Paper Towels: An Important Piece of Item

It is hard to argue against the usefulness of paper towels. Compared to other products made from wood pulp, paper towels are considered one of the most (if not the most) useful ones. It trumps out even the Post-It-Note which can’t be used to filter out coffee. But being too useful can also have downsides especially for the humble paper towel. This is particularly true since they can be used for many different unintended tasks. This usefulness and flexibility of use results in a ton of waste. Studies show that waste from the said product accounts for around twenty to forty percent of the waste coming from facilities such as dormitories or buildings. 

With such a dilemma facing the paper towel, we look at whether or not paper towels can be recycled and what alternatives we have in being more eco-friendly in handling our Used paper towels. Read on to find out more.

Paper Towel Recycling: Why is it even Considered?

Landfills get piles of used paper towels daily and this is no longer surprising. Most recycling programs exclude paper towels since these products are already produced using mostly recycled materials. Also, paper towels have fibers in them that are too short to even be used in other paper products. There are several other options though and certain programs for sustainability have started diverting used paper towels from piling up at landfills. Some of these options or alternatives will be discussed later on. But can paper towels be recycled and is it even advisable to recycle them?

The Problem with Recycled Paper Towels: Bacteria

Recycled Paper Towels, aside from having short fibers that are no longer usable for any other paper products, are mostly contaminated with dangerous microorganisms such as bacteria. Studies showed that most major paper towel brands commonly used in public bathrooms to dry hands had significant bacteria present in them. In short, the most number of bacteria were present in recycled paper towels compared to their virgin wood counterparts and should not be considered for recycling. 

This can be accounted to the fact that recycled paper mills have to deal with bacterial slime issues. There is also evidence to suggest that recycled paper has increased levels of bacterial presence due to its being a prime bacterial breeding environment. Recycled paper towels are an ideal bacterial environment due to its use of starches serving as binding agents which also double as food for these microorganisms.

Based on available data, it was found the Bacillus was the most common bacterial strain found and this is a form of bacteria usually linked with food poisoning. Other bacterial strains identified to be present in Recycled Paper Towels include clostridium, exiguobacterium, and Paenibacullus. However, it must be noted that during the studies conducted on these paper towels, no bacteria became airborne or caused any illness or disease.  

Food safety experts recommend that paper towels be used since they have reduced risk for cross-contamination. These should, however, be thrown away after usage, unlike cloth towels and sponges which can be reused numerous times and at the same time be another prime breeding environment for bacteria. The experts also noted that the bacteria present in these Recycled paper towels may be dangerous for young children, infants, those with medical conditions, weakened immune systems, and the elderly but that they will rarely (if at all) adversely affect healthy individuals.

Options for Recycled Paper Towels

Paper towels simply cannot be recycled compared to other products made from paper. This is especially true since paper towels that are recycled can result in concerns about food waste and the proliferation of bacteria. While paper towels cannot be directly recycled, there are several options that individuals can observe to their part and one is to reuse or reduce the use of these paper towels. 

Reducing the use of these paper towels will usually entail individuals shirting to a dishcloth or old-fashioned sponge when cleaning up spills in the kitchen. Both sponge and dishcloths can be utilized over and over. To clean windows, individuals can also turn to newspapers that are crumpled. Instead of throwing away paper towels that are used in the trash bin, they can also be tossed in a compost container along with scraps of fruits, filters, and coffee grounds, and some eggshells.

Below are some of the detailed options for recycling these paper towels:

  • Composting- Using a compost bin such as wooden crates, metal pails, or plastic containers, have all the material to be composted if they are three inches or longer before adding a half-foot of organic brown layers such as dead leaves, twigs, and branches. On top of this brown layer, an additional layer of green materials about 4 to six inches may also be added. These green materials include paper towels, tea bags, coffee filters, and scraps of veggies. The layers should then be moistened with water before being covered in regular dirt in small amounts. Add water and more layers as required, with brown and green layers being alternately used to come up with equal levels of nitrogen and carbon. To help pile up the heat, use a garden tool to turn the compost weekly.
  • Waste Collection Service- The first step in doing this is to contact the government office of your locality if there is a food collection or yard waste program within the neighborhood. Check if the program also comes with specific bins and while these may not be free of charge, some local government offices offer discounts. It is important to identify which container is ideal for the household’s specific situation. Individuals can use 100% trash bags that are compostable or paper bags which can then be recycled with used paper towels.

Bottom Line

While paper towels should no longer be directly recycled, it can be subjected to other forms of recycling options such as waste collection services from the government and through good old fashioned composting.

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