Student’s Corner

Why aren’t napkins and paper towels recyclable?

You might think you’re helping the environment by tossing your used paper towel in the recycle bin, but you actually are not. This common misconception leads to many issues and actually does more harm than good and here is why. 

Recycling plants remix paper into a watery mixture, press it into sheets, and dry it out. Grease and other non-paper products cannot be extracted during the process and may show up in a new batch of paper as discoloration, oil spots, or holes where the water has repelled the water. Used paper goods such as toilet paper and napkins are often dirty and might have come into contact with food, grease, and bodily fluids. Therefore, it’s best to simply throw out used products to prevent ruining an entire batch of recycled paper. 

Additionally, most paper towels and similar products have been generated from already recycled paper goods. Thin paper items have been through the recycling process multiple times and every cycle shortens the fibers in the paper. Once the paper has been made into a napkin or paper towel, the fibers are too short to be considered reusable.

So what can you do to reduce the amount of paper you throw out? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Use drying rags instead of paper towels in the kitchen and restroom
  2. Be sure your toilet paper and napkins are made from recycled material
  3. Carry a handkerchief in your pocket when you go out

Written by Emily Su, Class of 2022

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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