How to Recycle Paper Towels

Composting paper towels helps cut down on paper product waste, which accounted for 28 percent of all solid waste in 2009.

Composting paper towels helps cut down on paper product waste, which accounted for 28 percent of all solid waste in 2009.

Paper towels are a quick and easy way to wipe up spills, clean counters and dry hands after washing -- but most go straight into the trash and into landfills. This is because they're made of thin fibers that make recycling difficult, and used paper towels often contain bacteria from cleaning messes. Composting is the best way to cut down on paper towel waste; the process neutralizes any toxins, breaks down the paper fibers and creates rich mulch for gardening. If you don't want to create and maintain a compost pile in your backyard, many cities and counties offer curbside waste collection. For example, residents pay $9 per month for a 96-gallon waste bin and weekly or bi-monthly collection in King County, Washington.

Items you will need

  • Compost bin
  • Organic brown materials
  • Organic green materials
  • Water
  • Plain dirt
  • Garden fork or shovel
  • Outdoor recycling bin
  • Paper bags or 100 percent compostable garbage bags
  • Newspapers or plastic liner


Find a compost bin. These can be recycled plastic containers, metal pails or wooden crates; all work equally well for composting.

Shred all materials more than 3 inches long, and then add a 6-inch layer of organic brown materials: branches, twigs and dead leaves. Layer it with 4 to 6 inches of organic green materials, such as vegetable scraps, coffee filters, tea bags and paper towels.

Moisten the layers with water, and then cover them with a small amount of regular dirt. Add more layers and water as needed, alternating between green and brown to produce equal amounts of carbon and nitrogen. Turn weekly with a garden tool to help the pile heat up.

Waste Collection Service

Contact your local government office to determine whether your neighborhood has a yard waste or food collection program, or call a professional curbside service.

Ask if the service comes with a designated outdoor bin. Although such bins might not be free, some cities offer recycling bins at a discount. Find out which kitchen container works best for your household. You can use paper bags or 100 percent compostable trash bags, and then recycle these along with your paper towels.

Transfer used paper towels and kitchen waste to your outdoor bin frequently, and remember to set out your bin on scheduled pickup days.

Waste Disposal Drop-off

Call local waste disposal sites and compost facilities to determine whether they accept paper towels along with other types of waste. You may find contact information for food scrap compost facilities listed by your state online, as with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery at, also known as CalRecycle.

Ask what the hours of operation are and whether a drop-off fee is charged.

Purchase a suitable bin or cart. Buy one that has an airtight lid and fits in your car for easy transport. Set it in your yard, and then fill it with napkins, paper towels, and yard or kitchen waste.

Lay down plastic or newspapers in your car to protect from possible spills or leakage. Drive to the waste disposal site and drop off your waste, but keep the bin. Pay any applicable fees.


  • Do not add dairy products, meat or oils to your compost pile.

About the Author

Sarena Fuller has been writing professionally since 2003. She has written for e-commerce sites, architectural firms, doctors and fashion companies. Her writing experience varies from technical writing to hair and beauty, alternative medicine and eco-friendly living. Fuller holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Arizona.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images