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Greensburg GreenTown is a charitable nonprofit organization working in Greensburg, Kansas to rebuild the town following the devastating tornado in May of 2007. The town has made a remarkable comeback, reinventing itself as a model for sustainable building and green living now recognized around the world. GreenTown works to make green building and living easily understood, appealing and accessible to all.

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6 Million Pounds a Day

Recently GreenTown Project Manager Adam Andrews called our attention to a product he’d come across  called People Towels. These quick-drying, organic cotton towels are designed to be tucked into a purse or clipped onto a backpack and used in lieu of paper towels and restaurant napkins. The company’s website is very compelling, listing statistics related to paper towel consumption in the U.S. The numbers are very eye-opening, and we did even more research to find out how big of an issue this is.

GreenTown has written extensively about the problems associated with disposable plastic bags and last month in our newsletter wrote about the astonishing number of plastic water bottles that go to the landfill every year. We hadn’t yet delved into the paper towel issue, and were amazed at what we found. Here are a few statistics:

EVERY DAY, Americans throw away 6 MILLION POUNDS (that’s 3,000 TONS) of paper towels.

It takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water to manufacture one ton of paper towels. When we multiply these figures by our daily consumption of 3,000 tons, we calculate that it takes 51,000 trees and 60 million gallons of water PER DAY for a product that we use for a couple of seconds and then discard.

Even though buying paper towels made from recycled paper is an improvement, the manufacturing process still uses a lot of water, chemicals, and energy.

Fortunately there are a lot of good options.

Let’s say your household currently uses a roll of paper towels per week. You could save more than $100 per year by switching to dishcloths, tea towels, and other non-disposable items.

At our house we keep a box full of bar towels for cleaning up spills and messes. We’ve used the same towels for many years. For cleaning countertops in the kitchen and bathroom we use E-cloths. This company generously donated microfiber cleaning cloths to every household in the community after the tornado. The product is designed to hold up for 300 washings. (Read more about E-cloths in this article from our archives.)

After learning about these statistics, we have taken to carrying a small hand towel for use in public restrooms and restaurants where paper napkins are the only option. The organic People Towels mentioned above look like another great choice.

This is an area where every person’s habits can make a big difference, because the amount of waste going to the landfill adds up quickly. We hope this article inspires you to think about the use of paper products, make some reductions where it makes sense, and save money in the process.

photo credit: wikimedia