Paper Towel Usage Facts – Amazing things you need to know

Paper towel usage in the usage in the USA is around 13 billion pounds each year. If each US household swapped 1 roll of paper towel to 100% recycled we would save 54,000 trees. To make 1 ton of paper towels, 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are used. Each year 110 million trees and 130 billion gallons of water is used to make paper towel.

These facts show the huge impact that paper towels are having on our environment.

How to reduce paper towel usage

Try huck towels, cloth nappies, microfiber cloths or old tea towels. You could also buy unpaper towels or make your own. Check out the video below to find out how to sew your own unpaper towels.

After doing some research I found out that if every household in the US swapped just 1 roll of regular paper towel with 100% recycled would save 54,000 trees. To make 1 ton of paper towels, 17 trees are used and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed.  If you find you can’t do without paper towels, then 100% recycled is the best option.

It is also important to remember that decomposing paper towels produce methane gas which is the leading cause of global warming. So if you are ready for a change, an eco friendly reusable cloth is a great choice.  It lasts for years, you can avoid chemicals and avoid waste going to landfill.

How much paper towel is used in a year

After doing some research I found out that the average person uses around 3000 paper towels at work in a given year.  When we look at this on a bigger scale 13 billion pounds of paper towel are used each year. According to the EPA, paper makes up the biggest part of US waste coming from homes.

Paper towel can be swapped to reusable cloths to save money, water and trees.

The problem is paper towels are recyclable.  They are usually a new paper product, meaning they are made from trees as a virgin or new tree product. Because we use them to wipe up food, spills or wet substances they become wet and contaminated and therefore cannot be recycled like dry paper.

How many rolls of paper towel the average family uses

This is quite hard to track and every family would use a different amount but from the research I did it is quite common for families to use 1.5-2 rolls per week.  I know in our house we probably used 1 roll every 2 weeks before I swapped to other options.  

Americans use around 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year.  This is equivalent 40 pounds or 80 rolls per person per year.

Where paper towels come from

Most of the time your paper towels will come from trees.  Most paper towel products are made from new materials, meaning trees are cut down, turned into paper pulp and then into paper towels which are then used once and thrown away.

There is actually good news in this in that in most cases the tree product used for making paper towel comes from the leftover chips from sawmills.

The biggest problem isn’t just how they are made but what happens to them next. They are almost all thrown into landfill, creating methane and adding to our growing waste problem.

Recycled paper towels can help to reduce the number of trees cut down to make this product.

What paper towels are used for and what to use instead

If we know what paper towels are usually used for it can helps us to work out how we could reduce the amount we use or swap them out all together for something more sustainable.

Most of us know them for their ability to absorb spills but there are many more things that we use for that could easily be swapped for a more sustainable option.

1. Wiping out pans

Give cooled pans a quick wash and scrub under warm soapy water instead of wiping them out with paper towel. Dry them with a clean tea towel and they will be clean and ready to go.

I know that there are lots of chefs that recommend wiping out your pans with paper towel between uses or just to remove excess oil.

I know I have done this from time to time but I have found it equally as effective to give it a quick rinse and scrub under hot water.  Your pan gets clean and you don’t waste any paper towel.

2. Absorbing excess oil from foods

If you fry foods in oil you may be familiar with the practice of throwing the food onto some paper towel to absorb the oil.  Another great way to do this is just to put the food on a cake rack with a plate underneath. The oil will drip through without the waste of oil soaked paper towel.

You could also try placing the food on a piece of bread crust which will absorb the oil and can then be thrown in your compost.

3. Wrapping herbs or fresh greens in your fridge

It is often recommended to wrap your greens or herbs with damp paper towel when keeping them in the fridge.  Instead of using paper towel you could use a damp cloth, it has the same effect of keeping your herbs or greens fresh and can be washed and used over and over again.

Paper towel environmental facts

There are a few factors to look at to explore the full environmental impact of paper towels. We need to look at their production as well as their disposal. As a bit of background they were invented in 1907 by the Scott paper company however they weren’t used in kitchens until 1931.  Now most kitchens use paper towel regularly.

So each year in the US 13 billion pounds of paper towel is being used each year, that uses 110 million trees per year and 130 billion gallons of water.  It also consumes huge amounts of energy to manufacture as well as fuel to deliver it to stores.

After it has been used, 3,000 tons goes into landfill where it can generate methane as it  breaks down.  

For more on recycling paper towels, check out this video here.

How can rethinking paper towels save me money?

Let’s work out how many paper towels we are using and how much money we are spending.  As a simple calculation based on the research I did, even if we make a conservative estimate and say that each household is using 1 roll per week, at $1 per roll. We are spending $51 per year on paper towels.

If we take perhaps a more realistic look at what paper towel usage is for the average family.  The research I did says that families are using 80 rolls per person per year, for a family of 4 that is 320 rolls, at $1 each that is $320 per year.

If instead we consider using a huck towel, old cloth nappy or microfiber cloth which can be used over and over again, this could be a $20-$30 purchase every few years.

What should we do to reduce paper towel waste?

Buy 100% recycled paper towel

Track your paper towel usage for a month, keep track of how many  rolls you buy. If you feel you can’t do away with paper towels altogether, swap to 100% recycled.  There are certainly paper towel products that are made from 100% recycled paper which is a great choice.

Swapping paper towel for an eco-friendly alternative is a great way to save money, reduce waste and be gentler on the environment.  Give a paper towel alternative a go. 

Check out my previous article here for more on reusable paper towel options.