Green Thursdays: Reducing My Paper Towel Waste

photo via Flickr by edkohler

Every Thursday I blog about green topics.  This week’s topic is paper towels.  I use far too many paper towels.  I use them to wipe up the little spills on the counters from making meals, I use them to wipe table after the kids eat, I use them to wipe the kids after they eat, I use them to make quesadillas in the microwave for lunch.  (We do love quesadillas around here.)   All in all, I probably go through two to three rolls a week.   Since they’re not recyclable,  I throw them all out.  It makes me cringe every time.  I just imagine that paper towel sitting in a landfill forever.

I read the article Going Paper Towel-less by Margie Monin Dombrowski.  In it, she gave some shocking statistics.

  • “As many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day.
  • The paper industry is the third largest contributor to global warming.
  • If every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of virgin fiber paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year. Change that 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.
  • Your typical paper towel is manufactured using chlorine, which releases carcinogenic dioxins and furans.”

That’s a lot of waste in my opinion.   The impact of just one less roll of paper towels is enormous.    I have decided to decrease the number of paper towels I use a couple of ways.  First, I am going to stop wiping my kid’s hands and faces with them.  I will use washcloths to do that.  Second, I found these great little e-cloths at my local Whole Foods.  I’m going to use them to do the majority of my kitchen wiping down.    They’re washable, reusable, and seem to be working well.  My kitchen appears every bit as clean as when I was using paper towels (and Clorox wipes sometimes, too.  I won’t even go into the chemical residue issue with those).

Using reusable cloths instead of paper towels also wastes less of my money.  As I’ve found with a lot of green living, it simply saves money.

Can’t commit to no paper towels, here are some ways you can still reduce the impact your paper towel use creates on the environment.  These are again from the article by Margie Monin Dombrowski.

Use recycled paper towels — If you must go the paper towel route, reach for the ones with recycled content. Many paper towels that are said to contain recycled content only come from mill scraps, so go for the ones that are both “post-consumer” (the higher the percentage the better)and recycled.

Towel dry — Using cloth towels saves more energy and creates less greenhouse gases compared to paper towels. They also last much longer and don’t get sent off to the landfill after a single use.

Compost them — As long as your paper towels are unbleached and chlorine-free, they are safe to toss into your compost bin, not the trash.”

I had no idea I could compost paper towels.  Although, I do think the ones I buy are not chlorine-free.  Yet another area to improve on for those times I do want a paper towel.  Do you use a lot of paper towels or are you already using alternatives?  Anyone make quesadillas on the stove?

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