After a spill or mess in the kitchen, many people instinctively reach for a roll of paper towels. Paper towels are incredibly commonplace, particularly in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that Americans spend more than $5.7 billion on them per year. However, while paper towels may be convenient, they are also damaging to the environment — and it’s important to look for more sustainable, reusable, and all around eco-friendly alternatives.
The Impact of Paper Towels
Paper towels are big business. Globally, we all spend more than $12 billion on paper towels each year, with spending projected to rise by four percent by 2022, according to data compiled by The Atlantic.
That’s a lot of paper towels — and a lot of waste!
As the Ocean Conservancy points out, “paper towels aren’t recyclable in the traditional sense.” Conventional paper towels are usually made from recycled paper pulp – which cannot be recycled again. Similarly, it is impossible in most places to recycle products that are wet or dirty.
As a result, paper towels are a major contributor to the more than 7 billion tons of paper waste that Americans dispose of each year. According to the EPA, paper products actually make up the largest share of municipal waste in the United States; it is estimated that the U.S. goes through 13 billion pounds of paper towels alone each year.
In addition to taking up space in landfills, paper towels impact the environment in other ways. Like other paper products, the production of paper towels can contribute to CO2 emissions; it is estimated that using two paper towels from a roll will have a carbon footprint of more than 15 grams of CO2. Collectively, this means that American paper towel use is arguably “equivalent to throwing out 270 million trees every year,” according to TerraPass. The manufacturing of paper towels is also a process that utilizes fuel and water, and which can contribute to deforestation — all of which can further exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.
Reusable, Earth-Friendly Paper Towel Alternatives
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce your use of paper towels — without losing any functionality in the kitchen!
If you’re worried about cleanliness, for instance, independent research from the Mayo Clinic found “no differences in the efficiencies of removing bacteria from washed hands when hands are dried using paper towels, cloth towels, warm forced air or spontaneous evaporation” — meaning that single-use disposable products offer no meaningful health or sanitation benefits.
Similarly, it is important to remember that Americans go through more paper towels than in any other country on Earth. As The Atlantic notes, people around the world already use a wide range of cleaning tools that make for sound paper towels alternatives — ranging from scrubbing brushes in Latin America, to cloth towels in the Middle East.
Looking for a little inspiration? Here are some of our favorite go-to paper towel alternatives:
- Reusable bamboo “paper” towels. Bamboo towels are an excellent, sustainable paper alternative. While they can be rolled, stored, and used just like conventional paper towels, bamboo sheets can be washed by hand or in the washing machine — meaning that you can use each sheet dozens and dozens of times. Even better, bamboo is incredibly sturdy and absorbent, making these towels better than classic paper towels for big messes or tough grease spots.
- Reusable dish cloths. When it comes to cleaning up spills or wiping down your countertops, reusable options are often not only better for the planet, they’re better for your kitchen. Consider investing in a set of Swedish dishcloths, which are super-absorbent, naturally odor-resistant, and made of eco-friendly cellulose and cotton. You might also want to look into gentle-yet-effective microfiber or bamboo towels.
- Biodegradable and tree-free paper towels. Instead of stocking up on classic paper towels, consider more modern versions — like these, which are reusable, absorbent, and naturally biodegradable, or these “tree-free” towels, which are made from fast-growing and 100% biodegradable grasses and come free of all chemicals, inks, and fragrances.
- Alternative sponges and scrubbers. Bamboo scrubbers and brushes, loofah sponges, walnut sponges, and cellulose sponges are all effective and earth-friendly cleaning tools that can be reused again and again.
Sweeping Dimensions: A Cleaning With a Conscience
Here at Sweeping Dimensions, we focus on handling all sorts of cleaning and housekeeping projects, so you can focus on the other things that matter to you.
A big part of that is making sure our clients’ wants and needs are met at all times. That’s why we make a point of always having sustainable and environmentally friendly cleaning solutions on hand and ready to use.
We also believe in passing along our green cleaning knowledge, whenever we can. We love to talk all things cleaning and organizing, including the strategies that can make taking care of your home a more sustainable practice. The more people we can bring together in our mission for a greener world, the better off our oceans, lakes, and rivers will be.
So, if you ever have a question about comparing cleaning products, or making a green switch in your home, don’t hesitate to get in touch – I am always happy to talk shop! At SDCS, we are sincerely passionate about these issues, dedicated to finding real solutions, and always eager to keep the conversation going.
Want to set up a green cleaning for your Chicago home? Don’t hesitate to reach out for your free estimate!
Looking to exchange ideas on reusable plastic alternatives, or share how you’re going to focus on sustainability this year? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch via email or on social media to let us know your thoughts.