Why and How to Stop Using Paper Towels

Oh, those handy little perforated white pieces of magic – cleaning up spills and messes for decades. They are perfect for dusting, blowing your nose, wiping down windows, picking up icky messes, drying off surfaces. How simple! Just tear off a piece, dry your hands, and …..toss it in the trash to live in a landfill until it decomposes. Oh, the life of a tree. Yep! Paper towels come from trees. It’s a paper product, afterall.

Some quick facts:

• Approximately 20,000 gallons of water and 17 trees are needed to make one ton of paper towels. That’s a lot of mess to clean up!

• Paper towel use costs the environment and our wallet. Paper towel use in the US is a 6 billion dollar market. Throwing them away costs millions of dollars of landfill dumping fees, too. 

• We would have to plant 51,000 trees/day to replace the number of paper towels that are thrown away each day.

• The most recent data from EPA in 2014 shows that paper products accounted for 14.3% of landfilled MSW, or 19.47 million tons.

So, are you still using paper towels, or have you reached for that handy kitchen rag, yet?

Ending your paper towel use is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste in your home and on the go.

Here are five easy ways plus one to reduce your daily paper product waste.

1. Replace your paper towels with reusable kitchen rags.

The easiest way to stop using paper towels is to stop buying them. Kitchen rags and bar rags are absorbent enough to clean up any and all messes – dusting, drying dishes, drying hands, wiping down windows and cabinets, cleaning up spills – you get the point.

SAHMs, did your grandmother or great-grandmother always wear an apron around the house? Wearing skirt aprons are incredibly handy for drying hands and wiping up spills. This may make you feel more like a housewife or nanny, but I never realized how convenient there are until I slipped one on one afternoon while I was making cookies – I didn’t reach for a rag once!

2. Use reusable napkins at meal times.

Again, kitchen rags work wonderfully as napkins – they don’t tear, they have a much bigger surface area than napkins, and they are washable! If you prefer something a little prettier, you can always invest in reusable napkins instead. Although, they aren’t nearly as absorbent as rags.

3. Carry a hanky with you. 

This might be a difficult habit to pick up, but a great way to reduce your paper product waste. Instead of reaching for a tissue or roll of toilet paper when you have a runny nose, carry around a hanky. You will look super classy pulling a hanky from your purse or pocket. Plus, they are great for drying sweaty hands, armpits, foreheads, and necks on-the-go. 

4. Rethink grabbing that wad of napkins while you dine out.

It’s so easy to pull a wad of napkins at the fast food restaurant or gas station bathroom – heck you can save them for later! But, it’s also super wasteful. Carry around a hanky or rag while traveling or running around town. If carrying around a rag sounds unpleasant to you, then only take ONE napkin when you NEED one – don’t grab them all willy nilly.

5. Use the air dryer in the bathrooms. 

A lot of places don’t even have paper towels in their bathrooms, anymore. But for places that do, consider using the hand dryer, instead. Yes, it may take a tiny bit longer to dry your hands, but you will feel better about reducing waste and not adding to the mound of wadded up paper towels falling from the trash bin. 

6. Consider ditching toilet paper.

Ew, yuck, what?! I’m not there yet, either. But, after switching to cloth diapers and wipes for my kid, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to just throw them in the wash. Try investing in a few dozen reusable wipes and a bidet, which you may already have if you cloth diaper.

Have any of these methods worked for you? What are other ways to reduce your paper towel and product waste? Tell me in the comments below.

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