Can You Compost Kitchen Roll?

By Veronica Fletcher | 
Last updated on April 3, 2021

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Kitchen roll can be a lifesaver when you accidentally spill something, but it always feels very wasteful to use the sheet once and then throw it away. Composting would be the perfect solution to ensure used kitchen rolls don’t go completely to waste.

But can you compost kitchen roll? Yes, you can compost kitchen roll as long as you didn’t use it to wipe up any chemical cleaners, carnivorous pet waste or an excessive amount of oils and dairy-based foods. You can also add the cardboard roll from inside the kitchen roll into the compost.

Composting kitchen roll

Kitchen roll is made from paper, which is made from trees. Anything that originates from a living thing can technically be composted, so you can compost kitchen roll. Paper is high in carbon so the sheets are considered a brown composting material. Kitchen towel is handy to have in the height of summer when the more traditional brown materials like dry leaves are in short supply.

Kitchen roll is excellent at soaking up extra moisture in a soggy compost pile and will decompose very quickly when it’s wet, but you do need to be careful that compact layers or waterlogged balls of tissue don’t form.

ball of wet kitchen roll
Paper towels can form compact balls in compost

If you put the sheets in whole, they can mush together and create a barrier that’ll restrict airflow within the compost. This can slow down the decomposition process.

To prevent this from happening, tear the kitchen roll up into smaller pieces and mix them into the compost until they’re scattered evenly throughout.

Tearing up the inner tube and adding it to the compost will help add some texture to the pile and stop it from compacting too much.

Can you compost used kitchen roll?

If you’re looking to compost kitchen roll, the chances are you’ve already used it. Luckily, there’s no problem composting most used kitchen towels.

Any kitchen roll covered in a plant-based mess is no issue. The only time you need to be more careful composting used kitchen roll is when you’ve used the sheets to mop up chemical cleaners, oils, meat, dairy, or carnivorous pet waste.  

kitchen roll sprayed with cleaning product
Cleaning products can contain inorganic chemicals that you shouldn’t compost

Chemical cleaners can have substances in that are harmful to the bacteria in your pile, or that are inorganic so will build up and persist in the environment.

The aim of cleaning products is to kill bacteria on household surfaces. When you add cleaning products to your compost, they’ll have the same effect on the helpful bacteria in your pile.

Natural cleaning products won’t have any toxic chemicals in, but they can still harm the microbial population in your pile. A small amount in a big compost heap is not likely to cause any problems, but if you have a smaller pile then keep an eye on how much you’re adding.

Instead of using kitchen roll to clean your surfaces, why not get a reusable kitchen cloth? These 100% organic cotton dishcloths from Full Circle are eco-friendly, and you can compost them when they reach the end of their life.

Paper towels covered in oil, meats or dairy can be added to compost but only in small amounts.

kitchen roll covered in oil
Kitchen rolls used to mop up oil should be composted with care

Meat and dairy products are prone to attracting pests and rodents to your compost. Furthermore, oil can slow down the composting process by restricting airflow within the pile.

If you are adding kitchen roll with any of the things we’ve just mentioned, bury it deep within the middle of the pile where it’s hottest. This will make sure it breaks down quickly and also stop any smells from escaping. If you notice vermin becoming interested in your pile, or the compost becoming anaerobic, reduce the amount of dirty kitchen roll you’re composting.

One thing we would avoid composting is kitchen roll that’s you’ve used to clean up dog or cat poop. Because these pets tend to eat meat, their excrement can contain harmful pathogens that could make you ill. If you’re hot composting, then these pathogens should be killed, but most home compost piles won’t reach the temperatures required to kill them off.

Can you feed kitchen roll to worms?

You can feed composting worms both used and clean kitchen roll with a few caveats. Be careful that there are no harmful chemicals on the sheets, and avoid kitchen roll covered in things worm don’t like such as fats and oils. Also, smelly foods like meat and dairy can overwhelm the bin if you only have a small worm farm.

Most chemical cleaners these days are heavily diluted with water, so you won’t kill your worms if you accidentally put a few contaminated sheets in. However, the chemicals can build up in your bin and negatively impact its microbial population.

Paper is commonly used as bedding in worm farms because it’s high in carbon and readily available. We don’t advise using kitchen roll as a substitute bedding because it gets soggy very quickly.

If this happens, the kitchen roll can stick together, forming anaerobic balls that are very slow to decompose.

How else can I use kitchen roll?

Instead of composting kitchen roll straight away, you can use it to line your kitchen compost bin. Kitchen compost bins are useful to have on your countertop to store scraps in so you don’t have to go to the compost bin several times a day.

Man carrying a kitchen compost bin full of scraps
Countertop compost bins lined with kitchen roll are easier to clean (source: Flickr)

Lining the bins with kitchen roll makes them super easy to clean. The kitchen towels soak up all the gunk and stop it from sticking to the sides of the bin.

If you’re looking to start vermicomposting, make sure to check out our in-depth guide on how to compost with worms. It’s full of incredibly useful tips and tricks to give you the best chance of composting success.

Is kitchen roll recyclable?

No kitchen roll isn’t usually recyclable. Any dirty kitchen roll isn’t recyclable because the recycling process isn’t able to clean the paper. And clean kitchen roll isn’t recyclable because the fibres are too short. 

Every time paper gets recycled, the fibers get shorter and the quality gets lower. Kitchen rolls don’t need to be excellent quality, so are usually made with paper that’s at the end of its lifecycle. This paper usually isn’t of sufficient quality to be made into something else. Therefore, annoyingly, kitchen roll isn’t a good candidate for recycling.

About Veronica Fletcher

Veronica has a passion for all things eco-friendly. After growing up on a farm in Ireland, she went on to study Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. Veronica has also volunteered in many sustainability roles, including conservation efforts in Bangladesh and teaching Environmental Sciences to schoolchildren in Kenya.