Is washi tape biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

If you are a keen crafter, you will know washi tape well – the endless options of colors and patterns available make it a great addition to any project. Although known for its surprising durability, you will likely need to dispose of it at some point. Rather than throw it in the trash, what are the other alternatives? Is washi tape biodegradable and can it be composted?

Firstly, what is washi tape made from?

Knowing what an item is made from helps up determine whether it is biodegradable. Washi is a paper-based tape – much like masking tape. It can, technically, be made from almost any plant. However, typically, it is made from ganpi, kozo, mistumata or hemp. From a sustainability standpoint it fares well. Whereas standard western paper is made from wood pulp, washi paper is made using new branches – this means that trees don’t need to be cut down in the process.

So, is washi tape biodegradable?

An item is biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Since washi tape is made from natural materials it can, in essence, return to nature. It will, generally, take a matter of months to break down. Not bad going – considering the plastic tape alternatives can be around for centuries!

It should be noted that washi tape, as with all biodegradable items, must be in optimal conditions to return to nature in this way. If it ends up in landfill, where conditions are far from optimal it can take a lot longer than the time quotes. Many people think that landfill is just a big compost heap – unfortunately, this is not the case. Poor airflow and moisture levels make the breakdown process much, much slower. Keep this in mind when you throw a biodegradable item, like washi tape, in the trash!

Is washi tape compostable?

Composting is becoming more popular year-on-year. And it is obvious why – as well as being a great way to dispose of organic waste it also provides a free, homemade fertilizer. It is a common misconception that all biodegradable items can be composted. This isn’t the case. ‘Biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not the same thing. If, say, your biodegradable item is laden with chemicals you can’t add it to the pile. It has been stated in other sources that washi tape should not be added your pile – however, we can’t find any reasons that would prevent it being suitable. But, as always, if you don’t feel comfortable adding something, don’t. 

As you might know – composting materials can be split into two main types. ‘Green’ materials refer to items that are rich in nitrogen such as coffee grounds and fresh grass clippings. ‘Browns’ are rich in carbon and include items such as crab shells or linen. Washi tape is carbon rich, so falls neatly into the ‘brown’ category. It is important to ensure you have an adequate mixture of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ in your compost pile.  As with all composting, a bit of trial-and-error is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor it and adjust as you go. If you take the correct steps to make sure your compost pile is healthy, you should find composting washi tape quite a simple process. However, if you are new to composting, we have answered some of the most common newbie questions here to help you on your way.

Some considerations when composting washi tape…

Washi tape isn’t always the simple, printed variety. There are also rolls on the market that contain synthetic elements such as glitter and foil. Unfortunately, these can’t be added to your compost pile – the paper part of the tape would break down, but the other elements would be left behind. As when composting any item, it is best to err on the side of caution.

When composting washi tape, and anything for that matter, it is a good idea to rip/cut it up into small pieces. This allows the bacteria to have a larger surface area to work on and means you can evenly distribute it throughout the pile. This will speed up the process, but if you don’t it will break down nicely regardless.

The bottom line

Diverting our waste from landfill is a great (and simple) way to live in a more planet-friendly way. Standard washi tape is completely biodegradable. As far as composting goes, you won’t get more straightforward than washi tape – it can be added to the compost pile as a ‘brown’/carbon-rich ingredient and should breakdown fairly quickly. Just don’t expect to get a huge amount of fertilizer from it!