You’ve got a sticky mess and so you reach for a paper towel – it’s quick, convenient, and requires no washing when you’re done. But the waste (environmentally and financially) of disposable paper products can be tremendous, making eco-friendly paper towels a much better choice if you’re looking for ways to cultivate a sustainable home.
Environmental impact of paper towels
Let’s start by running down why regular paper towels are a problem for the planet and your pocketbook:
- Wasted trees: 93% of paper is made using pulpwood from trees, and the U.S. cuts down 68 million trees yearly to produce paper products. That’s a lot of wasted trees which we need for making oxygen, filtering the air, regulating climate, protecting soil, and providing habitat for more than 80% of all amphibian species.
- Costly habit: The U.S. spends almost as much on paper towels as the rest of the world combined. Consider that if you spend $2 every week on things like paper towels, napkins, disposable mops and sponges, and other one-use cleaning supplies, you are literally throwing away more than $100 every year.
- Toxic chemicals: Processing wood pulp into paper products requires the use of toxic chemicals such as methanol, chlorine dioxide, formaldehyde, and toluene.
- Bleach and dioxins: Hydrochloric acid (bleach) is often used to whiten paper products (including paper towels), which means bleach is flushed into our waterways, where it can combine with organic compounds in the environment to form dioxins. These are carcinogenic, cause hormone disruption and immune system toxicity, and contribute to a whole host of other health problems including birth defects, increased risk of diabetes, and endometriosis.
Choosing a more eco-friendly paper towel
When it comes right down to it, reusable cleaning products are always more eco-friendly. They reduce the need for new resources being taken from the planet and, minimize energy & water consumption – and will save you money. Consider, for example, going with organic cotton towels as an eco-friendly alternative to disposable paper towels.
If you can’t live without disposable paper towels, however, definitely look into purchasing eco-friendly options that have any of the following characteristics:
- Processed Chlorine Free (PCF)
- Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)
- Plastic-free packaging
- 80%+ recycled content (recycled paper is eco-friendly, but be wary of trace amounts of BPA)
- Made from bamboo (helps avoid the BPA contamination issue)
Also, consider that every year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) releases a scorecard with up-to-date rankings of the most eco-friendly paper towels, facial tissues, and toilet paper.