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Trash talk: The shocking truth about our beloved paper towels

All Areas > Environment > Save the Planet

Author: Hannah Basnett, Posted: Monday, 26th February 2024, 09:00

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we often overlook the environmental impact of seemingly innocuous items, one of which is the ubiquitous paper towel.

Recently, during a waste audit at one of my jobs, I delved into the contents of our trash bins and, to my dismay, discovered that a significant portion of our waste comprised single-use paper towels.

Curiosity led me to investigate the ecological footprint of these seemingly harmless conveniences. The results were both eye-opening and disconcerting, prompting me to share this enlightening information with you: did you know that a staggering 80% of paper towels use virgin wood, harvested from entire trees, just to wipe a small corner of our mouths? It’s a startling reality that deserves our attention.

But what about recycling? Can we salvage the environmental damage by recycling paper towels? Unfortunately, the answer is not as straightforward as we might hope. Most paper towels contain heavy bleaches, dyes, and chemicals, rendering them unsuitable for composting or recycling. These harmful substances leach into our soil and waterways, perpetuating environmental degradation.

Consider the life cycle of a typical paper towel: a virgin forest is felled, fossil fuels are burned for transportation and manufacturing, and the end product, laden with chemicals, is discarded after a single use. These used paper towels then find their way into landfills, becoming the second-highest quantity of material after food waste.

Trapped in plastic bin bags, they struggle to decompose, generating copious amounts of methane and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3.2 million passenger cars every year.

The solution lies in conscious choices. Start by assessing your daily paper towel usage – could your workplace switch instead to comical tea towels? Toss them in with your laundry at the end of the day, and you'll be making a small but significant contribution to preserving our planet's resources.

If paper towels are unavoidable, opt for those with green credentials. Look for signs such as no BPA, no chlorine, no harmful toxins, no fragrances or inks. Ensure the paper is recycled, not wrapped in plastic, and biodegradable at the end of its life. Brands like Ecoliving, LoofCo, and ZeroWasteClub offer sustainable alternatives, or explore your local zero-waste store for eco-friendly options.

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