Paper towels were invented by the Scott Paper Company in 1907. Initially, they were designed to be used as toilet paper, and not to be used for daily household use. Paper towels only came to be widely used as a cleaning tool in 1931.
Because paper towels have proven to be extremely convenient and effective, they are now used for basically everything from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to household windows and much more. Paper towels work to soak up large amounts of water because they are loosely woven together, allowing the water to travel between them. Manufacturers have introduced circles or shapes to maximize the effective absorption of liquids.
So what’s the issue you may ask? What do we need to know? While paper towels may be highly convenient we should stop and ask ourselves, what happens to the waste and how is the manufacturing of this product affecting our environment?
We were unable to find a Canadian source showing usage but we are able to show that in the US alone, 13 billion pounds (6,500,000 TONS) of paper towels are used each year. To manufacture one ton of paper towels requires the harvesting of 17 trees and the pollution of 20,000 gallons of water. This means that 110,500,000 trees are cut down each year and over 130 billion gallons of water are contaminated to satisfy the US demands for paper towel use alone.
We are not abdicating the use of paper towels nor are we suggesting that we will never use them. However, becoming conscious of the wide-spread effects of our consumerism on our global environment provides food for thought and grounds for future conscious decision choices. We could make a cumulative difference if we simply cut down on using paper towels, helping to sustain our environment and saving money in the process. Let’s try to use cloths (microfiber cloths are especially effective and of course reusable) or wet sponges as a replacement. Every little thing we do counts in creating a more sustainable and healthier environment where everyone stands to prosper.