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After a long winter of illnesses in our house, I was considering putting commercial paper towel dispensers in my bathroom and kitchen. Hand towels seem so NASTY especially with two children under 13 in the house! I happened to find these dispensers at a thrift store recently and bought a case of paper towels at Sam's Club. My concience won't let me open that box without asking the question:
How does the environmental cost of washing the handtowels (water, soap pollution, energy used for heat, etc) compare to using (sanitary!) paper towels which are from a renewable resource and biodegradable?
We also use paper plates (occasionally), paper napkins, and paper towels. If I didn't, the washer and dishwasher would be running full time. Another example bothering me, my oldest daughter started out using cloth diapers with her babies but ultimately ended up with disposables after the babies stopped breastfeeding and were on solid foods (way more yukky poop!).
It just seems that with everything considered, using paper products such as these (pardon the pun) could be a "wash", environmentally speaking.
Can someone help answer this question for me please?
I would say that it probably depends most on what you do with the paper towels when you are done with them. If you recycle or compost the paper towels and use them sparingly then I think it's a good choice. You could also see if you can get paper towels that are made from recycled material too.
You are right about the environmental cost of running the washing machine a lot. I'm guessing the biggest downside of washing is the energy that goes into heating the water. I think in general heating and cooling anything consumes a lot of energy. So using eco-friendly soap and washing with cold water minimizes the environmental cost of washing the towels.
The only other consideration would be the amount of energy that goes into cutting the trees, hauling them to the mill, processing them and turning them into paper towels, packaging them, and transporting them to the store. But then again if you use towels and wash them, the same is true for producing and transporting the soap.
In the end I would say either is fine as long as you try to minimize the impact on the environment.
Paper Towels - use sparingly, recycle or compost them, buy recycled ones
Cloth Towels - wash in cold water, use eco-friendly detergent
Wow... that was a long winded answer!
Greener People for a Greener World TM
option to laundry soap
There is a machine on the market that allows you to wash your clothes without the need for laundry soap. You say impossible but I made a believer out of my wife when she brought a oven mitt from the bakery she words part time at and washed it to test the system for herself. she was amazed when she took it from the washer and found about 90% of the baked on whatever you call it on the mitt was gone. The item is only sold through a MLM company called Ecoquest and the machine is called Laundry pure. The process uses silver ionization to activate the water with peroxides that will even remove some old stains from your clothes. The biggest drawback is the price. For nearly $800 you can get one, although mine has lasted for longer than expected (the silver ionizer and UV lamp) it still is doing the job a year later. This will stop the dumping of toxic laundry soap into the ground water supply. I know this is not an answer to the paper towel question but it is an option to consider for the laundry issue. One last point you will also be washing in only cold water. The machine works in cold water so you don't waste the power to heat that much water. I am passionate about the quality uses of the most precious resource WATER.
Although I believe that wood is a valuable resource to use (when done properly), in this case I would side with using the cloth towels and following "greener" laundering tips.
This is similar to the debate of using reusable cloth shopping bags instead of paper or plastic. Although they may not get dirty as quickly as a hand towel, the cloth shopping bad do occasionally need to be washed too.
I really dislike anything that is thought of as "disposable" or a one-time-use. Even if you have filthy kids, you should be able to get many years of use out of each hand towel. And if your kids are anything like me when I was little, their cloths are always filthy too.
So, does that mean we start wearing "one-time-use" paper clothing?
Last edited by gludeman; 06-06-2008 at 04:46 AM.
"No one gave us a guidebook for managing a planet. We're writing it ourselves now, from hard experience." - Earth by David Brin
I realise this is an old post but I just wanted to add....if you are talking only about drying kids hands and you think the towels are nasty...then why not supervise your kids while they wash their hands, this will then ensure that they have washed them properly and so far less germs/bacteria will end up on towels.
Or do what I do and refuse to provide towels for only hand drying, as a mum of four, I find that my towels only end up being kicked about the floor anyway, so now we air dry our hands and towels are for baths/showers only.
That's one of those questions that good debaters could argue successfully and win on either side. Both sides have warrant. You need to decide what is best for you. Have you ever considered a cloth towel dispensor, using a roll of towel that can be washed & reused? There again, with the energy that it takes to wash it, who knows what is actually best.
With todays HE High Efficiency energy washing machines using little water resources I find it hard to believe this is even a topic.
single use paper is a personal choice.
water and energy usage have taken a back seat to even being a consideration for a debate.
go with what feels right for your family.
for us...................its not the water, energy or the single use as the primary factor. It is the chemcials in the products that are not the welcomed component in my childrens environment.
MB - mama to three, soulmate to my heavenly dh.
I agree with Zach! Definitely!