QUESTION: Can I compost paper towels? We have been throwing them away, but it seems like we should be composting them. – Rita M
ANSWER: Paper towels are similar to any other paper product when it comes to composting. If you have clean, unused paper towels, they are perfectly safe for composting, and are a nitrogen-rich brown organic material that is much better off in a composting bin than filling up a landfill. As with most compostable items, shredding, cutting, or tearing your paper towels into small pieces will help accelerate the decomposition process.
If your paper towels have been used, however, they may be unsuitable for composting, depending on what they were used to clean up. If you used the paper towel in question for cleaning up oil or butter, or anything else that is greasy, keep it out of the compost. Adding oil or grease to a compost heap can force air out, creating an environment that is more susceptible to anaerobic bacteria issues, which not only ruins your compost, but also makes your pile smell bad.
If you used the paper towel in question along with cleaning products, throw those paper towels away and do not add them to your compost. Paper towels that are soaked in cleaning products are covered in chemicals which could be harmful to the macro and microorganisms that exist within compost on top of soil? Even all natural organic, or green cleaners will kill bacteria, which is the last thing you want to be in your compost bin.
Paper towels that are not soiled with grease and chemicals are excellent additions to your compost pile and will break down swiftly. That doesn’t mean that they have to be clean. Paper towels that have been used to clean up dirt, water, or plant based foods are perfectly safe to compost. Even paper towels that you blow your nose in are safe for composting, as long as you are not carrying a contagious virus Add paper towels to your compost mix as a brown, or carbon-rich material. Paper towels make a good substitution for leaves in a compost pile whenever dry leaves are in short supply.
Both single ply and quilted paper towels will break down and decompose rather easily. Paper towels that were used to dry hands or dishes, are perfect for composting. Paper towels are usually bleached to achieve their bright white color, but luckily bleach does not accumulate in the food chain and actually breaks down in the environment very quickly.
If you pick up dog droppings with paper towels, those should be discarded and never composted, as they could contain certain pathogens that could spread disease or hurt the micro and microorganisms which are helping your compost break down. Paper plates, as long as they are not saturated with oil, butter, or grease, are also excellent paper products for composting. The cardstock center of paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls are also carbon-rich paper products that compost well.