Most paper products are made from wood fibre, created by breaking down wood or recycled paper products into pulp to create new ones. It should not be a shock to hear paper towels are also created in this way, and like most other paper products, they are sourced from a forest at some point.
Deforestation is a huge contributor to climate change, ecosystem disruptions, and loss of wildlife, partially caused by human need for paper products. National Geographic says it best when discussing why we need trees and the importance of forests, “they absorb not only the carbon dioxide that we exhale, but also the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that human activities emit”. Trees are one of the important keys to slowing climate change, and currently 30% of the Earth’s land is tree covered. However, these forests are disappearing faster than reforestation is happening. Everyday, about 200,000 acres of rainforest is lost.
Paper towels are part of a wasteful habit people of the modern world continue to have. In the US in 2020, more than 150 million people said they used more than 5 rolls of paper towels in their house every 30 days. Globally every year, used paper towels create an unnecessary 254 million tons of landfill waste. This can be lowered, with everyone’s help.
Although some paper towels are compostable, it is still a single use item, and most often paper towels do not end up in the compost, taking up space in landfills around the world.
Most paper towels and facial tissues are made from virgin paper, which means it is made using new wood fibre and does not contain any recycled paper in its material make up.
Paper towels are also easy to replace with reusable alternatives, some of which you probably already use in your household. We didn’t always use single use items like these, and it is time to revert back to reusable options.
Tea Towels & Dish Cloths
This is an item you most likely already have in your house and use everyday. Clothes and tea towels can simply be used as paper towels as well as for washing and drying dishes. They are incredibly multipurpose and should be used for the many things they are designed to do.
Cloth napkins are a reusable version of a paper napkin, washable in the washing machine after use, and very easy to source. They are often made of soft materials like bamboo or cotton flannel and meant for use on faces and hands. They can double as reusable tissues and for wiping up messes.
This option is nice for its handmade nature, and is typically made from cotton yarn. Great for cleaning counters and cleaning other surfaces with the textured knit.
Great for picking up dirt and easily washable, these cloths can substitute for jobs done by paper towels including dusting, cleaning messes, and sanitizing counters (with a cleaning agent). The only downside to microfibre cloths is the synthetic material they are made from.
Made from natural cotton materials, these are eco friendly alternatives to dish cloths and paper towels. They are not prone to developing smells, soak up messes like a sponge, and can be washed easily by hand or in the washing machine. They are also biodegradable for when they do become exhausted.
These are made and marketed to be used as paper towels. They are usually the same size as a paper towel but are instead a reusable version that can be placed on a roll in the kitchen. In my opinion, they are just like tea towels, dish cloths, or any of the other options above, but seeing as they help cut the single use paper towel habit, they are a win!
These 6 alternatives to paper towels can significantly decrease the use of paper towels in a household. This is not to say you would never use a paper towel again. Low waste living isn’t perfect, but requires everything in moderation. The average roll of household paper towel weighs about 10 ounces, meaning 3,200 rolls of paper towel make up one ton. And, one ton of paper towel is equal to 17 trees. Even if every person in Canada used one roll less a year, we would save 201, 875 trees from being cut down. Small actions do make a difference. So reduce that paper towel and replace it with sustainable alternatives.
The next time you wipe your counter, use a reusable cloth and skip the paper towel.
During dinner, set the table using reusable cloth napkins, OR really any small towel/cloth will do.
When you have an accidental spill, soak it up with a cellulose cloth or towel.
Move your paper towel roll to a hidden cupboard and place 3-4 folded cloths in the place the paper towel was before. The next time you turn to use paper towel, a cloth will be there instead.
Wash and switch out your cloths often to avoid unwanted odours.
Designate certain cloths for the jobs you would do with paper towel.
Slowly reduce your paper towel use, and when you run out, you may find you don’t need to buy any!