I was a paper towel addict.
There. I said it. It runs in my family. Mom’s side.
A kitchen without paper towels? No satisfying whir of the paper towel holder and near perfect tear of soft absorbent cloth along its perforation? A life without the instant gratification of soaking up a spill, as if it never happened? Impossible.
As I grew older and wiser, I became more and more conscious of my impact on the environment. It didn’t take an intervention to get me off of paper towels, just the knowledge that ancient and endangered forests are being destroyed to make paper towels (not to mention tissue paper, napkins and other disposable paper products). The trees that absorb some of the CO2 we humans put out into the atmosphere and breathe out the oxygen we breathe.
And how could I ignore these paper towel stats?
- To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed.
- Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the US alone.
- Decomposing paper towels produce methane gas. Methane gas is a leading cause of global warming.
- The average person uses 2,400 – 3,000 paper towels at work, in a given year.
- If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of virgin paper towels with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 544,000 trees!
Source: People Towels
How to to overcome paper towel addiction:
It’s a challenge. Especially if you grew up, like I did, with an endless supply of paper towels and just as many uses for them. But, with a little support, it can be done.
The first step was to keep a couple of rags under the sink to clean up floor spills. And another rag (in a different color) for counter messes.
While in transition, I still had a regular sponge, but added microfiber cloths for windows, mirrors, and our stainless steel appliances. There were a few training issues when it came time for my family to make the leap and, yes, I dabbled in paper towels here and there, just to get rid of the supply.
But once I dropped that last paper towel into the garbage, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment. I retired the paper towel holder to a spot under the kitchen sink… way in the back. I thought about donating this stylish contraption, but wouldn’t that make me an enabler?
It was a little strained the first time my mom—a paper towel addict in denial—came over and my son spilled some ketchup on the floor. She began searching high and low, becoming more and more desperate—out of breath as she flung open the last few cabinet doors. “Are you out of paper towels?!” she demanded, sweat forming on her upper lip.
That’s when my son blurted out, “We don’t use paper towels, Grandma! They kill trees!”
Stunned silence. My mom caught my dad’s eye with raised eyebrow. Then she looked at me. It was the same look she gave me at the beginning of my microwaving-could-be-dangerous phase (no longer a phase, although on rare desperate occasions you might find me using it for a 20 second thaw of a bagel). But I had hard facts this time. Hard facts from reputable sources. It was my decision and I stood my ground. No more paper towels.
I didn’t even try to convert my mom. She eventually made the switch when she realized how much money she could save.
All of us may need a paper towel now and then. Especially all of you moms and pet owners out there. (Yes, I own them and use them occasionally to clean up cat vomit.)
But to eliminate paper towels from every day use is a giant, admirable step in the right direction. An easy way to count for the earth and just one more way to green your kitchen!
Photo credit: Seth Tisue
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations
Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.