Updated: Dec 23, 2019
Are you obsessed with paper towels? Well apparently you're not the only one! The Atlantic wrote an article in 2018 titled "Americans are weirdly obsessed with paper towels" and the numbers back it up. Out of every country in the world, we spend way more money on paper towels. In fact, we spend as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined!
That's a LOT of trash!
All of that paper towel use ends up making a lot of waste! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2015 we generated about 7.4 billion pounds of waste consisting of paper towels and other tissues (e.g. toilet paper). And if you've been putting your paper towels in the recycling...whoops. You need to officially stop that now (although it's always a good idea to check with your local recycling company first).
Paper towels typically can't be recycled because they don't have enough fiber in them to make into new paper. Wood fiber can only be processed a certain amount of times before it looses too much integrity. Paper towels are the last version of a paper product before it totally disintegrates and therefore shouldn't be placed in your recycling bin.
So all in all, we spend more money and waste more trees on paper towels than anyone else in the world. Weird, right?
This article is sponsored by Well Earth Goods. You can trust that all the opinions are my own and products are always carefully selected for review!
The solution? Paperless paper towels!
In order to avoid throwing out so many paper towels each year, I use paperless paper towels! They're made from cotton, similar size to a paper towel, and absolutely beautiful on my kitchen counter! Regular kitchen cloths will do, but I have found that often they are way bigger than the mess and therefore make me do a lot of laundry (I hate doing laundry if you recall!). Many regular kitchen towels also tend to just push around water and not actually soak it up.
My favorite paper towel alternative is the Unpaper Towels by Well Earth Goods! You'll probably recognize their name since I wrote an article recently about this Oregon based company offering zero waste supplies like shampoo cubes. The lovely paperless paper towels they provide are simple, effective, easily cleaned, and 100% cotton flannel.
These actually absorb water too!
What I hear most often from friends is that napkins and towels just don't soak up anything. We've all had that towel that basically pushes the water around on the counter without actually picking any of it up. It's frustrating! These paperless paper towels though really do the job. It feels like you are using a paper towel to wipe down the counter. But you throw it in the wash instead of the trash when you're done!
Worried about water usage?
You might think that using reusable paper towels that need to be washed would require a lot more water than paper towels - and I like how you're thinking about all environmental needs! It turns out though that it takes 2.5 gallons of water to create a half pound of paper towels which it roughly around the same amount that it takes to wash rags (or so some have calculated). So you don't have to worry that washing your paperless paper towels is going to deplete your water reserves any faster. And it has the added benefit of sending less to the landfill!
Ditch the last of your paper towels - in the compost!
Since you most likely can't recycle your paper towels, thankfully you can still compost them. Paper towels will easily break down in your backyard compost bin and many curbside programs (like Portland's and Seattle's) will accept them as well. So while you're using up the last of those disposable ones, make sure you aren't adding to the landfill!
Don't think you can give up paper towels? Think again!
Five years ago I started transitioning away from paper towels. I bought ONE roll and told Noah that it would have to last us the whole year (saved for those emergency greasy situations). I got away with using just traditional kitchen towels for cleaning up with the other messes. At the end of the year, it turned out we hadn't even gone through the whole roll! We had both been saving it for those times we really needed it, that we discovered that we didn't need them at all! Now we don't purchase any and just use our lovely Unpaper Towels to clean up all our cooking spills.
Projections show that global spending on paper towels is estimated to grow by 4% by 2022. Don't let your household be one of them! Switch to reusable paper towels!
What do you use to clean up your kitchen? Do you still use paper towels?