Are Paper Towels Recyclable? (And Can You Flush Them Too)

Making use of paper towels in our home has become a common thing for many of us. We use them very well to soak up spilled liquid, wipe the dirt, and clean surfaces. But, many of us never think about the other side of these fragile paper products.

Where do they end up? Can you recycle them? Are they bad for the environment? And many more questions don’t get asked or answered these days.

If you have been looking for these answers, we have all for you. Even if you haven’t, now that you are here, you can learn a thing or two about your paper towels.

So, if you are ready, we are ready. Let’s dive in.

Can You Recycle Paper Towels?

Have you been using a lot of paper towels lately? You are probably thinking about what else to do with those delicate products now that they have served their original purpose.

A part of you is considering storing them for recycling. But you are not sure if you can do that. Relax, we would let you know in an instant?

Even though they come from papers, paper towels are NOT recyclable. A lot of reasons come together to make this what it is.

Part of these is what you use your paper towels for. Let’s cut straight to it. Unlike other paper products, many use paper towels to clean grease, oil, food wastes, body fluids, etc. Many of these things are not always comfortable to take off or clean during the recycling process.

Hence, they become difficult to recycle with these oil materials on them. In the event that you recycle them, they may turn out bad. Because recycling plants mix these papers, press them into sheets and dry them, the grease or oil may remain. This grease and oil could have repelled water and still appear in the new recycled paper batch as spots or holes.

Besides, because of the things you use paper towels for, they may have some germs and infections. When you mix them with other recyclables, they affect them. So, it is better to reduce the possibility of contamination by not recycling paper towels.

Another thing is that many or all of your paper towels are products of recycled papers. With each recycling process, the papers pass through, their fibers reduce. By the time they’re used to make paper towels, we can almost all feel they have fibers’ tiniest. So, recycling them may not be possible.

So you see, as much as you would like to help the environment, recycling paper towels is not a way to do that. Better still, you can help the environment by

  • Using fewer paper towels
  • Replacing paper towels with kitchen towels or handkerchief
  • Reusing them for other things like compost
  • Disposing of them properly.

If you have been thinking of recycling paper towels, now you know better. Keep off that idea; you are not saving the environment that way.

Are Paper Towels Biodegradable?

The answer to this is YES! Paper towels are biodegradable in almost all circumstances.

If they are wet, the process becomes faster. This is because the worms and bacteria would act on them more quickly.

Also, because the paper has gone through a lot of processes before becoming paper towels, this means that their fibers have become thinner and would decompose quickly.

So, do not fret. Your paper towels won’t liter the landfills.

Are Paper Towels Compostable?

You have read earlier that paper towels are not recyclable. Probably, you feel a little bit down. Sorry about that!

Okay, you want to do something more meaningful with your paper towels than just tossing them in the bin. And here you are thinking about composting them. But, you are not sure if they are cool in your compost bin.

That’s why we are here. Let’s walk you through.

Good news, paper towels are compostable! Wait, did we say they are? Relax, not all of them, actually.

YES. Paper towels are compostable, depending on what you used them for. If you use your paper towels to clean grease, oil, or chemical products, they are not compostable.

The reason for this is simple. Grease and oil have a way of pushing out air from your compost bin. This creates a relaxing home for anaerobic bacteria, which will ruin your compost and give it a bonus of bad smell.

If you clean your paper towels with chemical products, don’t put them in the compost bin. The chemicals in them may affect your macro and microorganism. This may kill or slow bacteria development.

If you pick your dog poops with paper towels, don’t toss them in the compost bin. They may carry pathogens that might spread diseases. They might also kill macro or microorganisms.

If you are sick or carrying a contagion disease, please slow down on tossing your paper towels in the compost bin. You may be harming your compost.

Now that you know which paper towels can’t be composed, you are wondering which ones can. It’s simple.

All other paper towels you used to clean or dry things except those excluded are cool in your compost bin. If you dry your hands, clean dishes, or wipe surfaces, you can toss that paper towels in the compost bin.

These are considered brown or carbon-rich materials for your compost bins.

So, before you go ahead, tossing every paper towels in the compost bin, pause and ask if they can go in.

Is Paper Towel Bad for the Environment?

