August 2nd, 2011

How to Go Paper Towel-Less

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reusable towel

What if a whole group of people did the same “green” activity at the same time?

That very question was the foundation for a campaign spearheaded by  Reduce Footprints called “Change the World Wednesday (#CTWW)”.  Each week a new challenge is posted on the site and anyone can join in. The challenges are manageable for all-for example last week’s challenge was to take 5 minute showers all week. It was so bloody hot here that a 5 minute cool shower was doable.

The big picture: each challenge represents a small, simple change that, if done by few or many, can have a tremendous impact on the earth.

This week’s challenge was to avoid using or buying paper towels for 7 days.

Seven days isn’t unbearable-even for paper towel lovers.This one was pretty simple for me since our home is already paper towel free. About 6 years ago we let go of our addiction to paper towels and made the switch to reusable rags and towels. It wasn’t an easy transition, but now it’s integrated into our lives.

Trash facts

  • The US produces half of the world’s garbage, but has only 6% of the world’s people.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, or a total of 29 pounds (13 kg) per week and 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year.
  • Paper waste makes for about 35 percent of the total material filling up landfills.

Problems with paper towels

  • They’re single use-we  use them once and then toss them. And we don’t only use one-we use many. This creates a lot of waste that ends up sitting in our overflowing landfills trying to biodegrade.
  • Paper mills producing the paper towels are the largest industrial polluters in the US. They’re the ones who emit those horribly stinky smells that make you roll up your car windows as you drive by.
  • The mills use a long list of hazardous chemicals to turn a tree into a paper towel.
  • Much of the waste from mills is released into the air and our waterways causes pollution.
  • During the production process paper towels are generally bleached with chlorine, which can cause dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that can cause cancer and birth defects in humans.
  • Don’t forget the trees that are being chopped and diced to turn into your paper towels.
  • Creating the paper towels requires a tremendous amount of energy that is often provided by coal or natural gas, which release greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A crazy amount of water is needed to make one roll of paper towels.
  • They’re packaged in plastic-adding to the landfill and water way problems.
  • Paper towels are expensive and need to be replaced often.

If every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of  paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year. If the switch was to using three less rolls per U.S. household per year, and that would save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees.

Tips on how to switch from paper towels to reusable towels

  • Just do it. Stop buying paper towels and have old rags ready to go. I use old towels and t-shirts that are ready to be reused.
  • Put them in a convenient place so you won’t be tempted to reach for the tissues or toilet paper (been there!).
  • Check out People Towels Reusable Hand Towels. I really like their 100% organic reusable towels and they have some  great designs.

With three kids and a dog, there are plenty of times I wish I had a roll of paper towels. But we are well trained over here and know to reach for a reusable rag.

Ready to up the ante?

Already using reusable towels and clothes? A few CTWW community members decided to take the “no paper towel challenge” to the next level. I’m on-board with most…

  • Use reusable napkins-DID IT
  • Reuse old clothing (t-shirst etc. ) as the towel. DID IT
  • Carry cloth napkins with us so we’re ready for eating on the go. WORK IN PROGRESS
  • Use a Wee Cloth instead of toilet paper. NO WAY. CAN’T DO IT-could you?

Your turn

Are you willing to join in the fun? Can you go for 7 days without paper towels? Hop on over to Reduce Footprints to check out next week’s challenge and to see how others are doing with the current challenge.

There is an Amazon Affiliate link in this post. If you use the link it will place a few pennies in my pocket. Thanks!

[Photo used under Creative Commons from Josh Mormann/Flickr]

 

 

 

 

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25 Responses to “How to Go Paper Towel-Less”

  1. Funny story: We ran out of paper towels so I was forced to not use paper towels for 7 days because I only like to buy ones from the health food store and I kept forgetting we were out. It really wasn’t that bad not using them. I became very resourceful. I would love to keep this going. Of course, I bought some. But now I want the challenge. I know when I have babies, I will use cloth diapers so this could be an experiment if I can handle that. :)

  2. GREAT job…paper towels are one of the most wasteful conveniences of our day! I’m so glad we’re now a house of rag users.. ;)

  3. I know it’s not funny but I’m laughing about the Wee Cloth. Everything else, DID ‘EM! Great post, as always!

  4. As always, you provide great information. I have to admit this is a hard one for me. But I am trying to wean myself away from paper towels. Sometimes I will just tear off a tiny piece of one for a focused job. You’ve inspired to wean a bit faster. Thank you.

