As she was raising three boys, I doubt my mom went an entire day without yelling “don’t wipe that with your shirt!” In terms of looks, she might have had a point. But at least the her boys weren’t using paper towels to wipe Kool-Aid off of the counter.

A Distinctly American Issue

Paper towels have become a poster-child for America’s throwaway culture. According to an article by The Atlantic, a study by Euromoniter International found that Americans spent $5.7 billion on paper towels for home in 2017.

That’s nearly nine times more than the $635 million France, the next top buyer, spent.

paper towels
Screenshot from The Atlantic article Americans Are Weirdly Obsessed With Paper Towels.

The same study found that Americans spent an average of $17.50 on paper towels per person. Norway, the next closest per capita spender, spent just $11.70 per person.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Tissue paper and towels (not including bathroom tissue) amounted to 3.7 million tons (1.4 percent of total MSW generation) in 2015.”

Once soiled, these items can’t be recycled (but can be composted) and often end up in landfills where they release methane as they decompose.

Paper towel facts from Creighton University:

  • It takes 17 trees and up to 20,000 gallons of water to make one ton of paper towels.
  • If every U.S. household replaced one roll of virgin fiber paper towels with ones made from 100% recycled content we could save 544,000 trees.

Paper products strain the environment from their production to their end-life. It’s time for Americans to focus on reusable paper products.

Check out these eco-friendly products in the Emeraldology Shop!

Alternatives to Paper Towels

Compost your waste

If you just aren’t ready to ditch paper products yet, focus on keeping them out of landfills. Soiled paper products can be composted at home or thrown in yard waste collection bins.

This method provides a more sustainable end life solution. However, it does nothing to slow the use of virgin materials to produce paper products.

Organic and recycled paper towels

Switch to recycled products, like those made by Seventh Generation. This B-Corporation makes a variety of household products using certified organic ingredients and recyclable packaging.

Certifications include Leaping Bunny, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Rainforest Alliance. Most major retailers carry Seventh Generation products.

While recycled products are a step in the right direction, they still require manufacturing, packaging and responsible disposal.

The Best Paper Towel Alternatives

paper towels alternative
Dot and Army’s Organic cotton napkins.

Use your shirt!

Just kidding – but that’s actually on the right track. Ditch single-use products completely by switching to reusable cloth napkins and rags.

This could be old cut-up shirts or dish rags. Or, it could be UNpaper Towels from Marley’s Monsters or cloth napkins from Dot and Army.

A set of 24 UNpaper Towels from Marley’s Monsters costs $54, while a 12 pack of Bounty Double Roll paper towels cost $19.89 on sale.

I’m not a math whiz, but even I can see that the Unpaper Towels – which can be washed and reused for many years – become the cheaper option after the third purchase of Bounty paper towels.

As with most products, the eco-friendly version may cost a little more up front, but pays for itself over time. Further, it replaces single-use products that stress our planet.

Feature photo by Richard Thijeratt on Unsplash.