Annapolis Compost

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Paper Towels And Composting

Paper towels are a true staple in American households, and they are a versatile bunch. Wiping up quick messes, cleaning your countertops, soaking up grease from fried foods – they do it all. And they do it a lot. And then they continue on into the garbage, and from there to the landfill. Not a happy place!


The good news is: They don’t have to end up in the landfill. Paper towels are compostable in an industrial setting like the one we work with at Annapolis Compost. However, this only applies to paper towels that have come in contact with organic matter – water, food spills and the like. Paper towels that have been contaminated with conventional cleaners are not suitable for composting.

For this reason, and before we were able to compost, I banned paper towels from our household a while ago. I bought some reusable “nonpaper” towels made of cloth which you can wash with your hot laundry and then reuse (you can get them on Etsy), and I’ve been very happy with them. They do the job just as well, and they save you money. But of course, paper towels are more convenient, and after several months and some complaints from Karl, who values convenience a little more than me, I allowed them back in the house – but only for food spills, so we would be able to compost them.

But then I changed my way of thinking. If we want to continue using paper towels for the convenience of it, but we don’t want to produce extra waste, then what if we had an all-purpose cleaner that was safe to compost? I did some research, invested in some essential oils, and here it is: Our home-made compostable all-purpose cleaner.

1⁄2 cup apple-cider or white vinegar
1 cup filtered water
5 drops lavender or tea tree essential oil
10 drops grapefruit essential oil
5-10 drops lemon essential oil (optional, for fresh scent)

Put in spray bottle and shake to combine.

Here's why it works:

Vinegar is effective in removing microbial contamination. Tea tree oil is particularly effective for destroying bacteria and preventing the growth of fungus. Lavender oil is antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Grapefruit oil, as well as all citrus oils, acts to emulsify and disperse grease, while also inhibiting bacterial and fungus growth.

Karl Schrass