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Can newspaper and paper towels be composted? I ask because I am hoping to set up a composting system at my work place and we use a lot of paper towels. I have heard the bleach/chemicals in the ink or the process of making the paper towels can be harmful to some soils etc.

  • Both paper towels and newspaper are carbon rich (see also this post), so you'll need to add a lot of nitrogen sources to keep a proper C:N ratio. – THelper Sep 25 '16 at 8:56
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Yes to both, with conditions. You should not try to compost any paper towels that have synthetic additives, including bleach, and are advertised as disinfectants or fragrant etc. The best paper towels to compost are those made of 100% recycled material.

Newsprint is actually sterile enough, it can be used to transport evidence if there is no other good way to do so. Newspaper, cut into thin strips are actually a good way to start a compost pile.

Do you know where you heard of problems with newspaper and paper towels? It would be interesting to see what the concerns are.

Here is a Cornell University link that addresses newspaper composting:

http://compost.css.cornell.edu/faq.html

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    Thanks. So with the paper towels, the regular white ones are fine? My work place uses hundreds a day and we just buy the white normal ones. They are not fragrant or anything fancy at all. Or would I need to make sure they are the ones made without using any bleach etc? – RDub Sep 23 '16 at 8:19
  • Check with the manufacturer if they are bleached. 100% post-consumed material is the best, like the kind Seventh Generation (for example) puts out. White paper towels will contain bleach typically and in large quantities will be bad for your compost pile. Large quantities of bleached paper towels, if ungreased, are best recycled. – Srihari Yamanoor Sep 23 '16 at 8:39
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    To be clear, I edited my answer, discussing bleach in paper towels explicitly. – Srihari Yamanoor Sep 23 '16 at 8:42
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    I got super confused when I heard from several composting companies where I live about their opinions on this. One company that composts says no to paper towels and one company says yes. – RDub Sep 23 '16 at 10:41
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    I would also assume that a potential problem with paper towels, beyond how any brand is manufactured, is that they are often used to mop up or to wipe on different chemical solutions. I think you'd have to be careful in defining when one goes into compost (just drying hands after washing and rinsing) or trash (used one with window cleaning solution). – PoloHoleSet Sep 23 '16 at 15:36

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