Here's an inconvenient truth: you probably use too many paper towels. Think about the way you've used them over the past week or so. A little excessive? I was the same way. The vast majority of Americans use paper towels for everything from drying their hands and soaking up spills to wiping down counters and dusting off shelves.
According to data by the market-research firm Euromonitor International, global spending on paper towels for use at home—not in office or public bathrooms—amounted to $12 billion in 2017. And Americans accounted for about $5.7 billion of that total. In other words, the US spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined.
And that's a lot of paper that ends up in a landfill. Because despite being made of paper, they're not able to be "cleaned" during the recycling process. In fact, a dirty paper towel tossed into the recycle bin has been known to ruin an entire batch of perfectly good recyclable paper.
But here's the thing, when you switch to something better, you won't want to go back. My partner, who's much more ecologically conscious than I am, swapped our rolls of paper towels for a stack of durable washcloths and we haven't looked back. They're so much better at wiping things up or drying my hands (or vegetables) while I'm cooking.
Because they're thicker, more durable and more absorbent than paper, just one of these washcloths goes a whole lot further than a wad of paper towels. And at the end of the week, it results in just one extra load of laundry. If you'd prefer something a bit closer to paper towels, there are reusable and machine-washable styles made from bamboo and cellulose.
Do I still typically have one roll in the house for greasy spills, pet accidents or something that would irrevocably stain? Sure. But one roll will last us more than a month. If the average American household uses two rolls a week, that's an eventual savings of nearly $200 a year. Not a bad incentive for being a bit more green, right?
In 1907, the Scott Paper Company introduced paper towels to help prevent the spread of colds from cloth towels in restrooms.