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.
7 Facts about paper towel usage
- The average person uses around 3000 paper towels at work in a given year. This is equivalent 40 pounds or 80 rolls per person per year.
- 13 billion pounds of paper towel are used each year in the US. According to the EPA, paper makes up the biggest part of US waste coming from homes.
- 110 million trees are used per year to produce paper towels.
- Making paper towels uses 130 billion gallons of water per year.
- It is common for families to use 1.5-2 rolls of paper towel every 2 weeks.
- Paper towel 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.
- If each US household swapped 1 roll of paper towel to 100% recycled we would save 54,000 trees
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 article for more on reusable paper towel options.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.