If you keep up with news and analysis, you are probably inquiring about the environmental impact of everything you come across. The case of paper towels is not an exception. You want to know if they are bad for the environment. Well, we are here to tell you that.

Everyone knows that anything made with paper traces its ancestry to trees. We also know that trees play an essential role in the environment; they give us oxygen and filter the surrounding.

Now, when we think of paper towels, we go back to how trees are getting cut down daily to sustain the production of paper towels. The more paper towels you use, the greater the adverse effects on trees.

It doesn’t end here. When you cut trees, you use heavy machines to get the job done. These heavy machines run on fossil fuels. You also use fossil fuels when transporting these trees from farms to processing facilities.

During processing, cleaning, and packaging, you need fossil fuel to keep the machines running.

Even if we all take a turn to replant these trees, we will use heavy farm machinery like tractors to plant them. All these machines emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Asides these, although paper towels are biodegradable, that doesn’t happen overnight. On average, it takes between two weeks and 45 days for paper towels to biodegrade. This, however, is depending on the thickness of the paper.

The biggest problem here is that we use paper towels faster than the rate at which they biodegrade. So, for the time being, paper towels may queue up at the landfills.

Also, since we use paper towels faster than we plant trees, tremendous pressure is put on cutting down more trees.

Also, another environmental concern is that paper towels are not from trees alone. Most times, to increase their absorbency, they use dioxins and other components that may be toxic. Also, paper towels are bleached with chlorine to give it its white color. When chlorine combines with other chemicals, it can adversely affect the environment.

Lastly, to keep them from dirt and dust, and preserve their whiteness, paper towels come in almost useless packaging. Worst still, these packagings are made of thin plastic materials that can take thousands of years to biodegrade.

Given the rate we use paper towels, these plastic packaging may begin to fill up landfills faster than we expect. Ultimately, they may find their way into the marine environment and contaminate aquatic life.

So, while it may seem like paper towels are harmless, they cause many problems for the environment if you look deeper into it.


Are Empty Paper Towel Rolls Recyclable?

Indeed, you can’t recycle paper towels. But how about paper towel rolls? Are they also not recyclable?

Don’t get yourself worked up. They are recyclable.

Unlike used paper towels, YOU CAN recycle empty paper towel rolls.

They are not used to clean oil, grease, or other chemical products. So, they are clean and can go in the recycling bin. They are like cardboard. They have very thick fibers and can be used to produce more paper products.

So, just ensure you keep your empty paper towel rolls or toss them in the recycling bin. That way, you are helping the environment.

How Do You Dispose of Paper Towels?

The reason you might want to dispose of your paper towels is if they contain greasy, oily, or chemical products. This way, you can’t recycle them or compost them. So you are left with just tossing them in the trash bin. Well, there’s a way to do that correctly too.

First, gather all your paper towels that fall in this category and put them in a bag. Ensure to untie the bag and place it in the trash can.

As a reminder, you can set the alarm for collection day. Take your bin out and place them in a visible area. Also, ensure that it is distant from your vehicle or any other obstructions.

What Happens if You Flush Paper Towels?

You are probably thinking that since paper towels are from paper, there’s nothing terrible in flushing them. It may sound good, but it isn’t the right thing to do.

Paper towels are thicker than toilet papers. Paper towels do not decompose quickly in water; they take in water without falling part immediately.

Hence, flushing them down may cause blockage for your toilet. They can easily stick in the pipes. If you flush down too many, you are creating plumbing problems for your household.

This does not sound good to you, right? Well, it shouldn’t as it comes with loads of ills. Besides, you would be spending a lot on plumbing repairs.

So, if you have been thinking about flushing down paper towels, come off the thoughts. Use them to make compost or dispose of them properly.

How Long Does it Take For Paper Towels to Decompose?

We have told you that paper towels are from trees. This makes them decompose quickly. But, this does not happen overnight.

Depending on the thickness of the paper towels, decomposing may take up to a month. But, do not worry; they will ultimately decompose. Provided they are wet, the worms would act on them quickly.


It’s okay to use paper towels. What is more important is how you manage them after use. In this article, we have told you all about recycling paper towels. We have also answered other related questions that you might have.

So, read up, and keep your environment safe.


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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.