Paper towels are present in everyone’s house. But what should we do with these items after usage? Can we compost paper towels, or should we just throw them away in the trash bin? Keep reading to find out.
We use them for cleaning, in the kitchen, to wipe our noses, or for various other activities. The reality is that paper towels are indispensable in any household. But what is the impact of these items on the environment?
Paper is made out of fibers. While many materials have been utilized over the years in the paper manufacturing process, such as cotton, bamboo, rice, wheat straw, hemp, flax, sugarcane waste, and others, the primary material used for paper making is still wood.
Although paper waste is biodegradable and because a large quantity of paper is recycled multiple times, it does not negatively impact the environment as much as plastic. However, because most of the world’s paper is still made of wood fibers, this leads to deforestation and automatically to climate changes and global warming.
A fairly large amount of paper reaches our homes in the form of paper towels. To help you make a better idea of the volume of paper towels we use, find out that the people in the United States alone buy about 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year. And keep in mind that those statistics are from 2012, and the quantity seems to be growing with each year.
So, we all use relatively large quantities of paper napkins and towels, but because they are handy in our daily activities, we cannot give up their use altogether. However, there are things we can do not to waste them, and composting is one of them.
So yes, you can compost paper towels but you need to know a few things before you do that.
Recycle Paper Towels Vs. Composting?
The compost pile should be the final destination of the biodegradable items that cannot be recycled or reused. Paper towels are biodegradable, but because most of them are already made of recycled paper, their fibers may not be suitable for creating new recycled material. Also, for the recycling process, clean paper is needed. Paper towels’ purpose is mainly to absorb and retain substances. Hence, they would not make the most suitable type of paper to be recycled.
Therefore, composting the paper towels is a better alternative than discarding them in the trash. This way, you will give nature something in exchange, you’ll grow healthier plants, and you’ll save money on compost.
Are Paper Towels Good For Compost?
As long as the paper does not contain toxic substances, synthetic resins, oils, or any harmful bacteria or viruses that could end up in your garden, paper is a good addition to your compost.
Paper and cardboard are great sources of carbon, which along with nitrogen, oxygen, and water, represent one of the basic needs of any compost pile and needed for the mix to break down properly.
Can You Compost All Paper Towels?
The answer is no. While you can generally compost all the paper towels when they are clean and unused, it really depends on their purpose whether they should end up in your composting bin or not.
Paper Towels Used In The Kitchen
For example, the paper towels used in the kitchen to wipe surfaces and food spills can be safely composted as long as they don’t store too much grease and oil.
The smell of cooking oil and grease discarded in considerable quantities in compost can attract insects and animals.
Furthermore, fats make it hard for oxygen to pass through the mix. Hence, your compost will start to emanate a bad odor until these are broken down. This will also increase the overall decomposing time of your compost pile.
Paper Towels Used For Cleaning
Most of us use paper towels in various household cleaning activities.
If, for instance, you use them for wiping the dust on your furniture, without using any chemical cleaning solutions, then you can throw the paper towels in your composting bin without any worries.
However, many times we also use chemicals to ease our job. In this situation, it’s better to throw away the used paper towels. Otherwise, these synthetic substances will get in your compost and automatically in your soil, plants, and possibly in their fruits.
Are Paper Towels Chemicals-Free?
Another reason why many people choose to throw the paper towels away after usage instead of composting them is the fear that they may contain plant-harmful substances even after the manufacturing process.
Well… that’s a valid point.
There are many companies that actually do use a range of chemical compounds in the production of paper towels. According to the Non-Toxic Living blog, these substances often include chlorine bleach, dyes, fragrances, formaldehyde, inks, and adhesives. However, there are also manufacturers that use nontoxic ingredients.
I don’t know, however, how many of us check whether the paper towels are chemical-free or not before buying them. Also, some producers may not even specify this on the package.
Are these substances concentrated enough to be harmful to the environment once they get into our compost?
According to nmcomposters.org, paper in general, even the one in which bleach and other chemical substances have been used in the manufacturing operation, does not represent a significant contamination source for the environment.
Here’s the full quote:
Studies have actually shown that paper contains very low levels of harmful contaminants and that most paper contaminants not only are much lower than the EPA requirements for the use of biosolids, but comprehensive testing has also found that contamination of paper is often lower than that of municipal yard waste, which can contain pesticide residues.nmcomposters.org
So, I think we should worry less about the chemicals left in the paper towels after production as their levels are most likely too low to add up a significant amount of contaminants to our compost.
How Long Does It Take For Paper Towels To Decompose?
Paper towels decompose relatively fast, especially if your compost has enough moisture. While this time frame may depend on various factors, on average, it takes roughly between 2 and 4 weeks for paper towels to break down entirely.
You can even speed up their decomposition if you shred them into tiny pieces before adding them to the compost.
Paper towels are a great potential source of carbon for your compost, helping you to maintain a balanced ratio of carbon and nitrogen. However, you need to take into account that depending on their use, some may not be suitable anymore to be dumped in your compost bin.
An average household uses a good amount of these items, so why let them go to waste after usage? Instead of simply throwing them in the trash, why not use them to produce compost for your garden and flowers? This way you can save money and at the same time protect the environment.
If you want to learn more about making your own compost at home, read our home composting guide.