Dear Eric: I enjoyed your informative article on the use of paper in cooking, but I have often wondered about the recycling of these materials.
If baking parchment is reasonably clean, I have put it into the blue bag; if it has food residues, I put it into the compost, but I’m not sure this is the right thing to do.
I don’t know what to do with wax paper. I would appreciate your comments.
Dear Linnet: The article you’re referring to was published March 2. It addressed how wax paper and parchment paper should be used in cooking. But as highlighted in your question, one topic I missed was how or if you could recycle them.
To find the answer, I checked with the Capital Regional District. CRD experts have a hotline, 250-360-3030, which you can call if you have any recycling queries. There is also a handy recycling guide on the website, crd.bc.ca/ service/waste-recycling.
Providing me with concise information at the CRD was Anke Bergner, planner of environmental resource management, parks and environmental services.
She said that because wax paper and parchment paper are coated, they are considered contaminants and are not accepted in the CRD blue box program. So even if clean, don’t put them in the bin with your newspapers and other acceptable paper items.
In areas of the CRD that have a green bin program, you can toss food-soiled parchment paper, but not wax paper, with your food scraps and other compostable items.
Bergner says it’s because parchment paper does not have a wax coating and it will break down faster than wax paper would in the composting process.
There is a catch, though. Bergner says that if the parchment paper is not broken down by the time the material at the processing facility goes to curing, it will be screened out and be deemed garbage.
A few sources suggested that, as with anything you compost, if the parchment is shredded or torn into smaller pieces, it will compost a little more quickly. That’s something to think about when putting it in your green bin or into your home compost pile.
Where you live also determines how you should handle wax paper and parchment paper.
“There are a variety of residential, multi-family and commercial recycling and kitchen scraps programs in regional districts and municipalities on Vancouver Island. There is currently no one standardized answer for all,” Bergner said.
For that reason, she said, it’s always best to check with your own district to determine what is and what isn’t allowed. For example, the Regional District of Nanaimo accepts both parchment paper and wax paper in their green-bin program as they have processing technology to handle both.
With regard to composting wax paper yourself, according to information from the Montana State University Extension (msuextension.org), wax paper won’t decompose efficiently and you may find chunks of wax left in the compost pile.
Other sources said it will eventually break down, but you should keep in mind that the paraffin wax used in wax paper is a petroleum-derived product.
According to a Washington Post article titled Wrapped Up, that paraffin is much like the stuff used to make non-bees-wax candles, but it’s more highly refined and approved for food use.
The article also notes that food-grade paraffin is also often used to increase the shelf life of some fruits and vegetables, such as turnips and apples.
That said, if it bothers you that the wax in wax paper is a petroleum-derived product, you could use soybean wax paper. One U.S. maker of it, If You Care Environmental Products, says that soybean wax is clean, safe, non-toxic and biodegradable.
However, their product is not readily available in Canada and I could not find soybean wax paper from another maker for sale in Victoria. I did find some available for order online. For example, amazon.ca stocks Chefs Select brand soybean wax paper.
Of course, if you don’t want to worry about how to deal with food-soiled wax paper or parchment paper, you could opt for recipes that don’t require them, such as today’s halibut dish.
Coming up: Next Sunday, I’ll be answering a reader’s question about using and recycling aluminum foil.
Skillet Baked Halibut and Asparagus
A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is often considered the “original” non-stick pan. There’s no need to line it with parchment paper before baking something like fish in it — a good thing if you don’t want worry about what to do with that paper after cooking on it.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 12 to 15 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
2 (5 to 6 oz./150 to 180 g) halibut fillets
4 tsp olive oil
4 to 6 asparagus spears, trimmed and blanched (see Note)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
• pinch ground cayenne pepper
• salt and white pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Pour 2 tsp of the olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Set the halibut, skin-side down, in the skillet. Set two or three asparagus spears on top of each piece of fish.
Combine the remaining oil, lemon juice, garlic, dill and cayenne in a small bowl. Drizzle the mixture over the fish and asparagus, and then season with salt and pepper. Bake the fish for 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through. Divide the fish and asparagus among plates, spoon over the pan juices and serve.
Note: To blanch the asparagus, plunge into boiling water for two minutes. Drain well, cool asparagus in ice-cold water, and then drain again. The asparagus is now ready to use.
Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.