By James White
“Don’t toss that paper towel!”
Many of us have done this hundreds of times. We wash our hands, spill a drink or need to wipe up a mess. So, we grab a paper towel, do the deed, and toss it in the trash.
The few seconds of convenience that a paper towel, paper napkin or tissue provides is no match for the mountain of waste that’s filling American landfills.
Sure, it seems small. A single paper towel weighs about two to three grams, but if each of us uses five paper towels every day, that’s 6 million pounds of waste generated each day. Unfortunately, many paper towels are already made from recycled material, so the fibers are too short to recycle yet again. The use of so many paper towels got some people thinking: if you can’t recycle them, can you can at least compost them?
In Ontario, paper towels are collected from the government buildings, composted, and spread across the landfill to reduce wind erosion and put nutrients back in the Earth.
But, that’s a lot of work to dispose of single-use paper towels. So, how can the everyday person who appreciates the convenience of paper towels complete tasks without the modern day version of the product?
Maybe the solution isn’t in something new, but in something old.
Flour sack towels were originally used to package 100-pound bags of flour for home and wholesale use. Rather than toss the fabric in the trash, people started sewing them together to make durable, reusable towels that were used primarily in the kitchen.
Despite being reused over and over again, flour sack towels are so strong that they’re used in many professional kitchens and are considered the industrial towel of many chefs.
These little towels are not only great for the environment because of their durability, they are also free from dyes and other chemicals commonly found in store-bought towels.
The change is small, but the impact is large. For every household that uses one less roll of paper towels, 544,000 trees will be saved each year. Up that goal to three less rolls and we’d save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees.
Not all flour sack towels are the same. There are towels for screen printing and embroidery, towels that are 100 percent cotton and bleached white for day-to-day tasks, low-lint towels, and “Natural” flour sack towels that can be used for anything, since they have not been chemically processed or colored in any way.
Sometimes, it’s the smallest items that leave the biggest impact on our planet. So, The next time you’re reaching for what seems like a simple paper towel, think about the pile of garbage that one sheet will be added to. Flour sack towels are a cheap, almost effortless, change that has an enormous impact on the environment.
James White is working towards a degree in construction management and hopes to start his own sustainable residential building company.