Last week's tip (reducing food waste) also came in the form of a challenge for me and since it has been quite eye-opening for me I am going to continue that trend and make this week's tip a challenge for me too. Getting rid of our paper towel habit has been on my mind for quite some time, maybe six months. What that really means is I've been putting off this challenge for six months. The truth is I like the convenience of paper towels. They make life so much easier!!!! But they also have several more important cons.
To tackle this challenge I had to do some research. The first thing I wanted to find out was "Will it really make a difference?" I know it will make a minor (but still important one when I have to purchase them) impact on my budget, but I wanted to know what the environmental consequences of using paper towels were. Here is what I discovered:
- According to the EPA 3,460,000 tons of tissues and paper towels wound up in landfills in 2008. Oh my, did you notice that the figure is in tons. That is equal to 6,920,000 pounds!!!! That is over 2 lbs. of paper towels and tissues per person. I did a little experiment and weighed a paper towel on my food scale and it would take approximately as many paper towels as there are days in a year to equal two pounds. So really, one a day doesn't seem like much, but when it is everyone in the country the amount of waste becomes enormous! I'm not even sure my statistics are right either, because I think I use more than one paper towel a day and I try to use them very judiciously.
- As many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day.
- If every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of virgin fiber paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year. Change that to using three less rolls per U.S. household per year, and that would save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees. I would like to add, if we reduce our consumption/demand for paper towels we are also reducing the demand to transport them, which means we are using less oil and causing less air pollution. Is that a trifecta of environmentalism or what!?!?!
- An immense amount of water is used to make paper towels. According to Wiki Answers (I know this isn't the best source, but I could find so little on this topic) you would need 38-50 gallons of water to produce one pound of paper towels. Quick quiz - How many pounds of paper towels and tissues did the EPA say were going to landfills (hint: see above)? You do the math, almost 7 million pounds times 38 gallons of water (we will be safe and play it conservatively) equals how much wasted fresh water?
- When paper rots in our landfills it emits methane which contributes to global warming.
What does this all mean for me and hopefully you...Well I'm headed to Kohl's to use my 30% of coupon I just got in the mail and I am going to buy a few more hand towels and some fancy (at least for me) new cloth napkins. I'm going to hide the paper towels and make it harder for us to get them. I will likely try newspaper as my medium to clean windows and mirrors. I heard that worked. I also will need to buy one of those plastic toppers you can use in the microwave to cover your food so it doesn't splatter all over the place. What tips do you have for me to reduce my consumption? I would love to hear from you.