Go Green: How Paper Towels Impact Our Earth


It is nearly undeniable how extensive the human use of paper towels is. So much of that use is unmindful wastefulness. According to ecofamilylife.com, a blog which educates users about environmentally-friendly products, thirteen billion pounds of paper towels are used each year in the U.S, which equates to about forty pounds of paper towels per person per year. In the process, many trees are cut down and processed to supply the vast amount of paper towels used by just Americans. To place this further into perspective, trashed paper towels result in 254 million pounds of waste in the world each year alone.

Unfortunately, paper towels are not recyclable because people usually utilize paper towels to mop up water, collect food waste, and pick up other dirty or wet items. Out of the “3 R’s” — reduce, reuse, and recycle — it seems only “reduce” can be applicable to the world’s paper towel predicament. Countless trees could be saved each year if the people utilizing the luxury of paper towels would simply have an awareness of how impactful paper towel waste is on the environment. The production of paper towels entails not only the destruction of numerous trees but also a great amount of water, which is used in the making of this every-day item.

People who use an extensive number of paper towels without thinking ought to keep in mind that a few generations ago, paper towels did not exist, and (funnily enough) the world coped without them. Paper towels serve as a luxury for a swift and easy solution to messes and wet hands. Though it certainly may not be the most reasonable solution to revert back to using cloth towels instead of paper, a simple mindfulness would be sufficient to begin reducing the amount of paper towels that are used in America everyday.

Countless facilities have taken certain measures to address the world’s problematic paper towel predicament and install hand dryers for bathrooms instead of displaying paper towel dispensers. These dryers keep the world just a bit greener by utilizing less wasteful methods of hand drying. Hand dryers emit a considerably smaller amount of carbon than paper towels do. Kasey Corra ‘22 mentioned an experience she had that encouraged her to ecological mindfulness: “One time I learned at the zoo that once you are done using two or three paper towels, open them up again, and you’ll see how necessary your paper towels were to you by how many water patches there are on it.”

Measures can be made in our own bathrooms, one of the main areas of paper towel waste. A whole wad of paper is unnecessary in hand drying; only one sheet of paper is required to dry one’s hands completely. This method is named the “shake and fold” technique. For further details, look into the TEDTalk by Joe Smith that addresses this method of saving paper towels. Mrs. Osborne describes this technique: “You shake your hands for 12 shakes or several seconds and then you take one paper towel and fold it in half before you use it to finish drying your hands. The shaking reduces the amount of water on your clean hands, and the folding increases the absorbance of the towel for the remaining water. If everyone made this effort, which is pretty simple, we could reduce paper towel waste considerably!”

Indeed, the “shake and fold” method is just one simple way us stewards of the earth can save a bit of paper everyday. Although paper towels and their negative impact on the environment certainly will not disappear, it is paramount that we take care of the earth well, and a good way to start is to be mindful of how many paper towels you use for daily activities.