To make one ton of paper towels 17 trees are used and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted. In the U.S. we currently use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year and that number is growing steadily. This equals more than 3,000 tons of paper towel waste in the U.S. alone. Decomposing paper towels produce methane gas. Methane gas is a leading cause of global warming.
The Problem with Paper Towels
Paper towels are not recyclable. They don’t contain much fiber, so the cost of recycling them is not financially beneficial. Also, because they are often dirty and wet after use, the fibers are further degraded. Since paper towels aren’t recyclable, they’re purely a waste product.
Our house has paper towels on the Subscribe and Save list. Last year when we moved to using only cloth napkins, Mr. Maker swore he would not get on board if I moved to eliminate paper towels. We use paper towels for everything from clean ups to drying dishes to window washing. As long as your paper towels are unbleached and chlorine-free, they are safe to toss into your compost bin, not the trash. Since our HOA says no to compost bins, we needed to find an alternative.
To make this experiment easier I left the paper towels. I left them hanging right above where I put the basket with flour sack towels. You can see from the picture.
The nice thing about flour sack towels is they hold up to stains, they fold nicely, they absorb spills and liquid, and they clean without leaving residue. (this was an issue with our first try of using shop cloths) They also cost about $12 for 15.
Pre flour sack days ( June 2017) we were using about 1-2 rolls of the XL rolls of paper towels a week at $1.64 per roll. This is 140-280 sheets. Since offering the option of flour sack towels, we are still on our 2nd roll for two months. So this will mean about 12 rolls a year for The Maker family.
These numbers were enough to make me think twice about grabbing the next roll of unnecessarily wasteful paper towels. But understanding exactly how to lessen my personal impact made all the difference. Below is the link to a five minute TED talk where Joe Smith shows us how to use just one paper towel, no matter the type, when washing our hands. This demonstration presents a powerful lesson that even if you don’t go completely paper towel-less, you can reduce your use.
VIDEO: How to Use One Paper Towel
Now let’s talk about the cost savings.
Cloth use equals bigger savings in the long run. In ten years we plan to rarely buy new towels of any sort so if you’re an excessive paper towel user and you switch to cloth not only will you save $1,299 in five years but you’ll save about $2,500 in ten years – the savings will continually edge up the scale with time.
Also, at the regular grocery store I often see people with 8-packs of paper towels. Not everyone buys in bulk. If you don’t buy in bulk and are an excessive user it can cost you a lot more ($2.50 per roll is a typical mid-range cost at my grocery store). That’s about $1,800 in five years.
Saving the planet and saving money, by one simple change.
This is still a work in progress for us, and when we host people at our house, we do put the basket of flour sacks away in the cabinet.
I would love to know if you have tried this or something similar in your home.