  5. Fabulous post … thank you so much! I learned a lot. While I’m not altogether surprised at the Trash Facts … it’s still sobering to see it. Sobering and sad! Well … it’s a good “call to action”.

    Wee cloths … I’m not quite there yet. :-) But I do limit the number of squares I use to no more than 6 single-ply sheets.

  6. I didn’t know there was so much paper in our landfills. What an eye opener! I keep one roll of paper towels on hand for the one occasional mess I deal with: cat vomit. Eeeew. Other times I’m happy to use a sponge for most surfaces in the kitchen, dish towels for dishes and hands, and rags for the floor.

    I keep thinking about the wee cloths. My first reaction is disgust, but I already use and rinse out cloth pads, so my squeamishness threshold should, in theory, be low enough to consider wee cloths. Maybe in another few years.

  7. Ditched the paper towels and napkins some time ago and do carry cloth along with a place-setting to go but sometime falter when out and about. Also People Towel. Definitely with you on the TP!!

  8. I’m with the other Jennifer on the cat vomit. It’s hard for me not to vomit myself when I clean it up with a paper towel so I can’t see hand washing a rag. We wash our clothes at the laundromat every 2 weeks so I can’t see us having urine soaked cloths around that long either. I use dishcloths and rags for most everything else. I like the idea about cloth napkins, though. I never thought about that!

  9. Great post – this is such an important issue.

    I’m with both Jennifers on the cat vomit problem! That’s a tricky one. I use thin sponge cloths that are supposed to replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels each, and so far they’re great, but I can’t imagine using one for cat vomit… unless that was its designated use and I’d never to worry about getting it clean enough to use for another purpose. Ick!

  10. I was laughing too Karen-I know I don’t want to go there :)

  11. Hi Meg-what did you use for the week? I am constantly forgetting the same thing over and over at the store-I can relate! Good for you -knowing that you want to use cloth diapers!

  12. Thanks so much Sandra. Giving up paper towels is a hard one! I like how you are starting with something manageable-tearing off a piece of the whole towel. You’re not using as much and cutting down on waste. Great start!

  13. Thanks for the challenge Small Prints! I love how your site has very doable weekly challenges. It really shows each of us that we can do this and we can make a difference. I love how you count the squares! I’m not even there :)

  14. Hi Jennifer-it’s hard to imagine the amount of paper waste in landfills, isn’t it? I like your strategy of having one roll on hand for those really bad clean-ups. I have a dog so I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. I think you are much closer to using wee clothes than I am! Your cloth pad post was great.

  15. Hi Jeanne-I really like the idea of carrying a cloth and place setting in your bag. That’s when the reusable system seems to break down for me. If it’s not convenient I tend to reach for single -use items. I’m still looking for the person who’s willing to give a wee cloth a shot. It’s not me and not you :)

  16. I think most of us are agreeing, Jennifer, that cat vomit deserves a paper towel. There are a few other situations too! I have a hard time cleaning up any kind of vomit. Cloth napkins are an each switch-especially if you are using dish cloths and rags for other things. You raise an interesting issue-what to do with a wee clothif you can’t do laundry on a regular basis?

  17. Hi Andrea-LOL we are all focusing on cat vomit! Maybe someone should develop a reusable product for pet clean-ups. What type of sponge are you using-sounds like an interesting product.

  18. The brand is Twist, and here is the product page: http://www.twistclean.com/eurosponge/ There’s a link on the site for where to buy Twist products. I’ve used a few of their products for a year now and am quite pleased so far.

  19. Thanks for the link Andrea. I think I’ve seen theme in the market, but have never tried them.

  20. Great article. Paper towels are so wasteful but it is hard to get away from them totally. The cat vomit is a good example – and pretty funny!

  21. Thanks Kris. It is hard to go cold turkey with the paper towels. Any kind of vomit is a good example!

  22. [...] we could save 423,900 trees. Not only will we save trees-we’ll also save water and cut back on paper waste that continues to fill our overflowing [...]

  23. [...] on this challenge, providing paper towel facts and figures, and tips to go without. Read it here: http://groovygreenlivin.com/2011/08/how-to-go-paper-towel-less/ If every household in the U.S. used just one less  roll of  paper towels,we would save more [...]

  24. [...] paper towel switch to reusables has been a bit more challenging.   Thanks to our dog and three young boys we [...]

  25. […] could save 423,900 trees. Not only will we save trees-we’ll also save water and cut back on paper waste that continues to fill our overflowing […]

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I like to make noise and stir the pot especially when an issue hits home and effects the health of our families. Join me as I make some noise and share along the way tips for living a green and healthy life. Read more.

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