I have been recycling my office paper, magazines and newspapers. Are there any types of paper that cannot be recycled? ~Paper Recycler

Dear Paper Recycler,

Thanks for asking. Yes, some paper cannot be recycled. Any kind of paper, whether white, colored, magazine or newspaper, cannot be recycled if it is not dry and clean. Grease and food will not mix with the water needed to break down the paper into fibers. If paper that is greasy, or has food on it, is put in with clean paper, the whole batch is contaminated and cannot be used for recycling. Also, tissue paper and paper towels are not currently recyclable.

What are “single-use” products? Why are they considered bad for the environment? ~Questioning

Dear Questioning,

Single-use products are those products that are used one time, usually for only minutes. Yet, their impact on the environment can last thousands of years. Plastic bags, bottles for water, plastic straws, paper towels and napkins, and Styrofoam coffee cups are some of the worst of these items. Awareness of the potential harm these single-use products are to our environment has led businesses like Hyatt Hotels, McDonalds in the U.K. and Ireland, as well as Starbucks to go plastic-straw-free by 2020. These actions alone will keep one billion plastic straws per year out of the environment. We can all take a few simple steps to decrease the use of single-use products by carrying reusable water bottles, coffee cups and straws.

What about paper towels? Do they compost? Can they be recycled? If so, how clean must they be? ~Recycler

Dear Recycler,

Like tissue paper, most paper towels are made from recycled paper. Thus, they have fibers that are too short to be recycled again. However, these short fibers make paper towels a great candidate for the compost pile. Just be sure there is no grease or chemicals on them. As a single-use product, paper towels most often end up in the trash and eventually in the landfill. Microfiber cloths or cloth rags from your ragbag are excellent alternatives to paper towels. These cloths can be used for multiple household tasks and tossed into the washing machine. They can be reused many times. If you do purchase paper towels, be sure they are made out of recycled paper. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber paper towels (70 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 544,000 trees.” When purchasing any paper products, it is recommended that you purchase ones that are whitened without chlorine bleach or are unbleached. The chlorine used to bleach paper products is harmful to the environment and can be detrimental to human health. According to the San Mateo County RecycleWorks, “The bleaching of paper, whether virgin or recycled, is the leading cause of toxic water pollution in the U.S.”