Sure, paper towels are super convenient but man, not only are they harmful to the environment, they are super wasteful so what is the best way to reduce paper towel use? How do we stop using paper towels?
Don’t buy them. It’s that simple.
We could end right here but I’m pretty sure just not buying paper towels isn’t going to fully solve this problem for you.
Not only are paper towels a waste of money, you’re literally throwing money in the trash, the manufacturing of them requires tearing down trees, chemicals, electricity and polluting of water. None of which is healthy or sustainable for the planet.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably thought to yourself at some point:
- why do paper towels cost so much
- are anti-bacterial wipes harmful
- I wish I didn’t have to carry a pack of wipes in my purse/bag, they weigh a lot
- why does my family use so many damn paper towels
- what store is having a sale on paper towels
- the damn paper towel shortage of 2020
- paper towels are so wasteful but what are my options
Believe me, we’ve all been there. We’ll get to what to use instead of paper towels in a hot minute.
If you’ve been wondering if paper towels were harmful to the environment, they are and here’s why.
What is the Environmental Impact of Paper Towels?
From start to finish, paper towels take a heavy toll on the environment.
- 17 trees are cut down to make 1 ton of paper towels
- 20,000 gallons of water is polluted in the manufacturing of 1 ton of paper towels
- 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used, just in the US, every year
- 51,000 trees are cut down daily to support North America’s paper towel habit
- globally, 254 Million tons of trash come from paper towel usage per year
- if every US household used 1 less 70 sheet roll of paper towels, 544,000 trees would be saved
Are paper towels recyclable?
No, they are not. Paper towels are made of very short paper fibers that prevent them from being used again. Also think of what you use paper towels to clean up. Many times it’s something that has bacteria on it which could cause a health issue if you were to reuse them.
Are paper towels compostable?
If the paper towels are unbleached, chlorine free and haven’t been used with harmful chemicals, they can be composted in a home compost system. However, due to the sheer quantity most households use, they’d probably need to be sent to a commercial composting facility.
What happens to paper towels in a landfill?
Lack of air flow in landfills results in the production of methane which is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Why We Should Use Less Paper Towels
Aside from the environmental statistics I shared above, just think of how much money they cost, money that could be used for something more fun and worthwhile.
Industry estimates put average household paper towel use at about 1.5-2 rolls per week.
If we assume the average cost of a roll of paper towel is $1.50 that puts the average family at wasting (I mean spending) anywhere from $79.50 to $156 every year on paper towel.
Arguably that may not seem like much but if your family is on a tight budget, that money could be well spent on something else.
Over 5 years, the amount saved could be worth a couple car payments!
How To Reduce Paper Towel Use
I get asked this question a lot, how can I reduce paper towel usage or basically how can I stop using paper towels all together.
You could simply not buy them, before 1879 people survived without them. So we’ve come a long way since then but it is possible to get by without them.
Rather than just cut them out cold turkey (which is an option), how about for the next month, make note of everything you use them for. You bought a ginormous pack of them at Costco, is your family using them to:
- dry hands
- wipe mouths
- clean counters
- wipe up spills
- use instead of a plate
- wrap food in
- put underneath a cold drink to catch the ‘sweat’
- clean windows, mirrors, granite, stainless steel
- wrapping herbs in to store in the fridge
- use instead of baby wipes or anti-bacterial wipes
How else are you using them? Honestly, I think most people use them out of habit…it’s just the thing to reach for in so many situations.
Once you realize how you are using them, you can find a better solution.
I promise you when you stop buying them and just keep a roll on hand for who knows what but that roll is hidden, your family will figure out a solution. Ask me how I know.
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Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives
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You want to reduce paper towel use, you know why paper towels are bad for the environment but what are some reusable paper towel alternatives that are easily available that won’t cost a fortune?
Use them to dry hands? Use a cloth towel instead.
Use one to put your bagel or toast on? Use a ceramic or plastic plate instead.
Use them to wrap food in? Use a reusable container instead.
For everything cleaning related, it’s time to find a more sustainable, reusable option.
There are a variety of reusable options to use in place of paper towels for cleaning. My favorite is the Norwex Counter Cloths, let me tell you why.
- they are made of microfiber and remove up to 99% of bacteria from a hard surface when following proper care and use instructions
- super absorbent – 1 Counter Cloth will soak up 1 cup of water – it takes 8 select a size paper towels to do that
- unique weave (reminds me of popcorn) absorbs spills quickly
- each one is roughly the same size as a name brand select a size piece of paper towel
- set is made from 70% recycled microfiber yarn, the equivalent of two 500ml plastic bottles
- contain BacLock which prevents mold and mildew from growing in them
- dry quickly
- OEKO-TEX certified
- the 3 pack comes in different colors so each family member knows which is theirs (if you use them as napkins)
- they come with a 2 year warranty although I’ve been using mine longer
How I Use Norwex Counter Cloths:
- wipe up spills
- use damp to wipe hands and faces (in lieu of napkins)
- wipe out bathroom sink after each use so I don’t have to clean it as often
- wrap around a pint of ice cream (we all know those are single serve, right) so hands don’t get cold
- pack (damp) in kids lunch boxes to wipe hands and mouths
- put a damp one in the freezer and use as a cold neck wrap in the hotter months
- clean up messes instead of using anti-bacterial wipes
- instead of baby wipes when we’re on the go (how much does that pack of wipes in your bag weigh, right!?!)
It’s super easy to start using cloth towels for things like drying hands but really I haven’t found a cloth towel that reliably absorbs water, most of them absorb some and push the rest around.
When it comes to cleaning, cloth towels aren’t really a great option because you have to wash them as soon as your done using them.
Sponges aren’t an option because well, they’re just little petri dishes of bacteria that smell. Not to mention you can’t ever really get them clean and experts recommend tossing them every week so that’s not sustainable for the environment or your wallet.
What if you could stop using all the paper towels and stop using the sprays and cleaners and just effectively clean your home with a microfiber cloth and water? That’s why I choose to use Norwex.
Head here to give these Counter Cloths a try.