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.
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:
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.
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.
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/