Is Paper Towel Compostable? What If It Is Really Dirty?

Written By Jenn

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Is paper towel compostable? Paper towels are made from cellulose. Cellulose is a type of natural fiber that can be broken down by composting.

Cellulose is basically plant fiber, and one of the most common sources is wood pulp. Both statements – paper towels are made from cellulose and paper towels are made from wood pulp are technically correct.

So, yes paper towel is compostable.

Is Paper Towel Compostable?

is paper towel compostable?
This is a typical compost pile. The egg carton would breakdown faster if the surface area was smaller.

Any questions you may have about composting paper towels, we have hopefully answered for you here.

What About Any Chemicals In The Making Of Paper Towels?

Paper towels can contain chemicals and other synthetic materials that can take time to degrade.

This is not as bad as it actually sounds because the chemicals used in the making of paper towels are also food grade certified for casual contact with food.

Some of the products used to manufacture soft paper towels may be toxic but are not a cause for alarm and do not cause problems in the compost pile.

Not all paper towels contain chemicals. There is more about this below.

composting household paper towels

What About Food On Paper Towels?

Paper towels often contain small amounts of food waste or grease, which can attract vermin and create odors. For these reasons, some horticulturists recommend avoiding paper towels in the compost pile.

Others believe that as long as the paper towels are shredded or torn into small pieces, they will break down quickly enough not to cause any problems.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual composter to decide whether or not to include paper towels in their compost bin.

If your compost pile is in good condition you can gauge whether or not the amount of food on the towel is going to make any difference to your compost pile. A common sense approach is required here.

paper towel on a holder
This is traditional paper towel. There are alternatives made from products such as bamboo and sugarcane.

Bleached Paper Towels

The safety of composting bleached paper towels has been debated for some time. Some believe that the chemicals used to bleach the paper towels can be harmful to plants, while others argue that the bleaching process does not actually introduce any new chemicals into the paper towel.

The truth is that bleaching paper towels does not introduce any new chemicals, but it does remove some of the natural lignin from the paper towel.

Do Paper Towels Contain Lignin? What is Lignin Anyway?

We have included this information because you may have read here and elsewhere that paper towels contains lignin.

Lignin is a natural polymer that gives paper its strength and rigidity. However, it is also resistant to decomposition.

In fact, it can take up to two years for lignin to break down in a compost pile.

Lignin in paper towels is removed during the bleaching process.

Paper Towel Is compostable – Just Consider The Points Made Below

These are some common sense caveats to be considered before adding the paper towels to the compost.

If you have used a paper towel to wipe up greasy spills, or there is excess food stuck to the paper towel, then don’t add the paper towel to the compost. The same applies to any paper towel used to mop up or pick up animal waste, paint and so on,

If any cleaning products been in contact with the paper towel then it goes straight into the trash. Don’t compost paper towels covered in cleaning product.

Most paper towels used for the normal day to day wiping up of spills and wiping surfaces are fine to go into the compost.

wiping spills using paper towels
How many different ways do we use paper towels?

We have a sort of halfway house for our household waste including kitchen waste before it reaches the actual compost bin.

The organic matter is added to a container in the kitchen and then taken to be added to the compost bin when it is a) full or b) is looking a bit worse for wear and needs to be added sooner. For example it may be quite wet because of vegetable scraps that have been added that may be watery.

Any paper towels in this mix would have partially fallen apart already. If they have not, just tear them roughly before adding to the pile.

It’s a no brainer, really. Are paper towels compostable? Of course! They break down just like any other paper product, and they provide valuable nutrients for your compost. Paper towels are a good supply of brown material or carbon for the compost bin.

Not to mention, adding paper towel to your compost heap helps to reduce waste and save resources. It’s a win-win! So go ahead and compost those paper towels – your garden and the environment will thank you for it.

