The Paper Towel Trash Problem — And How You Can Help

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve got paper towels in your kitchen, your bathroom, and your laundry room. They sit on counter tops, are tucked under sinks, and line the shelves of our pantries. 

Paper towels are your go-to clean-up product for spills, messes, or to use along with your favorite All Purpose Natural Cleaner sprays. 

But did you know that all those paper towels really add up? 

Paper Towel Waste in the United States

In the United States, we use more than 6,500,000 TONS of paper towels every year. That’s a lot of trees and a lot of waste.

  • According to the EPA, paper and paperboard products make up the largest percentage of all municipal solid waste, at a whopping 25.9 percent.
  • To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed.
  • It would take 51,000 trees planted per day to replace the number of paper towels that are tossed each day.
  • Decomposing paper towels in our landfills (remember, more than 13 million pounds per year) produce methane gas. Methane gas is a leading cause of global warming.
  • In the U.S. alone, paper towels yield a $6 billion market.

The problem with paper extends beyond the fact that they are single use. Paper products, such as paper towel dispensers in restrooms, require constant restocking. This requires a lot of road transport all over the country, just to ensure there are always paper towels on hand. 

Then, when they’ve been used, they have to be transported to landfills — usually in plastic garbage bags. 

Unfortunately, paper towels aren’t even recyclable in the traditional sense*. They are often made using recycled paper pulp, which is considered a non-recyclable product. An additional hurdle is that many paper towels are contaminated with waste or, at the very least, water, which degrades them even further. 

*When you purchase recycled paper towels, they are not recycled from paper towels, but from other forms of recyclable paper products. 

What Can We Do About It?

To be honest, reducing your use of paper towels in your home or in the workplace is one of the easiest steps to take when ‘going green’. 

Consider this fact for a moment. 

If each U.S. household could cut down on their paper towel use by only one roll a year, approximately 554,000 trees could be saved, and a significant amount of waste could be prevented from going to our landfills. 

That’s a significant impact for such a small goal. 

Here are some ways you can easily cut back on your use of paper towels in the home:

  1. Choose to use cellulose sponges or lint-free towels when cleaning. Invest in plenty of them to ensure that you’ve always got some on hand. (Remember, each towel will last for years, rather than just one use!)
  2. Use flour sack towels or dish towels for drying hands and cleaning up messes in the kitchen and bathroom. If someone spills water, a towel will sop it up and then dry for you to reuse again. If the mess is more substantial, like spilled food, you can always toss the towel into the laundry. 
  3. Recycle old clothes and towels by creating your own rags. It’s simple. Wash the items, then use a sharp pair of scissors to cut up the clothes, towels, blankets, etc.into small sections. These make the perfect rags to clean up oil spills, paint, or other messes that would ruin your nice dish cloths and flour sack towels

How to reduce your paper towel use at work and in public restrooms:

  1. Swap out paper products with cloth. At Molly’s Suds Headquarters, we use cloth napkins in our kitchen and we use washcloths as hand towels in the bathrooms. We all have our own cloth and our own hook, and wash them all weekly.
  2. Switch to hand dryers instead of paper towels. If you own your own business or have influence in management, you can help the business move toward sustainability by replacing paper towel dispensers with air dryers. 
  3. Choose the hand dryer over the paper towels. In many restrooms, there is a paper towel dispenser along with an air dryer. Simple — choose the air!
  4. Allow your hands to air dry. It’s amazing how quickly our skin can dry off. Shake your hands over the sink and let them dry naturally. 
  5. Bring your own handkerchief with you. Use the little towel to dry your hands as needed. 

Every decision we make to do our best to protect and care for our planet makes a difference! You can learn more about how we’re trying to make a difference in our communities, or read up on our ingredients here