded with the name or colors of the business.

Due to the reasons above, other things are added to the material during manufacturing to make the paper bags strong and reliable. Also, there is the use of ink where branding is involved.

Because of this, you may be left wondering; are brown paper bags compostable? The truth is that merchandise bags are not recommended to be used for composting unless it’s possible to ascertain that the materials used are biodegradable.

5. Euro Tote

Paper bag on the wooden table

The euro tote is a lunch bag with a twist. In this case, it comes with stylish handles and a sophisticated design. And because they are very popular with businesses, they even have customized branding.

The process of manufacturing involves adding things like plastic lining, petroleum-derived additives, glitter finishes, and metalized inks for branding.  

They are designed to be used several times and so they are highly durable and strong. Although they are very popular with customers and businesses, they may not be compostable. Some of the materials used during manufacture may make these paper bags unfit for composting. 

These kraft paper bags are a perfect alternative for the euro tote. They are purely made from premium quality natural paper and even have handles for convenience.

See related: Sustainable Toothpaste Products Ranked

6. Waste Paper Bags

kitchen waste in paper eco bag on kitchen counter top

These bags are used to store small amounts of waste. They are great alternatives to plastic waste bags or plastic cans. You can use them to keep anything from backyard waste, office trash, and even pet poop.

Are brown paper bags compostable? The answer is that these brown paper compost bags break down easily and are biodegradable.

However, they may not be very useful when it comes to anything wet. This limits the types of waste that you can put in them.  They also may not hold waste as neatly as it should be because of the thin covers.

One of the best alternatives is compostable trash bags that are usually made from corn and corn starch. These are strong enough to carry any type of waste without leaking or spilling.  They are also well-designed to be used anywhere even in the office. In addition, they are certified to be used for home composting.

7. Gift Paper Bags

Kid takes  bag with dates from the wall at home

If you have an occasion, say a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or any other special day in your life, you may want to gift your loved ones with something.

One of the best ways of packaging these gifts is in a party plastic bag. Most of them are compostable because they are made purely of paper.

However, there are those commonly used in retail stores and come with the branding of the retail store or a product. They are colorful and may have images and graphics which indicate the presence of ink. Therefore, they require a thorough process of checking whether they are right for composting.

So if you don’t mind a plain-looking brown gift bag, you can get this brown paper gift bag from Amazon. Can you compost brown paper bags? Yes, you won’t see any stray glue anywhere or anything that is not biodegradable.

See related: 12 Beautiful Eco-Friendly Area Rugs

8. Mailing Paper Bags

Brown paper bag used for mailing

Mailing paper bags are made specifically for sending items and documents through mail. They are also very popular in e-commerce. Online stores can pack their items in these paper bags and ship them to whatever location around the world.

Most of these paper bags have a self-adhesive strip for security to ensure that items do not get lost. They also come with an extra layer of protective padding for the safety of what is inside.

Although some of them are purely made of paper, the extra adding may not be made from biodegradable materials. Where possible, you can separate the paper from the padding and before composting it.  

9. Recycled Paper Bags

Arrows recycle symbol and shopping bag in paper cut style

If you want a bag that is 100 percent environmentally friendly, then go for recycled paper bags. This reduces overreliance on trees as raw materials for paper and reduces deforestation. Secondly, it is a responsible way of waste paper management because it helps to reduce the carbon footprint.

Recycled are equally as good as paper bags made from wood pulp. They also come in different shapes and sizes and so you can use them to carry different kinds of things.

You may be asking; are brown paper bags compostable? Because they are usually made from recycled paper, they are completely biodegradable in a compost pit.


Are paper bags considered compostable?

Paper bags are considered compostable. They are made from natural materials, such as wood pulp, that can break down into organic matter. However, it is important to note that not all paper bags are created equal and some may contain additives or coatings that prevent them from breaking down in compost.

Should you recycle or compost brown paper bags?

Is recycling or composting brown paper bags the better option? Brown paper bags are compostable and recyclable, but composting is the more environmentally friendly choice.

When brown paper bags are recycled, they require a significant amount of energy and resources to break down, whereas composting allows the bags to decompose naturally and create nutrient-rich soil. Therefore, it is recommended that brown paper bags be composted whenever possible.

Are paper grocery bags biodegradable?

Paper grocery bags are biodegradable, meaning they can be broken down naturally by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. This is because they are made from natural materials such as wood pulp and do not contain any harmful chemicals or synthetic materials.

However, it is important to note that biodegradation can take several months to years depending on the conditions, and that it is still preferable to reduce and reuse bags whenever possible to minimize waste.

Are brown paper lunch bags biodegradable?

Brown paper lunch bags are biodegradable, meaning they can break down naturally and safely without harming the environment. However, it is important to note that not all brown paper bags are created equal. Some bags may contain synthetic materials, like plastic coatings or inks, that can prevent them from fully breaking down.

When looking for biodegradable brown paper bags, it is important to check for certifications like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the Compostable label from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

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