Paper Towels

Paper towels are so convenient. They're great to use to clean up messes, or even to use as a plate if you need some breakfast on-the-go before class. But it is estimated that 50 trillion paper rolls are made per year in the United States (Science channel, 2014). About 130 million trees are consumed due to paper towel production in the United States per year (FinerMinds, 2014). Overconsumption of paper towels can have negative effects on the environment.

If you're curious on how paper towels are made, check out this video by clicking the following link: Making Paper Towels


(Courtesy of: www.mnn.com) 


There are a lot of great alternatives to using paper towels that are more sustainable and eco-friendly:
  1. Buy some reusable paper towels that can do the same job as paper towels, with added ecological benefits:
    • One option is shown here: Eco-friendly Paper Towels
      These "paper towels" can be infinitely rewashed and rerolled to reproduce countless rolls of paper towels. This a convenient, cost-effective, and eco-friendly alternate to using paper towels.
    • Another choice is to purchase a brand of paper towels called "Bambooee" which features paper towels made out of bamboo. This more eco-friendly choice will reduce waste as each paper towel can be washed and reused 100(!) times, and requires no trees to produce (as bamboo is a grass). The makers of Bambooee have also promised to plant a tree for every roll purchased. The link to their website can be found here: Bambooee.
  2. Use paper towels made out of recycled or eco-friendly material:
    • The paper towels shown here: Multifold Paper Towels, are unbleached and are made completely from recycled, post consumer waste. This means that less trees are cut down due to paper towel production.
    • Here is another eco-friendly paper towel option: Seventh Generation. These are also unbleached and made from recycled paper, with a minimum of 50% post consumer waste; additionally, they are made without adding dyes, inks, or fragrances.
    • For some discussion and clarification on post consumer waste click here: Post Consumer Waste
  3. Simply don't use so many paper towels
    • If you can't bear to give up your paper towels, simply trying to cut down your paper towel use will help conservation efforts. If every american used one less paper towel a day, then 571,230,000 pounds of paper would be saved per year (Help save, 2014). This corresponds to saving 4,855,455 trees! (calculations based off of methods and sources listed below figures one and two)
    • See the following link for a way to reduce the number of paper towels you use when drying your hands: How to use less paper towels.



Why are paper towels bad for the environment?


The production of paper towels contributes to CO2 emissions, energy and fuel are required to transport the products after they are made, and trees are cut down to create the pulp to make paper towels. Deforestation to provide trees to produce paper towels can result in habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation which may affect a multitude of species living in those habitats. CO2 emissions contribute to climate change while habitat destruction and fragmentation and other large scale land conversations are the underlying causes of species extinction (Greenwald, et al., 2013). Extinction can have devastating economical, ecological, and societal effects that are often unpredictable. For example, if a species becomes extinct the environment in which they live will be altered. This may result in negative effects for other organisms living in this ecosystem, economical uses for the ecosystem may be altered, and societal aspects of an ecosystem such as cultural practices or aesthetic beauty may be impacted as well.


Figure one shows the number of trees consumed for paper towels per capita every year in America at 6.358 trees. This is extremely higher than the worldwide average of .8995 trees per person per year. Figure two shows the number of gallons of water consumed per capita every year in America and worldwide as a result of paper towel production. Americans on average consume about 3750 gallons of water per year while the worldwide consumption is about 529.107 gallons of water per person per year. The overall rate at which Americans are consuming resources due to utilizing paper towels alone is staggering, especially when put in perspective with the worldwide average. Unfortunately, this consumption comes at the expense of developing countries, from which we get our wood. If we can reduce our paper towel consumption, that is one step closer to being more sustainable. Lets not have others suffer because its more convenient to wipe up messes with something that you can throw away.




Figure one. Number of trees consumed per capita per year in America and worldwide due to paper towel consumption. Americans on average consume 6.358 trees per year while the worldwide consumption is .8995 trees per year.

Figure two. Number of gallons of water consumed per capita per year in America and worldwide due to paper towel consumption. Note that Americans on average consume 3750 gallons of water per year 
while the worldwide consumption is 529.107 gallons of water per year.


Calculations for figures one and two were based on consumption, tree abundance, and production estimates (Cleaning Methods and Standards, 2014), (ID2, 2014), (Number of Trees, 2014), (PeopleTowels, 2014).

The values used for the figures one and two were calculated using the methods described below:
Figure one values were calculated based on the statistic that 333 kg of paper product are used per person per year in the United States and 48 kg of paper product are used per person per year worldwide. These values were scaled down based on data of paper towel consumption specifically in correlation with paper consumption in general. This number was converted to pounds, then to tons, which is comparable to the data of 17 trees cut down per ton of paper towels produced. Figure two values were calculated based on the statistic that 20,000 gallons of water are consumed per ton of paper towels produced. The average paper consumption was again scaled down to represent the consumption of paper towels specifically. This number was converted from kilograms to pounds, to tons, and compared to the gallons of water used per tons of paper towels produced. These statistics were calculated based on the various sources shown above.



















"Cleaning Methods and Standards." Cleaning Methods and Standards. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
Greenwald, Noah, Amy W. Ando, Stuart Butchart, and John Tschirhart. "The Endangered Species Act at 40." Nature 504.12 (2013): 329-370. Print.
"Help Save 571,230,000 Pounds of Paper Towels." Earth911com Help Save 571230000 Pounds of Paper Towels Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
"How To Use A Paper Towel – A Useful Tip To Save Trees." FinerMinds. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"How It's Made." Science Channel. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
"[ ID2 ]." [ ID2 ]. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
"Number of Trees per Acre by Spacing." Number of Trees per Acre by Spacing. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
"PeopleTowels - the Newest Concept in Sustainability." PeopleTowels - the Newest Concept in Sustainability. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

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