Are Paper Towels Biodegradable? We Did The Research For You

When everything is disposable it's hard to be eco conscious about recycling paper towels. That's why we asked, are paper towels biodegradable?

Paper towels

If you've ever had to clean up a mess, it's likely that you have reached for a roll of paper towels. But have you ever used clean paper towels and stopped to think about what happens after you throw them away?

Are paper towels biodegradable? It's a valid question, and one that deserves an answer. Let's take a look and see if paper towels are as environmentally friendly as we believe them to be.

What are Paper Towels Made From?

Paper towels are made from wood pulp or recycled paper products, which means they're made from cellulose—a plant-based material.

This means that unlike plastic, paper towels have the potential to break down naturally over time.

However, it is important to note that the breakdown process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, depending on the conditions in which they are discarded.

Paper Towel

Are Used Paper Towels Recyclable?

In general, no—used paper towels cannot be recycled because they contain bacteria and other contaminants that would contaminate the recycling bin or system during the recycling process.

However, some brands of paper towels may be accepted by certain recycling centers if they are clean and dry.

It's always best to check with your local recycling center before attempting to recycle used paper towels.

Paper towels generally are not meant to be recycled, composted, or reused. The best way to take paper fibers and dispose of them is by throwing them in the trash.

While paper towels are biodegradable, it can take several months for them to break down on their own.

Cloth towels can be washed and reused over and over again, reducing waste and minimizing your environmental impact.

Recyclable paper towel

Can You Flush Paper Towels?

No, you should never flush paper towels down the toilet. Paper towels contain synthetic fibers, dye and other designs that can clog your plumbing system, leading to costly repair bills.

Toilet paper is designed to be flushed because it breaks down when wet and is made of paper pulp or other biodegradable materials.

Unlike toilet paper, paper towels don’t have an official rating or certification that tells you whether they’re safe for flushing down a drain.

Flushing them can start a chain reaction of clogged pipes in your home as well as damage wastewater treatment centers where they accumulate with other debris before being transported out to local water reservoirs or rivers.

Are Paper Towels Compostable?

The answer is yes—sort of. While some paper towels may be compostable or biodegradable in certain circumstances, not all brands are created equal.

Some paper towel brands may contain additives like bleach or dyes, which can slow down the breakdown process and make them non-biodegradable.

Additionally, some brands of paper towel may be treated with chemicals in order to increase their absorbency or durability—both of which could potentially hinder their ability to break down quickly and naturally in a compost bin or pile.

Pros For Composting Paper Towels

  • Add vital carbon to your compost pile quickly and easily
  • Reduce paper towel waste sent to landfills with a composting solution
  • Shredding paper towels helps them break down faster for more efficient composting
  • Enjoy reaping the rewards of turning something that would’ve gone to waste into nutrients for your garden

Cons Of Composting Paper Towels

  • Attempting to compost contaminated paper towels is an arduous task.
  • Not only can too many paper towels saturate your compost pile, but shredding large amounts of them can be a time-consuming chore
  • It's challenging trying to sort what's compostable and what's not.
reusable napkin

Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives

Some of the more popular alternatives to paper towels include:

  • Microfiber cloths
  • Washcloths
  • Cotton towels
  • Cloth napkins
  • Reusable bamboo towels
  • Chamois cloths
  • Sponge cloths
  • Swedish dishcloths
  • Old t-shirts or rags cut into pieces
  • Biodegradable alternatives such as wood-based or bamboo paper towels.

These alternatives to single use paper towels are not only reusable and compostable, but they are also much more sustainable than traditional paper towels. They eliminate the need to produce and transport large amounts of single-use paper products, while still delivering the same absorbency and cleaning power as regular paper towels.

These are the best options if you are looking to recycle paper towels. Disposable paper towels should be your last resort. By using reusable and compostable alternatives, you can reduce your environmental footprint and ensure that your unbleached paper towels are responsibly managed.

Best Way To Compost Paper Towels

  1. Most paper towels can indeed be composted but you will want to take some steps to do it right.
  2. First you will need to sort the paper towels that are too badly soiled from what you are composting.
  3. Then you will need to shred the paper towel in to smaller pieces to help with the break down process. You can do this with a pair of scissors or a paper shredder.
  4. Once the paper towel is shredded you should mix it in to your compost pile and cover it lightly with soil.
  5. Finally, check on the compost regularly to make sure that the paper towel has broken down completely and is not creating an excess of heat which can damage the compost.

By following these steps you will be able to successfully compost paper towels. It is important to remember that some brands of paper towels may not be suitable for composting, so it is best to check with your local recycling center before attempting to compost them.

Composting paper towels can help reduce waste and minimize your environmental impact. Its best to compost bamboo paper towels.

How To Make Mulch From Paper Towels

The best way to make mulch is to shred the compostable paper towels and add it to a sealed container of water. Let it sit out in the sunlight for 3 or 4 weeks until it turns into a paste-like mixture. After the paper towels have broken down, strain out any excess water and spread the mulch around your garden to help keep moisture in while suppressing weeds.

Mulching with compostable paper towels is an easy and effective way to cut down on household waste while improving soil fertility at the same time.

Most Commonly Asked Questions

With so many eco-friendly paper towel options on the market, it’s hard to decide which ones are worth investing in. Reusable paper towels often get overlooked but they can be a great way to save money, reduce waste, and get the job done quickly and effectively.

But with such a wide range of products, it's hard to know which ones will work best for you and your lifestyle. How do you know which reusable towel is worth the time and money?

Our comprehensive guide provides all the info you need about reusable and recycled paper towels.

Is paper towel environmentally friendly?

Paper towels are considered the least environmentally friendly option when it comes to cleaning up messes and spills. They take up a lot of energy and resources to produce, they create an excessive amount of waste, and they don't biodegrade very quickly in landfills.

While paper towels offer some convenience that may make them more desirable than other options, such as cloth rags, there are more sustainable alternatives available that reduce resource consumption while still providing excellent absorption.

For example, bamboo paper towels are made from renewable resources like bamboo grass which is much faster growing than other tree-based sources; hemp paper towels can be composted; using recycled materials, paper towel products typically require less water for production and transportation; and there are even reusable/washable options on the market today.

How quickly do paper towels biodegrade?

Paper towels are typically made from bleached wood pulp, meaning they contain lignin and cellulose organic materials that will eventually biodegrade. However, due to their composition, the rate of biodegradation can vary greatly between different paper towel brands.

On average, paper towels take around two to five months to completely decompose when exposed to normal environmental conditions. The breakdown process is accelerated if the paper towel is exposed to moisture or sunlight which helps speed up the bacterial activity in soil and air.

Additionally, breaking down bleached paper towels into small pieces prior to disposal helps paper towels become more vulnerable for bacterial attack resulting in faster biodegradation rates.

Do paper towels break down in soil?

Yes, paper towels do break down in soil. In most cases, paper towels can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to fully decompose and be absorbed into the environment.

The exact rate of decomposition depends on several factors including the type of paper towel used (e.g., recycled vs non-recycled), the climate where it's located, and other environmental conditions such as moisture content and temperature.

Additionally, composting or burying the paper towel increases its rate of breakdown since it provides access to microorganisms that are essential for breaking down organic matter.


So there you have it! While some types of paper towel rolls may be compostable or biodegradable under certain conditions (and if free from additives), most used paper towels cannot be recycled and should instead be disposed of in the trash bin. The best way to ensure that your paper towel usage is as eco-friendly as possible is by using reusable materials wherever possible and opting for unbleached/uncolored varieties when shopping for disposable tissue paper and options.

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