Are Paper Towels Recyclable? No, They’re Not. Here’s Why

If you hear people asking ‘Are paper towels recyclable?’, you should immediately tell them that they are not. We all know that recycling can help protect the environment, but we should stop trying to recycle something that we can’t. Even if some people try to do this thinking that they are doing a good deed, they should certainly get informed.

First, when trying to recycle a dirty paper towel, you should consider that it bears all kinds of dirt that may ruin the whole batch of other recyclable materials. Even if recycling plants clean the paper products they get, it is impossible to get out the grease from the paper’s fibers.

Usually, recycling plants remix the paper they receive into a watery slurry. Then, they press it into sheets and dry it. Keep in mind the fact that grease does not wear off during the process. Therefore, it can appear in the new batch of paper. You may either notice some holes or some oily spots in the areas where the oil repelled the water.

Therefore, paper towels, paper napkins, and tissues that have come into contact with bodily fluids, grease or food cannot be recycled. These can reduce the likelihood of a whole batch of recyclable paper. The rest of the paper can be contaminated due to a single dirty paper towel.

Stop throwing paper towels into the recycling bin!

Another big problem to consider when you want to recycle napkins and paper towels is that they may have already been through a recycling process once. After each such cycle, the paper’s fibers get shorter. Therefore, by the time the paper has been transformed into a paper towel or a napkin again, the fibers will become too short to be reused.

However, you are not forced to send the napkins and paper towels you have to the landfill. You can use other eco-friendly alternatives to promote sustainable living. The first step is to try to use fewer paper products. You should implement the use of handkerchiefs and kitchen towels instead of paper products. In this way, you will be able to wash all the kitchen towels and handkerchiefs whenever you want to.

Furthermore, if you consider that the paper’s fibers in these products can easily break down, they can be used for the compost pile. However, you can use them only if they are unbleached. Many specialists indicate that you should avoid composting napkins and paper towels if they are too greasy.

On the other hand, others say that you may as well do it because there is no harm. However, you should definitely be careful when it comes to chlorine-bleached products. Specialists indicate that chlorine byproducts can damage environmental and human health.

Two piles of white napkins

Napkins, just like paper towels, are not recyclable because they might contain grease or bodily fluids that ruing the recycling process.

Image Source

Are paper towels recyclable?

These useful products that are present in any household are responsible for a lot of waste. Some statistics indicate that paper towels account for about 20 to 40% of waste by volume, coming from a dorm or an office building. Generally, used paper towels and napkins reach landfills, being excluded from the usual recycling programs we know.

Specialists collect paper towels in separate bins in public restrooms, and then they are composted. After composting, they get spread over landfills to enrich the soil and diminish wind erosion. Composting is considered to be another form of recycling. Therefore, it is really important to stop wasting so many paper towels when there is a kitchen spill. Just use a dishcloth or a sponge to do the trick. You can easily clean and reuse them whenever you please.

When cleaning your windows, it is best if you use crumpled newspaper and avoid using fresh paper towels. Another thing you should try is to purchase napkins and paper towels which have a high recycled content. Usually, post-consumer fibers can be recovered from the paper which otherwise would have reached the landfill.

According to Natural Resources Defense Council, if we were to replace fresh fiber paper towels with paper towels entirely made of recycled paper, then we might be able to save 544,000 trees.

Other items which are not recyclable

Saran wrap

Even if this is plastic, that does not make it recyclable. The texture of this material can damage the machinery used to recycle plastic. Therefore, this may cost some extra money and a lot of time. Furthermore, dirty or wet saran wrap can contaminate a whole batch of recycled plastic.

Aluminum foil

Contrary to common belief, not all aluminum products are recyclable. Usually, most of it is tainted or stained with grease and food which will surely contaminate the recycling process. You should consider reusing aluminum trays and plates because you can rewash them.


Stop throwing styrofoam into your recycling bin because it does not belong there. It helps you to wrap up valuable and large objects to protect them from breakage. This material has a bad reputation, being really harmful to our planet. Specialists indicate that it can remain in a landfill for over 500 years without degrading. Therefore, it is best if you save your packing styrofoam for the next time you have to use it instead of throwing it away.


Even if Pyrex is made of glass, that does not make it recyclable. This material has been chemically treated, and the composition of glass has changed. Before recycling it, glass needs to be sorted by color and type. Every kind of glass melt has its own particular temperature. If you mix anything there that does not belong to the batch, the whole batch is compromised. However, Pyrex is a durable kitchen classic which you should not throw away.

Summing up

If you want to save the earth and recycle everything you can, make sure you avoid recycling paper towels and the rest of the products mentioned above. You would do more harm than good since you may ruin a whole batch of recycled products. It is best if you use everything in moderation or try to replace some of them.

Image Source: Inhabitat

Show Your Friends!
William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments