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.

Is tissue paper recyclable? ~Crafter

Dear Crafter,

No, tissue paper is not recyclable for two primary reasons. First, because it has a lower fiber content, tissue paper is harder to recycle. Second, most of today’s tissue paper has already been made from recycled paper, so it can’t be recycled again. Its short fibers make good compost as it decomposes quickly. As you probably know, there are many craft items that can be made with the many colors of tissue paper.

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.”