Ocean Currents

Paper Towels – What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

Credit: Ugglan flickr user

In the United States alone, 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year. Imagine if we collectively worked together to reduce our use of paper towels. The amount of non-recyclable paper trash that ends up in our landfills, environment and ocean could be reduced by the billions. There are few times such a small change can have such a measurable impact.

Not a small change, you say? Worried about germs, you moan? Let’s have a look at the facts:

Fact 1: In 2000, the Mayo Clinic conducted one of the few independent studies evaluating paper towels, cloth towels, hand blowers, and good old air drying. Researchers contaminated participants’ hands and then instructed them to wash with soap and water. Afterward, they had them run their hands under a warm air dryer for a single 30-second cycle, use a cloth or paper towel for 15 seconds, or let them air dry. The scientists found no differences in the efficiencies of removing bacteria from washed hands when hands are dried using paper towels, cloth towels, warm forced air or spontaneous evaporation.

Fact 2: According to the EPA, paper makes up the largest share of municipal waste in the US. Looking for a way to reduce your use in the bathroom? Check out Joe Smith’s technique for a one-towel method.

Fact 3: Paper towels aren’t recyclable in the traditional sense. Paper towels are often made from recycled paper pulp – a non-recyclable product. Then, they are often dirty or wet when we are done with them, which degrades them further and makes them non-recyclable.

Still not convinced? Why not try this experiment – track your paper towel use for one week, making sure to include both actions at home and work. Then, try to reduce that number by 25% the following week. That means if you’re like the average person referred to in Smith’s hand washing video and use four paper towels to dry your hands, try to reduce it to three. I’m guessing you’ll be able to do better than that and go all the way down to one, but you be the judge.

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