Replace Paper Towels With Cloth

Pretty much everyone likes the idea of saving money and reducing waste in theory. But in practice things can get a little fuzzy for most of us. We have become so accustomed to convenience in our everyday lives that we often don’t think much about how expensive convenience really is or how wasteful it has become. And all too often convenience comes at a steep environmental price as well.

A perfect example of this is the use of paper towels. Almost every kitchen in America has a roll of paper towels tucked away somewhere. And we just absent-mindedly reach for one for any reason at all, to dry our hands, to wipe up a spill, to clean a piece of fruit before eating it, to clean eyeglasses and myriad other things, and then, again without a single thought, we simply toss it into the trash.

If we think about them at all, we think that it’s okay to throw away paper towels. They are bio-degradable, right? Just toss them in the trash and they’ll be dirt soon enough. But it isn’t quite that simple. Using single-use paper towels is one of those almost universal habits that we need to examine a bit closer.

Here are some eye-popping paper towel statistics from

  • 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed to produce 1 ton of paper towels
  • Paper manufacturing is the largest industrial user of water per pound of finished product
  • Individuals use 2,400 – 3,000 paper towels per year
  • In the US, 3,000 tons of paper towels are discarded daily
  • When paper towels rot in landfills, they produce methane gas, which is 25 times more toxic than CO2
  • Many brands of paper towels are bleached. Dioxin is a byproduct of the bleaching process, and it has been known to cause health problems in humans

Those numbers are pretty amazing aren’t they? Here are a few more things to consider from the folks at PeopleTowels, (a paper towel alternative made from a fabric that’s 100% certified organic Fair Trade cotton):

  • If 1 in every 4 adults in the U.S. switched to PeopleTowels for a year they would:
  • Save enough trees to cover the state of Alaska
  • Reduce landfill waste equal to filling Fenway Park 4 times
  • Conserve 22,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water
  • Cut CO2 emissions equal to the amount released by 815,000 cars

You can see from these numbers that paper towel use, while exceedingly convenient, is very expensive when all things are figured into the cost. The manufacturing process wastes a lot of fresh water, which regular readers of know is also becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the country. It also wastes a lot of trees and then the used towels end up in landfills decaying and producing toxic gas which escapes into the atmosphere.

PeopleTowels is a great alternative to this bad habit that most of us share and, of course you can use plain old cloth towels around the house easily enough. Either buy cheap hand towels and keep a stack of them in a drawer for use in the kitchen, bathroom and garage or take bath cloths and towels that have outlived their usefulness for the purpose that they were intended and repurpose them as “quicker picker uppers.”

I doubt that most of us have any idea how many rolls of paper towels our households go through in a year’s time. But I suspect if we kept tabs on it for a month and did the math, we’d be amazed at the money we waste on them.

If we make a conscious effort to cut down on their use or eliminate them altogether, we’ll save money and, importantly we’ll also save trees, water and emissions, which should be among the goals of every man, woman and child sharing this beautiful planet.

by Jeff Whitaker

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