Saying Goodbye to Paper Towels

by on May 17, 2012 · 9 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, San Diego

By John P Anderson / WalkingMissEva

One item our family has given up is our use of paper towels. It took some sweet-talking, but after I got Amelia’s ok it has been smooth sailing and got rid of one of the items that we regularly threw out in the garbage.

In our efforts to be more environmentally friendly we’ve tried to take a look at the items that go into our recycling and trash cans and determine how we can eliminate or reduce those items. Paper towels were an early and somewhat obvious choice. For the following reasons we decided to get rid of paper towels:

  • Single-use – after using a paper towel there is no opportunity to reuse, and usually no opportunity to recycle either.
  • Cost – although paper towels are not an expensive item per unit (around $1 or $2 each) it is a cost that can be almost entirely eliminated by using reusable cloth towels. Cloth towels have a similar, or often lower, up-front cost, but can be reused many, many times (we haven’t yet discarded one in about a year and half of use).
  • Readily available alternative – Cloth towels / tea towels have been around for many, many years and are more durable than paper towels. We use these towels to dry dishes, clean off the table and countertops, and for any other kitchen cleaning need. It is also easy to add cute animal designs, as you can see here.
  • Lower environmental impact – paper towels are usually not made from recycled materials and utilize a number of chemicals in their production including chlorine related dioxins (from the bleaching process to make paper towels white). We use an environmentally friendly detergent to wash our cloth towels and the usable life is long – I would guess at least 2 or 3 years per towel.

We put out a new cloth towel every day or two, and put the used towel in the laundry to wash with our clothes. When the towels are too worn for use in the kitchen we plan to use them for cleaning around the house.

Suggested action steps:

  • Stop purchasing disposable paper towels and enjoy the cost savings
  • Purchase a set of 6 to 12 cloth towels to use in your home. We do keep a paper towel roll (non-bleached recycled paper towels) in a cabinet in case we have blood, motor oil, or some other harsh material to clean up but have rarely had to use them and have had the one roll for about a year now.

John P Anderson writes for his blog WalkingMissEva and promises “Sustainability served daily. Or at least semi-regularly.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie May 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hey Ragsters and readers: please welcome John P Anderson and check out his great blog.


avatar John Anderson May 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Thanks for the introduction Frank and excited to be a contributor to the Rag.


avatar doug porter May 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm

welcome. may you have much to say and be heard by many people.


avatar John Anderson May 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Thanks Doug! Hope you have a great day and looking forward to being part of the Rag community in the future.


avatar patty jones May 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Welcome John!

Paper towels are one of my pet peeves. We have a whole drawer full of cloth towels in the kitchen. Someone asked me once about wasting water to wash them but I know paper production uses lots of water too and at least my towels don’t end up in the landfill. We try to use cloth instead of paper napkins but are not always as successful…


avatar John Anderson May 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Thanks Patty!

They were never really a pet peeve for me, but when we were looking for ways to simplify and cut down on the amount of items go in the trash it was an easy one to cut out.

It does take water to clean cloth towels, but if you add them to laundry you’re already doing it doesn’t add to the amount you’re using. If you have a greywater system you can utilize your washing machine water (and sinks, showers, and baths) to water your yard. Additionally, using cloth towels reduces the trash from the paper towels replaced but also the packaging from the paper towels (plastic wrap), the packaging they were shipped to the store in (likely cardboard or a larger plastic wrap), the transportation energy to get the paper towels to the store, and the transportation energy to go to the store and take the waste to the recycling center or landfill.

Good luck with the napkins – keep it up, every little bit helps!


avatar Linda Lannon May 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Hey John,
We’re with you all the way when it comes to paper towels. In fact, we’ve created a sustainable, on-the-go alternative to paper towels called PeopleTowels. Tons of single use paper towels are consumed at work. Just about everyone in Japan carries a personal hand towel instead of using paper towels in public. We should as well. B.Y.O.Towel to save trees and reduce waste!


avatar John Anderson May 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm


That is awesome! I wasn’t familiar with this product before but checked out the website and the PeopleTowels look fantastic. I’ll definitely be bringing my own towel in the future (along with my mug, bottle, and bag) to say no to ‘the disposable life’.

Take care!


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