Can you really compost paper towels?

In this Choice article

it says this:

" Can I recycle paper towels?

Paper towels are not recyclable.

Not only do they usually come in contact with food waste and other greases but they are made using chemicals to improve their “wet tear strength”, so they can’t be recycled like other paper waste. Instead, look for 100% recycled or similar claims on the packaging when buying.

Alternatively, if you have a compost bin, you can add paper towels that have been used with dirt, water or plant-based food. However, if they’ve been used to wipe up greasy spills or with harsh cleaning products then they’re not welcome in the compost."

To me that says it is fine to compost paper towels (depending what they have been used for but for arguments sake lets assume they are unused)

I belong to a FaceBook ‘Eco’ group that recently promoted the idea of composting paper towels, but one person cited the above Choice article to say that paper towels have chemicals added to them so they should not be composted.

In the article choice does say:

‘they are made using chemicals to improve their “wet tear strength”,’

So it is a bit of a mixed message. It would be great if someone could clarify



Don’t know about others but I would not. I use them for wiping up greasy stuff, kitchen cleaning, and so on, I’m afraid mine go in general waste.


That is correct, but recycling in the domestic recycling program is different to composting…

All paper towel can be composted. Paper towel doesn’t contain plastic/synthetic fibres, unlike some kitchen/cleaning wipes, and as a result can be composted in a home compost bin. The compounds added for strength of wetability don’t affect its ability to be composted.

Confusion could have arisen as the Choice article says they can’t be recycled, and composting is often seen as a form of recycling or reuse. In the Choice article, recycling means putting them into a kerbside collection or other recycling bins…not composting,

We compost ours (we use recycled paper towels) no matter what it was used for in the kitchen, Including grease or mopping up kitchen oils. They compost well and breakdown quickly. We also compost residual cooking oils rather than putting down the drain (a big no no) or binning. Kitchen oils take some time to breakdown but can be safely composted. With kitchen oils, it is important they can’t be washed away allowing them to enter downstream waterways.

The only paper towels we don’t compost are those used when we paint or check engine oil levels (for obvious reasons).

As paper towels are principally carbon, they will need source of other nutrients, especially nitrogen, to break down. This nitrogen can be from green leafy materials or high nitrogen sources such as fertiliser/manures.

One thing to watch is vermin, adding food, kitchen oils and their residues can attract vermin and should be placed preferably in a sealed compost bin or dug into a open compost pile after placement.

Paper towels and kitchen oils can also be added to work farms as long as it is cooled oil and they aren’t added in quantities which overload the farm.


Thanks for the replies
I think the phrase that is the sticking point is:

This is giving the impression that there is something in them that may not be the best thing to put in the compost. It would be great to have a clarification of what the ‘chemicals’ actually are

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All paper is ‘made with chemicals’. If it is safe to clean your hands or drain your food it is safe to compost. I think the chance of any residue in paper towel harming the microbes in your compost and/or surviving the process and going on to harmfully enter the food chain when you spread the result on a food crop is quite remote.


I strain the remains of my plunger coffee pot through paper towel. Coffee grounds and paper towel than go into the compost heap.


Some types of paper towels (for industrial use) have a plastic mesh embedded into the paper, so they would be no good for composting or recycling.
We compost our regular (recycled) paper towels from the supermarket, either in the garden compost bin or in the composting loo, and they do break down entirely with no apparent ill effects on worms, slaters etc.


We compost our paper towels, along with all other organics. We even have an occasional native visitor who comes and raids the compost bin. We don’t mind sharing our organic waste. :slight_smile: Either way it’s not going into the waste stream.