Why Paper Towels Are Bullsh*t

FUN FACT: More than 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year in the USA, amounting to 40 pounds – the equivalent of 80 rolls – per person, per year. (That's one roll every four and a half days for every man, woman and child.)


Let's take it further.


So if each year in the US ,13 billion pounds of paper towels are being used, that means that we're chopping down 110 million trees per year and using 130 billion gallons of water, (nevermind the carbon footprint of producing and then transporting all of these paper towels). All of this happens without us even thinking about it. For the sake of "convenience".


Every time I ask someone the question "why do you still use paper towels?", I get a few responses that are pretty similar across the board. So let's think about this and break it down! This will be fun because it's always good to learn about new things AND it's always good to self-reflect.


MAIN REASONS THAT PEOPLE LOVE PAPER TOWELS:

  • convenience

  • easy to grab and toss

  • great absorption

  • "they decompose"

You didn't really ask, but you did click the link to get to this post- so here are my thoughts on this.


The main reason paper towels are "convenient" is because you keep them on your kitchen counter within an arms' reach. They're close to you and easy to grab. And usually they really are wicked absorbent.


These are where the paper towels would have been.

But the average roll of (quality) paper towels costs $2.50, and you usually buy them in packs of 8. Let's say, just for arguments' sake, that you get an 8-pack of paper towels for $20. Minimum wage in Maryland is $10/hour. Average just-graduated-out-of-college hourly income is around $12-15 /hour. What I'm hearing is that if you're a paper towel buyer, you're willing to spend TWO HOURS OF YOUR LIFE working- simply because you are in the habit of buying paper towels. TWO HOURS. So we can acknowledge that that probably isn't "convenient". What really is so convenient about paper towels? It MUST be the grab, use, and toss. Because they certainly aren't highly affordable.


All of this, for something that you use for an average of 5 seconds.


My argument against the grab, use, and toss explanation: you can grab, use, and toss (into a separate kitchen laundry bag) any old rag. Listen to me. RAGS ARE NOT GROSS. They're literally small towels. Paper towels are poser towels. You guys, please be open-minded towards me here. If you have a stack of folded "kitchen towels" (or rags, but i'm trying to rebrand them), and they're kept exactly where you would have kept paper towels, you HAVE the convenience of an easy to grab absorbent material. We keep a little laundry bag in our kitchen, and every 2 weeks we just do a quick load of all the rags. How is that gross? I promise you, our laundry detergent works.


We just throw dirty cloths in that hanging bag!


GREAT ABSORPTION ARGUMENT:


...they're named after towels. The real ones. The ones you can reuse. Real towels are absorbent. Enough said.


THE DECOMPOSE ARGUMENT:


Sing it with me from the rooftops: paper materials can't "decompose quickly" if they're trapped in plastic bags. This is my biggest gripe. Simply because something is made of decomposing material doesn't mean it will decompose in the timeline we expect. The issue here is how we're disposing of these paper towels. If you go out into your yard and dig a hole and bury your paper towel, yes- it will probably decompose in about two weeks. But do ya? Usually what we see is that paper towels are thrown into PLASTIC garbage bags. They're then tossed on top of other plastic bags into... a landfill. They won't touch "organic dirt" a loooonnnggggggggg time. Each plastic trash bag you send to the landfill will take anywhere between 10-20 YEARS to break down (notice I didn't say decompose, yes I'm talking micro-plastics), and even then- the methane released in this process is hideous for the environment.


The plastic film that your bulk paper towels come in? Also never decomposes, but after 20 or 30 years it will break down into more microplastics. So I guess what we mean is that "paper towels are convenient for ME." Not for the future generations, not for the planet, not for the ozone. We're creatures of habit- and I recognize that. I'm a reformed paper towel user, but before last year I went through my fair share of Bounty. I'm trying to retrain my brain. Single-use, throw away items are a waste of time, money, and resources. They're instantly gratifying, and we as consumers allow ourselves to be dependent on products that serve us no long-term value. I make rags out of old t-shirts, because they're free. My grandma knits them. You can buy wicked cute sets of them if you want your stuff to match. You can divide your cloths into cleaning rags (bathroom), cleaning rags (kitchen), dishrags, cloth napkins, and hand towels. Like, you don't have to use the same rag for everything. Here, let me show you.


Nothing fancy, just reusable rags at an arms reach.

Most of these thoughts never would have occurred to me before I got focused on creating less waste. There are so many instances where it's MORE convenient to use reusable items instead of single-use. Paper towels, paper napkins, single-use cutlery, solo cups, all of this stuff. It's all bullsh*t. Stop saying yes to everything and start acting like you give a damn.


We honestly don't HAVE to go with the flow. If you have the privilege of time, even spare time to read a random blog post, then you have the time to consider replacing single-use items in your home. Start with paper towels. It'll literally take seconds, and you'll save money AND lessen your impact on our environment! You got this. (really, you got this).


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