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Are Paper Towels Recyclable? How Do You Properly Dispose of Them?

bamboo toilet paper on grey wooden table

Paper towels are commonly used in millions of households across the United States. Almost every kitchen and cleaning kit will contain some paper towel component. They are easy to use and affordable, and they eliminate the need to wash reusable towels. The convenience makes them exceedingly popular. But are paper towels recyclable?

Paper towels are made from paper, so they should be recyclable like other types of paper, right? Wrong. Paper towels are not recyclable. Some materials have special recycling processes that can make difficult products recyclable, but paper towels are not one of them. Paper towels have no recycling value and putting them in the recycling bin is worse than putting them in the trash.

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Why Aren’t Paper Towels Recyclable?

Toilet Paper
Image Credit: 13276418, Pixabay

There are a number of factors that make paper towels impossible to recycle. One of the biggest reasons is the strength of paper towels. Paper towels are made from very thin and flimsy pulp that is too weak to be recycled effectively. If you try to recycle paper towels, the material simply disintegrates and breaks down into unusable sludge.

The other problem is the fact that paper towels are filled with potentially harmful or toxic chemicals. Unbeknownst to most people, paper towels contain a variety of different chemicals that make them risky to recycle. White paper towels are bleached to get their color (as opposed to brown paper towels, which are unbleached.) Paper towels also have chemicals added to increase their strength and absorptivity. Recyclers won’t touch paper towels because these chemicals have the potential to leach out and contaminate other paper during the recycling process.

If you can’t recycle paper towels, what is the best way to dispose of them? There are two primary options.

How to Properly Dispose of Paper Towels

The most common way to dispose of paper towels is to throw them into general trash and send them to the landfill. Even though paper towels cannot be recycled, they do break down fairly quickly in the environment. Unlike things like plastic, Styrofoam, and metal, paper towels will rapidly decompose in a landfill setting.

The other way to dispose of paper towels is to compost them. Paper towels can be composted at home if you only use them to clean up small messes that involve food and safe liquids. You can’t compost paper towels that have been exposed to cleaning agents or chemicals. If you use paper towels to wipe down your table, wipe your mouth, or pick up crumbs, the towels can then be put into a composting bin with other materials. The paper strips will help the composting process and turn into soil over time, which can be a better option than simply shipping it to the landfill.

You Can Recycle the Cardboard Tube!

cardboard tissue paper roll cores
Image By: Shutterbug75, Pixabay

Even though you cannot recycle paper towels themselves, you can recycle the cardboard tube that comes inside paper towel rolls. Don’t forget to recycle that part of the paper towel roll. Being able to safely recycle that part of the towel roll will rescue a small recycling effort out of a lost cause.

You can also reuse paper towels. If you use a paper towel just to clean up water, you can let it dry and get a second use out of it. Trying to stretch your paper towel rolls to last as long as possible can help cut down on overall paper towel usage and will, in turn, reduce waste.

Paper Towel Alternatives

The simplest solution to replacing paper towels is to buy reusable towels. There are plenty of options for reusable rags, napkins, and towels that can be used in the same way as paper towels. Instead of throwing them away, you have to wash and dry them.

You can also use newspapers to clean up certain surfaces. For example, newspapers are great at cleaning glass, mirrors, and ceramic surfaces. Some hacks even claim that newspapers leave fewer streaks than traditional paper towels.

Finding and using paper towel alternatives can eliminate the need for non-recyclable paper towels in your home.

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Paper towels are absolutely not recyclable. No curbside recyclers or recycling centers will take paper towels. They are too weak and chemical-ridden to provide any usefulness to the recycling process. That means the best way to dispose of paper towels is to simply throw them away or use them in a personal compost pile. You can buy reusable rags and towels instead to try and reduce the need for paper towels.

Featured Image Credit: Serhii Ivashchuk, Shutterstock


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