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Greening Your House: Ditch The Paper Towels

The best way to create change is to start slowly and make small changes at a time. Take stock of your life and your house and decide what the easiest change would be to make. Do not make a second change until the first one becomes a habit. For me, the easiest change was to find a greener option to paper towels. The US uses nearly 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year. As a result, most of this paper ends up in our landfills. Paper towels are recyclable if they are clean. However, most kitchen messes are not compatible with recycling.

Environmental Impact

Paper Towels are one of the worst items for the environment. In February 2019 the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report called “The Issue with Tissue.” This report reviews manufacturing practices and rates companies by their eco-friendliness. The most popular brands use 100% virgin fiber and chlorine bleaching. This means that every role of towel is made directly from the harvest of a tree. After the tree is cut and mashed up it is bleached and treated with other chemicals. This table shows that the most popular brands have the worst environmental score:

NRDC Table on environmental score for paper towel brands.

Making paper means cutting down trees. The US paper industry cuts down over a million acres of forest every year to make household tissue (facial tissue, toilet paper and paper towels). Most of this land is located in the boreal forest regions of the northern US and Canada. This loss of forest is putting stress on many animal and plant species.

In addition, the boreal forest stores a lot of carbon dioxide. In fact, boreal forests store more carbon per acre than any other region on earth. Canada’s boreal forests remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as is created by 24 million passenger vehicles! This carbon is then stored in the soil and plants. Because of this, logging not only reduces the amount of plants that can absorb carbon, it also releases the carbon stored in the soil.

Better Choices

For more eco-friendly choices, use brands that have recycled content such as Trader Joe’s, Seventh Generation, and 365 Everyday Value . Some companies are making paper towels from bamboo and other crop grasses. While these brands have promise, the amount of chemicals that are used to grow the grass may undo any benefits. The greenest, cheapest, and best choice is to ditch paper towels entirely. The average person will use 100 rolls of paper towel per year. A brief look on Amazon shows me that a roll of paper towel costs between $1.25- $2 per roll. Giving up paper towels will save you almost $200 a year!

On the positive side there are other choices, such as cloth. Use regular kitchen towels, or cut up old clothes, or rags. If you make your own cloths choose natural fabrics such as cotton and linen, but if you are recycling old clothes, anything goes! Keep a small basket or box on your countertop, or hang one from under your upper cabinets just as you would for a roll of paper towel. Treasures by Sandra has developed an attractive, easy solution described at the end of this article.

The Germ Factor:

Recently, the cleanliness of using towels has been questioned. There is concern that towels breed germs and can be hazardous to our health. Washing with hot water regularly will keep germs to a minimum. In between washings, briefly soaking the towels in vinegar and hot water. Others suggest microwaving while damp for 20 seconds will also kill germs.

Some have also asked if cloths are good at removing bacteria from your hands. The Mayo Clinic conducted a study in 2000 to find which methods were best for germ reduction after washing hands. They studied were paper towel, cloth towel, or letting your hands air dry. The results were a draw. The study showed that each method removed the same amount of bacteria. In addition, when Stanford Magazine studied the environmental impacts of each method there were clear winners. Stanford Magazine’s published table shows air drying is a clear winner for the environment. Cotton towels ranked as the second ‘greenest’ method. Paper towels, even ones that are 100% recyclable are worse for the environment. Ordinarily, you can use a cloth towel will last for years before it is worn out.

Comparison of environmental impacts from different hand drying methods.

Un-Paper Towels

Treasures by Sandra has created a set of ‘un-paper towels’ as a paper towel alternative. Each set includes 30-12×12-inch linen or cotton squares. You can use these towels anywhere you would normally use a paper towel. The fabrics are lint free and are easy care. For example, you can wash them with the regular laundry. Then simply fold and put them back in the basket. My family started using these a few months ago and it was one of the easiest swaps we have made. I have posted the listing for these sets in the shop here: https://treasuresbysandra.com/product/re-usable-paper-towels/

Un-Paper Towels Available in the Shop








Sustainability Blogs

A Word About Sustainability

Sustainability is multi-faceted concept that has implications on every aspect of our lives. The basic definition is “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” This can refer to environmental sustainability, which is the most common use in popular parlance, but it can also refer to economic sustainability, and social sustainability. To be sustainable is to accept change, but to maintain a balanced existence. If we consider our world as resting on a stool supported by the pillars of environment, economics, and society you can see that we cannot impact one of the pillars without repercussions being felt in the other two. The earth is currently not operating in a sustainable fashion. Industries pollute the air and water, people are irresponsible with their trash, which ends up in the oceans, companies are focused on ever increasing profits to the extend that they cut staff, benefits for staff, environmental programs and any other ‘extra’ expenditure to maximize profits at the expense of the workplace culture. Conversely, attempts to raise the pillars of social and environmental issues will have negative repercussions on the economy. We need balance.

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If you have been following my blog you may have noticed the tagline: Going Green Doesn’t Have to be a Sacrifice. I believe that we have a responsibility to try and leave the planet a better place than when we arrived. I am very concerned that our current rates of consumption globally is unsustainable. For me, one of the most unsustainable products today is the dizzying array of plastics. The extraction of the crude oil to make plastics produces some of the worst rates of GHG emissions among industries. Plastics do not break down in the environment, meaning that they keep polluting for decades to hundreds of years, depending on the product. And to top it off, many of the plastics used is made for product packaging – not even an item in and of itself. Am I suggesting that we eliminate all plastics? No! The medical industry is very dependent on plastic products and to go back to using only metals and glass will come at the expense of patient comfort and a lot of added labor. The plastics used in car manufacturing allow the cars to be lighter weight, and hence more fuel efficient. I WOULD like to see the elimination of single-use plastic products of all types (straws, packaging, bottles, etc) and be replaced with items that are meant to be re-usable.

I read a great passage a few weeks ago. I wish I had saved it somewhere because I cannot recall the source, and have not been able to find it again. The passage stated that we do not need 1,000 people to be perfectly sustainable. We need 10 million people to do an OK job at it. This really resonated with me. I started to take stock of my own life and prioritize areas that I can make great improvements without it being too drastic of a shift. The products I provide through Treasures By Sandra are not meant to be the most eco-friendly versions of that product. They are meant to be sustainable. By this I mean that my raw materials are organic and fair trade as much as possible, I buy from local suppliers whenever I can, the packaging I use is meant to be re-usable and/or biodegradable, and they are good quality items that are effective. Over the next few weeks I will be posting on the individual products, what goes into making them, how I choose my raw materials, and why I consider the product to be sustainable.

What efforts do you make to be sustainable? Do you feel that sustainability is important in the home? Let me know in the comments!