Americans use a lot of paper towels. And when we say a lot, we mean a lot. More than 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used in the US every year — enough for 80 rolls per person, per year.
All that paper takes a lot of resources to make, too. More than 110 million trees are cut down to feed out paper towel habits, and more than 130 billion gallons of water to go with. Then it has to be manufactured, packaged, and delivered to the store.
And since most paper towels are used to clean up messes, they go straight to the landfill — over 2% of the volume of US landfills is paper towels — where they decompose and produce methane gas.
Recycled paper towels don’t help much, either. According to one study, recycled paper towels have just as much impact on the environment in terms of CO2 emissions and water consumption as brand new paper towels.
The solution? Use fewer paper towels! Having reclaimed rags around the house to reach for when something gets spilled will keep you from using disposable paper towels over and over, and save you money in the process since they can be used hundreds of times before they wear out.
For easy spills like water, coffee, or juice, just hang them up to dry and use them again! You don’t need to worry about stains — after all, they’re rags — and when they get dirty enough, you can just throw them in with the wash without running an extra load.
For more specialized tasks — windows, electronics, or nicer furniture finishes that you don’t want to scratch — try microfiber cloths. Their tiny fibers are gentler, don’t scratch, and don’t leave lint or streaks for a cleaner shine.
Even better — microfiber glass cleaning cloths can get a streak-free shine on glass without the use of glass cleaner, ammonia, or any of the other potentially hazardous chemicals you might have lying around under the sink. That’s more savings, both for you and for the environment.
Finally, let’s talk cost. Paper towels are cheap, but so are rags — especially when they’re sourced from local thrift stores and yard sales. And rags are reusable. All told, you’re probably getting at least a hundred uses out of a rag before it becomes unusable, and that’s not to mention the heavy duty scrubbing that a paper towel just can’t handle.
One writer did some rough math and found that for any job heavy-duty enough to require more than one sheet of paper towel, the rags were cheaper.
So make the switch! Reusable rags, especially recycled ones, are better for the environment, better for your health, and better for your wallet.