Rolls of paper towels.

Compost and Recycling: Eco-friendly Ways to Dispose of Paper Towels

Are Paper Towels Recyclable?

We all use paper towels whenever we want to quickly dry our hands, soak up grease or wipe down surfaces. So, it makes sense to ask, “are paper towels recyclable?” They are such an important commodity in our life that we cannot imagine running out of them!

But have we ever bothered to check where their final destination is? Their end-use can raise a countless line of questions, such as are they recyclable? How do we dispose of them? Can we use them in compost pits?

How to Dispose of Paper Towels

A study reveals that in the U.S., 13 billion pounds of paper towels get used every year! And these are single-use paper towels made from virgin trees. While it may be convenient for us to use them, their disposal is a worrying thought.

Most people dispose of paper towels in the trash. Some also flush them down the toilet, which causes blockages. Paper towels are a contaminated waste and hence they end up in landfills. In a few places, trash companies also accept paper towels which get converted to yard waste. Another option to get rid of paper towels is through community composting.

Are They Recyclable?

In a world of massive paper towel consumption, most of us want to know whether we can recycle them. Although it is assumed that most paper products are recyclable, sadly, paper towels do not fall within that category. While the previously recycled paper is a raw material to produce paper towels, they cannot be further processed since they are last in the chain of manufacturing.

Paper towels contain a combination of paper, wood, and cardboard, which are pounded to a pulp, breaking down their natural fibers. Chemicals, colors, adhesives, and bleach get added to this pulp to make it soft, absorbent, and strong. Since the fibers of this product are already broken down, it becomes difficult to recycle them for further use.

Why We Shouldn’t Recycle Paper Towel

One of the reasons paper towels cannot be recycled is their end-use. We use them to clean body fluids, oil, and grease, which can get transferred while recycling. Contaminated paper towels harbor the growth of bacteria, germs, and are unhygienic for further use. The oils and grease cannot be easily removed at the time of recycling, which can tear the paper.

Paper Towel Use and Disposal Tips

While paper towels are non-recyclable, there are a few ways to reduce, reuse, and opt for alternative sources for the same purpose.

1. Be Intentional With Its Purpose

Stop using paper towels for dusting. Instead, use old t-shirts and towels which are no longer in use. Clean mirrors and surfaces with wet newspaper dipped into vinegar. Install hand dryers in restrooms instead of paper towels. Use cloth napkins at dinner time instead of reaching out for paper napkins. Use the wring and fold method, to reduce the number of paper napkins used. Save the napkins that come free with take-out food and carry handkerchiefs while traveling. Reuse paper napkins used for wiping hands by drying them on a clothesline with a pin.

2. Use Reusable Cloths

Instead of single-use paper towels in the house, cleaning cloths made of cotton, linen, and hemp are greener options to clean surfaces and spills. Washcloths and rags can be washed, cleaned, and used many times. You can make cloth rags at home from used and torn clothes or buy them from second-hand and thrift shops.

3. Opt for Eco-friendly Options

The use of eco-friendly paper towels is on the rise — ones that are made without the use of harmful chemicals and additives. These are also an easy addition to the compost pit.

Can Paper Towels Be Used for Compost?

Even though most people trash paper towels, there is a surprising tip that most do not know about: Paper towels can be used in the compost! But, it is important to keep a few things in mind.

Paper towels used to clean surfaces, soak up oil, butter, and grease should not be used in the compost bin, since they force air out. This leads to the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which can spoil your compost and cause an unpleasant odor. You should not add paper towels used along with cleaning materials and chemicals to compost since they kill the good bacteria required for successful composting.

So, the question is, what kind of paper towels are safe to use in compost? Well, the answer is simple. Paper towels used to clean up dirt, water, clean dishes, and plant-based food are a great addition to the compost bin, and even the tissues used to wipe your nose can be added. Clean tissues can be shredded and added to the compost. Unused paper towels are a great substitute for dry leaves in the compost bin. Even the white bleached variety of paper towels can be safely used in composting, since bleach tends to break down easily in the environment.

What About Paper Towel Tubes?

Cardboard recycling is a method to reduce landfill waste, cut down toxic gases by half, and go green. It saves environmental deterioration, creates business opportunities, jobs, and reduces pollution. There are several ways to transform cardboard boxes from trash to treasure:

  • One option is to make office stationery organizers. Tape together different sized tubes in a box and cover them in paint or colored paper!
  • Cut a cardboard roll in two rings and tape it together on a hanger. Your stoles can then slide right through the cardboard rings on a single hanger and become ready for use.
  • Roll up your electronic cords and hairdryers and neatly stack them inside the cardboard tube. Additionally, label it for further ease.
  • Fashion gift boxes out of cardboard boxes to wrap up little trinkets and presents, tied together with colorful ribbons.
  • Make a bird feeder by spreading a thin layer of peanut butter over the cardboard tube, rolling it in bird feed, and hanging it in the window!
  • Placing a cardboard tube around baby saplings is a green and economical method to keep away bugs.