Are You Wiping Out Forests When You Wipe Your Hands?

51,000 Reasons Not to Use Paper Towels

There’s a lot of talk these days about paper towels. Some folks use them without giving much thought to when and how many they use. Others may be a little more judicious in their use of paper towels, opting to keep them on hand for just a few necessary jobs. But does it really make a difference which tool we choose for wiping up spills and messes?

A Brief History of the Paper Towel

Paper TowelsPaper towels were invented in 1907 by the Scott Paper Company. Popular belief is that they were created as a reuse of a rail car full of toilet paper that didn’t meet specifications. In 1922 individual paper towels began to be regularly mass produced, and in 1931 rolls of paper towels were first introduced for use in the kitchen.

Today, paper towels are a staple of daily life for many of us. But, however convenient this single-use product may be, their environmental toll is not insignificant.

The Cost of Convenience

  • According to the EPA, paper in general makes up the largest share of municipal waste in the U.S.
  • More than 13 billion pounds (6.5 million tons) of paper towels are used each year in the U.S. alone.
  • To make just one ton of paper towels, 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted.
  • Lots of energy is also required to manufacture and deliver all those towels from the factory to the store—along with the accompanying CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
  • As many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day.
  • Globally, discarded paper towels result in 254 million tons of trash every year.
  • About 3,000 tons of paper towels a year goes into U.S. landfills after just one use. There, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas, during decomposition.

What You Can Do

Obviously, one of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of paper towels is simply to use fewer of them.

  • Use Electric Hand DryersIn public restrooms, choose to use the electric hand dryer if one is available. If there isn’t one, use only one towel instead of three or four, and use the shake-shake-fold method to get your hands completely dry.
  • At home, rely on reusable, high-quality microfiber cloths to tackle messes and clean up spills and dribbles. Not only are they a more sustainable option than paper towels, they also work better, cost less over time, and they’re better for the environment.
  • Cloth Napkins at the Diner TableAt the dinner table, place a cloth napkin at each place setting. Again, they are much more sustainable than paper towels and napkins. (There’s even a set of microfiber napkins that are made from recycled plastic bottles!) In addition, cloth napkins add an elegant touch, and they are a good way to help children learn table manners.
Did You

According to The Paperless Project:

  • If every household in the U.S. used just one fewer 70-sheet roll of paper towels, 544,000 trees would be saved each year.
  • If every household in the U.S. used three fewer rolls per year, 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees would be saved.
comment_2Have you taken steps to reduce your paper towel usage? We’d love to hear about it! Just leave us a comment below.

Resources:

Do you use cloth or paper towel for quick cleanups?

View Results
 
Cloth:
 
88%
Paper towel:
 
12%
Total Votes:
156
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