Are Paper Towels Compostable? Here’s What You Need to Know

As more and more of us grow aware of the benefits of recycling and composting organic materials, we each do our part to help spread the awareness further on. If you have habit to do daily composting at home, or want to start composting in your apartment soon, you may have a quite common question, are paper towels compostable? Just keep reading to know more!

Can All Paper Towels Be Composted?

The short answer is: yes. As long as your paper towels are unused or relatively clean, they should pose no problems to the compost bin. As long as they don’t have oily foods on them. Paper towels are much better suited as recycled paper for compost than in landfills because they’re safe and nitrogen-rich brown organic material.  

It’s worth keeping in mind that you can accelerate the composting process by pre-shredding your paper towels before adding them to the compost. Next time you compost your pizza boxes, cardboard, kitchen roll, food scraps, tea bags, and coffee grounds, make sure to tear up your paper towels too.

Recommended readingWhat Can You Compost?

Can White Paper Towels Go In Compost?

We noted above that the short answer to “are paper towels compostable?” is yes. The long answer requires a little more detail.

There are a few conditions to observe in your paper towels before deciding if you should throw them in the compost. First, people wonder about white paper towels. Can they be composted?

No, white paper towels (new or slightly used) shouldn’t go in the compost pile. The white color indicates the presence of bleach. It might surprise you, but bleach is a chemical that decomposes relatively poorly in composting. They should go in the recycling bin with paper plates and used paper napkins.

What about if your paper towels have grease, oil, butter, or other fatty substances on them? Unfortunately, you should not compost paper towels or a napkin with greasy food residue. These substances can compromise the composting process by expelling air from the compost. Less air invites in more bacteria which can destroy the compost and cause unpleasant smells in the compost bin.

Lastly, paper towels with cleaning products on them are not good for composting. Harsh cleaning substances can wreak havoc on the sensitive micro and microorganisms that reside in compost in the compost heap. Use kitchen towels with heavy-duty messes.

paper towel is on a table

Can You Compost Bamboo Paper Towels?

For the most part, bamboo paper towels are compostable. Along with your yard waste, banana peels, and tissue paper. However, you need to double-check the packaging before signing off 100% on adding it to the compost pile. Some bamboo paper towel products contain synthetic rayon. This substance unfortunately renders it not compostable. 

Bamboo paper towels are, on the whole, an excellent alternative to traditional bleached or unbleached paper towel products. Many bamboo towels are reusable up to 1000s of times and are entirely biodegradable. In fact, many households can reuse bamboo towels more frequently than they do cloth rags!

What Paper Towels Are Biodegradable?

Unlike compostable materials, which can be far and in between in many products, biodegradable objects are much more prevalent. Most paper towels are biodegradable.

Reusable paper towels are some of the most biodegradable materials produced today. This goes for bamboo and alternative towel materials too. Since the paper in paper towels is usually processed to make it thin, absorbent, and light, paper towels can biodegrade in no time.

Just because most paper towels are biodegradable doesn’t mean you should throw them in the compost pile, though. Keep in mind that greasy foods, animal waste (like dog doo), and human pathogens (which you might leave on paper towels if you have the flu) all render paper towels a no-go for the compost. As long as you use paper towels for washing hands or other light duties, you should be fine. 

Do Paper Towels Break Down In Landfills?

Paper towels do, in fact, break down in landfills. They are relatively quick to biodegrade, but the amount of disposable paper towels produced and thrown away far overshadows their speedy breakdown process. 

Paper towels break down, on the whole, quite efficiently in landfills. Like toilet paper rolls, paper towel waste, shredded paper, organic waste, and other paper fibers. Yet they are far from harmless to the environment. 

The primary concern for throwing paper waste and paper towel rolls in the landfill isn’t the paper fibers that make up the majority of the towels. It’s the chemicals, bleaches, and plastic additives that accompany the paper towels which do more lasting harm.

How Long Do Paper Towels Take To Compost? 

On average, it takes paper towels anywhere between 14 and 45 days to biodegrade in a landfill. That figure depends on a lot of factors, from the thickness of the paper to the climate surrounding the landfill. Toilet paper, for example, decomposes faster but isn’t compostable.

Recommended readingHow to Speed Up Composting?

Recommended Compostable Paper Towels

If you’re looking for an easy entry-point to including compostable paper towels in your life, there are several great disposable paper towel options out there. 

We recommend Seventh Generation Paper Towels. Seventh Generation has been making 100% eco friendly paper towel products for years, they’re one of the industry leaders in the world of compostable paper products.

check amazon


So, are paper towels compostable? Paper towels are 100% compostable as long as you observe what materials and substances are on the paper towel. 

Greasy, oily foods, potential bacteria, harsh chemicals, and waste are best tossed in the trash. Maintaining a proper compost bin doesn’t need to be tough. Just make sure you’re thoughtful about which paper towels you put in them and opt for recycled paper towels for an eco-friendly alternative.


Download Your Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Compost at Home

You May Also Like

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Gardening tips, activism awareness, exclusive offers and more!

Explore Gardening

Join 10,000 subscribers to explore life in gardening together.

Gardening tips, activism awareness, exclusive offers and more!