With over 90% of US households taking advantage of the convenience of paper towels we produce over 3,000 tons of waste each day. Is this problem insurmountable? No – if each home simply replaced one roll of their traditional paper towels with paper towels made from recycled paper, we could avoid wasting 3.4 million cubic feet of landfill space and prevent 864,000 trees from being cut down.
The Benefits of Recycled Paper Towels
By using recycled paper towels we are doing much more than just reducing landfill waste. According to Ideal Bite, “For every ton of 100% recycled paper that is bought, about 4000kWh of energy and 7,000 gallons of water are saved. It also avoids releasing 60 lbs of pollutants into the air.”
Reducing Paper Towel Waste
Even using recycled paper towels people tend to have wasteful habits. What can you do to graciously help remind people to reduce their paper towel consumption? You can participate in campaigns against consumer paper waste. It is these very wasteful habits that motivate projects like “These Come From Trees.”
“Remember… These Come From Trees”
According to the “These Come From Trees” blog they are an “experiment in environmentalism, viral marketing, and user interface design with the goal of reducing consumer waste paper!” What exactly is this “experiment?” Using low cost vinyl stickers and guerrilla marketing tactics the ad-hoc “The Come From Trees” team spread the message of reducing consumer paper waste. Here is a breakdown of their strategy:
- People just like you affix vinyl “Remember… These Come From Trees” stickers to public area paper towel dispensers.
That's it. To quote the These Come From Trees Blog, it really is amazing “how the right message at the right time can make the difference.” Since each sticker includes a URL for people to visit (http://www.thesecomefromtrees.com/) they help promote public awareness to this growing issue.
How Effective Are Projects Like This?
According to testing completed by the These Come From Trees team, their awareness stickers can reduce paper towel consumption by up to 15%, they continue, stating each sticker can save about 100 lbs of paper a year which is the equivalent to one tree. When you consider that the average coffee shop uses around 1000 lbs of paper towels and the average fast food restaurant with two restrooms can use up to 2000 lbs a year, 15% can add up to a lot of savings.
What about Reusable Replacements for Paper Towels?
Even though paper towels are commonplace they are not the only solution, products made of cotton or linen can be washed and reused many times over. In some cases sponges which offer a longer product lifetime, can handle the work you may normally relegate to a paper towel.
Choosing the Best Option for the Situation
While you can easily control your options at home and guerrilla projects like “Remember… These Come From Trees” remind people to reduce their usage in public areas, it's important to always understand the best option for each situation you find yourself in – environmentally speaking.
If you are drying your hands and have the choice between an electric hand dryer and paper towels, what is the best choice for the environment? While electric hand dryers have the environmental cost of the electricity used to power them, in terms of overall energy costs, solid waste, maintenance and janitorial costs, electric hand dryers are more efficient than paper towels. While electric hand dryers are continually improved by manufacturers and continue to get more energy efficient, the paper towel has, for all intents and purposes, reached it's plateau.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
While you are constantly bombarded by the three R's, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” this is yet another case where the three R's offer society the best solution. By reducing our paper towel usage, we can prevent more trees from being cut down and prevent the emissions created by the manufacturing of new paper. By moving towards more reusable options such as washable cloth, we can stop the cycle of waste completely. By purchasing recycling paper products and recycling our paper products at the end of their lives we can conserve our valuable natural resources and reduce emissions.
Convenience items such as paper towels began as a luxury, became commonplace and now are subject to mass abuse. Who pays the cost for this abuse? The environment. By making smarter choices we can reduce the paper waste we contribute to and recycle our existing paper products. With an ever growing population and a static land size we are faced with the sobering prospect of running out of our precious natural resources. Do you part by remembering to conserve what and where you can.