Can You Compost Paper Towels?

Paper towels create large amounts of waste in landfills. Can you put them into your compost pile?

I always have a lot of paper towels lying around. When I first got into composting, I wondered whether I had to throw them away. Could I compost them instead?

If you are composting at home, you might ask the same question. Here’s your answer.

The Short Answer

The short answer: Yes. Paper towels are made from plants and are biodegradable. But be careful. What’s on the paper makes a difference.

When it comes to composting, paper towels are just like any other paper. If you have clean, unused paper towels, you can compost them. They are nitrogen-rich brown organic material. They are better off in a composting bin than in a landfill. You can cut, shred, or tear them up into small pieces to speed up the composting process.

Adding paper towels to your compost mix is especially good if you don’t have enough dry leaves to add to the mix.

However, if your paper towels have been used, composting might not be the best option. Be careful.

When Should You Avoid Composting Paper Towels?

Paper towels don’t have to be clean to go into the compost bin. If you used them to wipe up water, dirt, or plant-based foods, they won’t hurt your compost. Even paper towels that you used to blow your nose are fine, as long as you don’t have a contagious virus.

But there are some things that can’t get composted. Here are the details.

Exposed to cleaning supplies

If you use paper towels for cleaning, avoid adding them to your compost pile. Cleaning products often contain chemicals. Those can kill the macro- and microorganisms that live in the soil. Even if you use a green cleaner, it will kill bacteria. You don’t want any of this in your compost bin.

A bottle of cleaning spray beside a paper towel

Exposed to fats, grease

If you use paper towels to clean up oil or butter—or anything else that is greasy—throw it in the regular garbage bin. Adding oil or grease to a compost pile can push air out it. This will likely lead to anaerobic bacteria problems. It ruins your compost and makes your pile smell bad. It can also attract animals like bears and raccoons.

Exposed to feces

Composting paper towels you used to pick up dog poop can spread disease. They can also hurt the microorganisms and microbes in your compost pile. These dirty paper towels should go to the landfill.

How Are Paper Towels Made?

Paper towels are made of ground-up wood, cotton, and other plants that have long and even fibers. The bark is carefully removed from the wood and carefully chipped into small pieces. Then, it goes through a churning process that turns the pieces into a smooth pulp.

Screeners make sure the pulp is as fine as possible. Then, a bleaching solution is used to make the pulp whiter and brighter.

After that, machines turn the pulp into paper towel. Resin is used to make the fibers bond with each other. The pulp is rolled out into very thin layers to get the right shape. Rollers heat and dry everything.

They Are Biodegradable

Because paper towels and other paper products are made from plants, they can all be broken down by the environment. In the end, bacteria will break it down into carbon dioxide and other simple elements.

An outdoor container full of food waste for compost

How Long Do They Take to Break Down?

It depends on how thick your paper towels are, the amount of biodegrading bacteria in your pile, and the moisture level of the compost. It can take up to a month for them to break down.

How Can I Speed Up the Process?

You can speed up the process by shredding, cutting, or tearing your paper towels into small pieces before putting them into the compost. It also helps if you wet them. Worms and bacteria are able to process wet paper towels faster than dry ones.

Are Bleached White Paper Towels a Problem?

Luckily, bleached paper towels no longer contain active bleach components and can be composted. They will not slow down the process in any way.

Two tissue rolls sitting on a kitchen counter


Single Ply or Quilted Paper Towels?

Towels made of both single-ply and quilted paper will decompose quickly. Composting paper towels you used to dry your hands or dishes is a great way to get rid of them.

Can You Compost Bamboo Paper Towels?

Bamboo paper towels are produced the same way as other paper towels. And bamboo is biodegradable just like most other plants.

Jeffrey Douglas
Jeffrey Douglas own a landscaping company and has been in the business for over 20 years. He loves all things related to lawns or gardens and believes that proper maintenance is the key to preventing problems in the first place.
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