The Glossy Paper Composting & Recycling Myth Says That Glossy Paper & Cardboard Can’t Be Composted. In This Article I Give The Facts, Not Myths.

Glossy paper composting frequently raises its head and the hackles of those that do and don’t compost or recycle glossy paper and card. But can they be composted or not?

Glossy Carboard Boxes for Composting - The Glossy Paper Composting & Recycling Myth
Glossy Cardboard Boxes for Composting

Let me start by saying that it’s a myth to say that all glossy paper and card can’t be composted or recycled. Much of it can, but SOME of it can’t be composted or recycled.

Are There Different Sorts Of Glossy Paper & Cardboard?

Yes. And that’s the real issue.

The gloss on paper and card can be manufactured in two ways. The first uses china clay mixed in the paper pulp top form a high gloss quality paper. China clay is a perfectly natural product and is quarried in the south west of England (especially Cornwall, but some around Plymouth as well). There are some questions about the quarrying process but the china call is definitely a natural product.

The second major way of producing a shiny or glossy paper coating is to use plastic. Essentially a plastic layer is bonded to the paper and often makes it waterproof as well as glossy. Plastic being highly resistant to breaking down isn’t going to break down in normal composting systems and makes paper hard to recycle as well. Unless you want to wait several thousand years for the compost to be ready it’s not a great idea to compost it!

The third group of products that are sometimes used to make paper glossy are waxes and similar products. Most of them will break down in time so aren’t as serious a problem as plastic coatings.

How To Tell What Makes Paper Glossy

In an ideal world I would compost all the paper made with china clay but not that containing plastic. But how can I tell the difference?


Take a sample and soak it in water for a few hours. China clay treated paper will slowly turn to a pulpy mess. The plastic coated paper will delaminate and leave a thin layer of plastic. It if it very well coated it might not break down at all as the paper will be completely sealed away from the water.

It’s that simple.

I compost loads of paper every month. Especially large boxes, cereal boxes etc. Follow this link for more info on composting.


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Tag: Glossy Paper Composting

3 thoughts on “The Glossy Paper Composting & Recycling Myth

  1. Lesley Molyneux says:

    Thank you. What about print and colour on paper and cardboard? Does this affect whether you compost or not?

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      I’m told a lot of printing inks are now veg based as its lower cost to produce than oil based inks. But oil based inks give a better finish so tend to be used where better quality is needed. Its something I’m investigating and will write on at some stage.

      1. Lesley Molyneux says:


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