Can You Recycle Paper Towels?

Recycle Paper towels are a staple in many households, serving as convenient tools for cleaning up spills and messes. However, the sad truth is that paper towels cannot be recycled. This is due to both the manufacturing process and the inherent contamination of the product itself. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore why paper towels can’t be recycled, discuss more eco-friendly alternatives, and offer tips on reducing paper towel waste.

Why Paper Towels Can’t Be Recycled

Manufacturing Process

The journey of a paper towel from raw materials to your kitchen begins with a process that dramatically alters the paper’s original composition. These towels start as combinations of wood, cardboard, and paper by-products, which are transformed into a pulp. This process breaks down the natural fibers of the paper, making it challenging to recycle.

Chemical Treatments

Paper towels undergo a series of chemical treatments during manufacturing, including the addition of toxic additives such as glues, resins, softeners, inks, and bleach. These chemicals enhance the paper’s strength, texture, and absorption but render it unsuitable for recycling.


One of the primary reasons paper towels can’t be recycled is the constant contamination they face during use. Whether used to clean up spills, wipe surfaces, or serve as makeshift plates, paper towels come into contact with residue, food waste, and cleaning chemicals. This contamination hinders the recycling process.

While some companies are researching alternative resin formulas that may improve the recyclability of paper towels, these innovations are not yet available for widespread use. However, there are eco-conscious choices for those who need paper towels.

Alternatives to Traditional Paper Towels

If you are concerned about the environmental impact of paper towels and their inability to be recycled, consider these alternatives:

1. Unbleached Compostable Paper Towels

While brown paper towels made from recycled unbleached kraft paper cannot be recycled, they can be composted. They are a more environmentally friendly option if they’ve only come into contact with environmentally friendly products and compostable organic matter.

Cloth Towels or Napkins

For mealtime use or general cleaning, opt for cloth towels or napkins made from sustainably sourced materials like cotton, hemp, or bamboo. These reusable options are durable and can last through many uses, reducing water consumption and waste compared to disposable paper towels.


Surprisingly, newspapers can work just as effectively as paper towels for cleaning glass surfaces and mirrors, making them a sustainable and easily accessible alternative.

Reusable Wax Wraps

When it comes to storing or transporting food, consider using reusable wraps made from sustainable beeswax and organic cotton. These wraps are eco-friendly, waterproof, and easy to clean with warm, soapy water.

Don’t Forget to Recycle the Cardboard Tube

Each roll of paper towels comes with a cardboard tube that can indeed be recycled. After you’ve used up your roll, simply place the clean tube in your recycling bin. These cardboard tubes are widely accepted for curbside pickup and at recycling centers where paper products are collected.

How to Reduce Paper Towel Waste

Paper towels are undoubtedly convenient for cleaning, but their use contributes significantly to landfill waste. To minimize your paper towel waste, consider the following tips:

Get Multiple Uses

Try to get multiple uses out of a single paper towel, especially when you’ve only cleaned with water or mild soap. Allow the towel to dry, and use it again for similar tasks.

Cut into Smaller Pieces

Consider cutting paper towels into smaller pieces to extend their utility and reduce waste.

Choose the Right Towel

If you must use paper towels, opt for unbleached brown paper towels that can be composted. However, ensure they have only been used for food-related tasks to maintain their compostable quality.

Environmentally Friendly Cleaners

When using paper towels with cleaning agents, select non-toxic, environmentally friendly options to minimize contamination.

Also Read:

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are there any efforts to make paper towels more recyclable?

Some companies are researching alternative resin formulas that may improve the recyclability of paper towels. However, these innovations are not yet widely available.

Can I compost paper towels?

While traditional paper towels cannot be composted due to their chemical treatments, unbleached brown paper towels can be composted as long as they’ve only been used for food-related tasks.

What are the benefits of using cloth towels or napkins over paper towels?

Cloth towels and napkins made from sustainable materials are reusable, reducing waste and conserving resources. They can last through numerous uses, making them a more eco-friendly option.

Are there specific eco-friendly cleaning agents that work well with paper towels?

Many eco-friendly cleaning agents are suitable for use with paper towels. Look for non-toxic, environmentally friendly products to minimize contamination.


Paper towels cannot be recycled due to their manufacturing process and susceptibility to contamination. While they offer convenience, it’s essential to consider more sustainable alternatives to reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact. Making eco-conscious choices, such as opting for unbleached paper towels and practicing reuse, can contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.