Can Paper Towels Be Composted
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Can Paper Towels Be Composted?

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Most people know that food scraps can be disposed of in a backyard compost heap or in Bokashi bucket. Did you know that paper products can be composted as well?

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Of course, you can compost old newspapers and notebook paper. But there’s a very good chance that single-use paper towels, tissues, napkins, and toilet paper make up a large portion of your household paper consumption.

So it’s only natural to wonder: “Can I compost paper towels?”

using paper towels while working
Paper towels are compostable, the danger is in the fluids they absorb

Adding paper towels to compost is a much better alternative to tossing them in the trash. But you must be careful not to compost paper towels that have come into contact with meat, dairy, and any other non-compostable items!

These items are safe for Bokashi composting, but not so much for traditional compost.

Can You Compost Paper Towels?

Yes! But, we need to be a little bit careful with dirty paper towels.

However, you shouldn’t throw any and all paper towels into your compost heap just yet.

Paper towels themselves are almost always safe to compost. It doesn’t matter which brand you use or how many plies your family prefers.

But paper towels are rarely going into the trash unused. And this could determine how compostable paper towels actually are.

Are All Paper Towels Compostable?

Again, not all paper towels are safe to put in the compost bin. But maybe not for the reasons you think!

Are Bleached Paper Towels Compostable?

Yes! Most paper towels are bleached during the manufacturing process to achieve that sparkling white color. Fortunately, this won’t impact the ability to safely and effectively compost the paper towels.

Are Bamboo Paper Towels Compostable?

Bamboo paper towels have become increasingly popular, largely because they are advertised as a more sustainable alternative to normal paper towels. 

One of the biggest selling points of bamboo paper towels is that they often last longer than their counterparts. So you can tackle multiple cleaning jobs with less waste.

paper towels in a bin
Bamboo paper towels are becoming very popular

Once the paper towel has reached the end of its life, though, can it be composted? Probably!

Paper towels made with 100% bamboo can be composted just like “regular” paper towels. The one thing you’ll need to verify is that the towels do not contain synthetic rayon.

Are Used Paper Towels Compostable?

If you guessed that whether or not a paper towel has been used can determine if it’s compostable, you would be correct! But don’t go throwing out all of your used paper towels just yet.

Many used paper towels are still compostable. Things like water or compostable kitchen spills are nothing to worry about. 

On the other hand, you need to be careful about composting paper towels that have come into contact with non-compostable substances. Grease is one of the biggest culprits, followed by harsh cleaning products.

You also should never compost paper towels that have been used to clean up biological messes (from both humans and animals!). This is because there is a small — but significant — chance they harbor harmful pathogens which will spread throughout your compost bin.

How To Compost Paper Towels

Composting paper towels is a quick and easy process. In most cases, you can just add the paper towels to your compost with your kitchen scraps, lawn debris, and other paper waste.

Breaking down the paper towels into small pieces will speed up the decomposition process. This can be as simple as ripping up the towels by hand. Or as intricate as putting the compostable towels through a paper shredder.

It also doesn’t hurt to wet the paper towels before adding them to compost. Compost loves moisture. And this simple step will ensure the towels don’t dry out the compost or blow away with the wind!

On the other hand, adding paper to your compost can combat excess moisture levels. Just be sure to thoroughly distribute the paper towels throughout your compost to prevent oxygen deprivation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are paper towels recyclable?

It’s probably no surprise that used paper towels can’t be recycled. But unused paper towels aren’t recyclable, either.

Paper towels are non-recyclable because they are already made from recycled paper. 

While recycling is a wonderful practice, it’s not infinite. There is a limit to how many times a material can be recycled before it breaks down. 

Paper towels (and other household paper products) tend to be one of the very last products recycled paper is made into.

In other words, composting (when possible) is the most sustainable way to dispose of paper towels!

Are paper towels a “green” or “brown” material?

Paper towels are considered a brown material in composting. Common examples of brown materials include dead leaves, wood shavings, and other paper products.

Healthy compost requires a balance of both green and brown materials. Brown materials are very high in carbon. Meanwhile, green items are high in nitrogen.

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