Frank’s Patented Method for Kicking the Paper Towel Addiction

January 2, 2010 at 7:02 PM | Posted in Environmentally Friendly Living, Psychological Wellness, Rants | 1 Comment

This is a much shorter post than usual, so read it!  I was raised in a home that relied on paper towels to do everything: cleaning, drying hands off, cooking, sopping up spills, eating, you name it. It never occurred to me as a child to think anything of it. It was easy, convenient, and it seemed that we could afford it at the time. Of course, I never considered the immense amount of waste it produced, and I wasn’t paying for it.

Used Paper Towels

Eliminate that unecessary paper towel waste by strategically using real towels.

Now that I’m off on my own and I’ve become much more sensitive to environmental interests, I realize that’s a really bad plan. But how do you stop? Once you have gotten used to the convenience of mass paper towel use, how do you give that up and still get things done as neatly and effectively? Well, that’s where I come in.

The system is very simple. First, think of all the things you use paper towels for. You probably use them to clean off counter tops, dry off dishes (maybe?), drying your hands after you wash them, etc. One of the chief reasons people are concerned with using real towels instead of paper towels is the spread of germs and viruses. There are a number of ways around it.

White Hand Towels

A supply of simple white hand towels is suggested.

First, I suggest you buy yourself a good supply of white hand towels – not dish rags, they aren’t big enough. I suggest white because they go along with a lot of color schemes, they can be bleached and they show when they are dirty better than a colored towel. One problem I’ve always run into with colored towels is that as they age, they tend to take on a mildew smell that is extremely difficult to remove and completely unappealing. The bleach when you wash your white towels will prevent this from ever happening.

Now, you need to designate two or three towels for each job in the kitchen. Use one for drying hands off, one for drying dishes and one for cleaning off counter tops. This ensures that the spread of germs from dishes and counter tops is kept off of hands. Easy enough, right? On top of that, you can change any or all of these towels daily. Practically, what you do is change the hand towel quite a bit more often than the dish or counter towel. If you have a large family or one that does a lot of cooking, you could probably justify changing them more often. It also means you can let small food particles left on the counter go onto the towel without any worries – shake them off later when the towel is dry if you’re worried about them getting into your laundry.

It’s also worth mentioning that you need to find a place to hang the towel so it’s not bunched up. This helps the towels dry as quickly as possible so you need not worry about unappealing mildew smells building up in short periods of time.

Bad Idea

Hanging the towel from the fridge handle: bad idea.

Good Idea

Hanging the towel neatly from a stove handle: good idea

Your old paper towel holder, if it’s the type with a dowel that hangs on the wall, is also a great place to store a towel being used.

Now, I’m no idealist. I realize that sometimes you’re simply going to have to use a paper towel. Sometimes messes are simply not something you’d want in the laundry or too nasty to send there. For that reason, I keep paper towels around just in case. If you want an idea of just how effective this method is, let me demonstrate: I live with four guys on a college campus with one kitchen between us. We share a set of dishes and we keep the kitchen really clean. In six months, we’ve gone through just three (3) rolls of paper towels. We could have even gone through less as I caught myself and others using paper towels at times for jobs that regular towels could have easily handled. There’s a goal for you to shoot for.

When you DO buy paper towels, buy the ones made from recycled paper. There’s a really good brand called the Seventh Generation. They produce both paper towels and toilet paper, white and brown. If you go with white, they bleach their towels without harsh chemicals. However, I suggest going with the brown ones simply because they leave less chemical residue behind and require less processing. The Seventh Generation products are slightly more expensive than regular paper towels and toilet paper, but with the money you won’t be spending on a regular supply of paper towels, you can more than cover the extra cost, and you’ll be doing the environment a HUGE favor (regular toilet paper and paper towels are normally made from virgin wood – not recycled paper – thus requiring more resources to make and having a much larger impact on the environment).

Of course, you can take this idea as far as you want to. You can feel even better about your real towel usage if you buy organic cotton towels. That way, you’re supporting farmers who are doing the right thing AND doing the right thing in your very own kitchen.

There you have it. If you use my system, it will work. It should put you on the road to throwing away a lot less waste, spending roughly $10-20 less per month on unnecessary kitchen supplies and feeling better about your lifestyle. You can know that you’re doing a small favor with a huge impact. Here are some quick statistics, taken from a website called A Lighter Footprint:

  • About 12 million barrels of oil and 14 million trees go to paper and plastic bag prodution annually in the United States.
  • Per capita solid waste production is roughly 4.4 pounds daily.
  • Americans use more than 67 million tons of paper per year – about 580 pounds per person.
  • Americans send 3,000 tons of paper towels to landfills each day. If your household uses a roll of paper towels per week, you could save more than $100 per year by switching to dishcloths and tea towels.
  • Approximately 40% of the solid waste mass that makes up our landfills are paper and cardboard.

You can see just how far your paper towel use reaches, and how much of a difference it makes to make this simple, easy switch.  Trust me, it might be difficult or unfamiliar at first, but it becomes second nature in just a week or two, maybe even less.

Have a heart - save some trees.

Getting off the paper towel fix (especially if they're not made from recycled paper) will save a LOT of trees and oil in the end.


1 Comment »

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  1. I really like your blog, tone and attitude. Great job. I read about the tooth soap and I think I’m going to invest in a jar for fun.

    Thanks! Great rain garden post too.


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