Paper Towel Rolls

Paper towel rolls, referring to the tube of cardboard that is in the middle of paper towels and toilet paper rolls can certainly be composted. If you have kids, these are often in the save pile for arts and crafts but if not or the kids have flown the coupe, they can be composted just like any other cardboard.

I notice that the cardboard has become noticeable flimsier over the years so the cardboard is mostly pretty thin these days and will compost easily.

Choose The Best Paper Towels

If you have now decided that it is okay to compost paper towels make it easier on yourself by purchasing unbleached towels or towels made with recycled product.

By purchasing paper towels that are chemical free, that is one step you can eliminate when deciding on whether to compost or not to compost.

These Paper Towels Are Chemical Free!

These towels are 100% recycled paper towels. Additionally, with a minimum of 90% post-consumer recycled content, they’re one of the most recycled paper towels.

Green Forest 100% Recycled Paper Towels

What does that mean? It mean that firstly the paper towels are made from recycled paper not trees. Plus, the 90% post- consumer recycled content means that 90% of the product is made from materials that have been recycled by people such as you and me adding to our recycling services in our town or city.

This makes these paper towels biodegradable and also safe to use in compost systems.

Bamboo Paper Towels And Sugarcane Paper Towels

Although these paper towels don’t actually contain paper, it is convenient to call them paper towels so that we know we are all talking about the same thing.

Paper towels are in a bit of a revolution right now with other materials successfully muscling their way into the marketplace. The “plastic” wrap I use is now made from sugarcane.

Sugarcane – Natural cellulose fibers

Bamboo and sugarcane are two sustainable materials that can be used to make environmentally friendly paper towels. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilizers.

When sugar cane is used to make paper towels, it is pulped using a manufacturing process that doesn’t release any harsh chemicals into the environment.

Sugar cane is also a renewable resource, meaning it can be grown without depleting soil or water resources.

When these plants are used to make paper towels, the resulting product is compostable and biodegradable, making it a much more sustainable option than traditional paper towels.

Not only are bamboo paper towels and sugarcane paper towels more environmentally friendly, they are also just as effective as traditional kitchen towels.

In fact, because they are both quite sturdy, they can actually be reused several times before being composted. Reusable alternatives are the way forward.

Caboo Tree Free Bamboo Paper Towels, 6 Rolls, Earth Friendly Sustainable Kitchen Paper Towels with Strong 2 Ply Sheets

How To Compost Used Paper Towels In A Worm Farm or A Compost Tumbler

Disposable paper towels can be composted using a worm farm or compost tumbler if your don’t use a compost bin or pile.

The composting process in a worm farm, is to shred the paper towels into small pieces before adding them to the farm. Adding too much paper at once can make it difficult for the worms to break down the material.

If you’re using a compost tumbler, chop up the paper towels into small pieces and add them to the tumbler along with other organic materials.

Be sure to mix the materials well so that the paper towels don’t clump together.

Another Question? Are Paper Napkins Compostable?

I have included this here as paper napkins are similar to paper towels. Paper napkins are sometimes used in the same manner as a paper towel, for wiping up messes and spills.

How common is it after a big function to see paper napkins go into the trash. Just like paper towels, if napkins are used to mop up fatty substances or have food scraps stuck to them, into the trash they should go.

Paper napkins are often decorator items which means that colored dyes are used when making the napkins. The dyes are considered food safe as with paper towels so paper napkins can be added to the compost.

As we all become more aware of the environmental impact we can all make on an individual basis more people are turning to cloth napkins to avoid paper towels. With a resurgence in “makers” keen to make their own clothes, soft furnishings etc, napkins are an easy afternoon project.

Talk About Reducing Waste

The USDA had a massive used paper towels waste problem in the USDA complex in Washington DC. The problem was 2 tons per month or 24 tons per year of paper towel waste from over 100 bathrooms. Read how they minimized the problem and reduced paper waste.

By composting paper towels when it is possible to do so, you are not adding to the landfill problem that is now besetting nations across the globe.

I quite like a tasty piece of paper towel

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