How (And Why) I Kicked the Paper Towel Habit

By Liesl Clark

A few good rags,

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

a washing machine,

2-3 weeks-worth of cloth rags in line for laundering = sustainable replacement for paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

2-3 weeks-worth of cloth rags in line for laundering = sustainable replacement for paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

and an empty drawer

"Wiping Towel Drawer," under the counter right next to the dinner table, ready for wipe-ups. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Wiping Towel Drawer,” under the counter right next to the dinner table, ready for wipe-ups. Photo © Liesl Clark

are all it took to convert my family from paper towels to cloth towels.

Rosie would be proud of these cloth towels. They’re definitely “the quicker picker upper” vs. Bounty, her paper equivalent.

And there’s another reason to skip paper towels altogether: Bisphenol A, a chemical linked with cancer among other things. Sadly, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, our recycled paper products are now laced with this endocrine disruptor because thermal receipts that have high amounts of BPA have been recycled into most of our post-consumer paper products. Therefore, recycled content paper towels, newspapers, business cards, printer paper, even toilet paper have BPA and BPS in them. Returning to virgin pulp paper products might the healthier route to take! But the environmental impact of using virgin paper (a.k.a. loss of trees and the dioxins released in the atmosphere during the process of bleaching conventional toilet paper), according to the Huffington Post, far outweighs the small amounts of BPS found in our recycled paper toilet paper.

Oh, and BPA has also been detected in our currency.

Hazardous waste? Photo © Liesl Clark

Hazardous waste? Photo © Liesl Clark

I think this whole situation might be the perfect example of a bass ackwards trash backwards absolute hazardous mess we’ve created. Somehow, we’ve managed to contaminate our own paper recycling streams with such toxic chemicals that post-consumer recycled paper itself is no longer a green option. Strategists say that if we stop recycling our thermal receipts or any recycled paper that has BPA in it, we may return to BPA-free papers. The problem is that according to some estimates, 8 million tons of BPA are produced each year and it’s been detected on every beach ever tested for the chemical.

The dilemma appears to fit perfectly with Urban Dictionary‘s definition of bass ackwards:

bass ackwards
Ass backwards. The state of doing (or having done) something the wrong way.
No no dude, you’ve got the cables plugged in all bass ackwards.

Before we recycle our papers into new papers and disseminate them all over the planet, into our gray water (in the case of toilet paper) and onto our countertops (paper towels) let’s find out what’s in them and exclude the papers that have toxic chemicals in them.

The bad guys: Thermal receipts have more BPA (that transfers into your skin upon contact) than any other paper, can, or plastic. Photo © Liesl Clark

The bad guys: Thermal receipts have more BPA (that transfers into your skin upon contact) than any other paper, can, or plastic. Photo © Liesl Clark

What can you do to help prevent BPA and its alternative BPS from spreading further into our watersheds? Stop buying paper towels, refuse receipts at stores, and don’t put them in your compost, your recycling, or even in your fireplace. Seems the toxic culprits need to be collected and bagged up so their chemicals can never leach into our groundwater. Think male frogs with female genitalia and you’ll get the picture. I’m considering taking the ones I collect to our household hazardous waste facility.

cloth towels instead of paper

Now, what to do with those paper towel holders?

Click Through for Paper Towel Holder Reuses at Trash Backwards

Click Through for Paper Towel Holder Reuses at Trash Backwards

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Categories: DIY, Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Repurpose and Reuse, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff

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16 Comments on “How (And Why) I Kicked the Paper Towel Habit”

  1. sue klein
    February 5, 2013 at 7:23 am #

    Interesting. I put them in the compost. Oh we’ll. nothing I can do now.

    Sent from my iPad

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:31 am #

      Hi Sue. I understand the feeling of futility. But now that we’re informed, I guess we can try to reduce the amount of thermal paper getting out there in the first place. Yesterday I asked a cashier to not print out a receipt for me and that solved that problem!

  2. February 5, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    Very informative and interesting. Nice of you to add the ideas for the paper towel holders. I’d love to see a similar post on syran wrap and aluminum foil. Thanks. I will share.

    • February 5, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      Hi Patti, thanks for your comment. Yes, cling wrap and aluminum foil are now on the list! Stay tuned.
      — Liesl at Trash Backwards

  3. February 5, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Yikes! Just yikes….

    I have used real towels for ages. Just made little cloth napkins to send with the kids lunches…

    • February 6, 2013 at 12:03 am #

      Hi Strugglingforeverafter. Your cloth napkins sound great. My kids love theirs and I’m thankful their school asks parents to include cloth napkins with their lunches. Progress!

  4. February 6, 2013 at 3:25 am #

    I increasingly despair of the human race 😦 Why have these things not been banned the instant they are found to be toxic? I would ban the worst stuff and put a massive tax on all plastic packaging and other pollutants. That would make the offenders think twice while raising revenue to try and clean up the mess. World governments have to do this sort of thing and fast, it may already be too late. I try and do what I can as do you, but I feel it is p!55ing in the wind! How do you keep cheerful?

    • February 6, 2013 at 6:23 am #

      I remain hopeful because there’s a community of people, all of us, who are doing something about plastic, pthalates, BPA, BPS. Our work isn’t futile. There’s optimism in the air because there are scientists like Kurunthachalam Kannan doing studies on the toxics in recycled paper and identifying where it’s coming from. Toxicologists are in turn studying the effects of those endocrine disruptors on humans and in particular on human male infants becoming perhaps more ‘female.’ It’s disturbing, but there’s hope that science will inform us so we can make a change. I’m hopeful, lastly, because in the end we do have control over what we consume and how we throw our consumables away. Refusing to buy paper towels helps. Think of the plastic packaging around them, too! You’re making a difference.
      — Liesl

  5. February 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    I had no idea our recycled products contained BPA, I’m glad you told me. I did know you shouldn’t recycle or compost receipts, so I guess I’m not totally ignorant 🙂 So much for people trying to do the right thing, now we are adding horrible chemicals to the recycled products. Guess I should be happy that the only paper product I buy is toilet paper.

  6. Storkygirl
    May 21, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    What to do with your paper towel dispenser. If it is the type that sits on your counter type, you can roll any uniformly sized cloth towels that you are using instead of paper towels and use them as needed. Someone on etsy attached snaps on the ends of their towels and snapped them together. Someone else used hook and loop (velcro).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] 20) Paper towels: Um, use cloth ones. […]

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    […] How (And Why) I Kicked the Paper Towel Habit (trashbackwards.com) […]

  4. Zero Waste Household Guide: Kitchen Solutions | Trash Backwards - March 28, 2013

    […] Cut way down on paper towels. Keep a basket of small natural fiber wash cloths or towel pieces on your kitchen counter or wherever you can reach it easily. If you have young children, keep a stack of where they can be reached and used without adult assistance – Kids love to be in charge of mopping up their own spills when it’s easy and guilt-free. Cut up an old towel or check your local thrift store for a collection of wash cloths or towels in colors that you enjoy. Run the dirty cloths through a regular wash cycle, dry them, and they’ll be good to go for the next mess. When they’re finally worn out, toss them into your compost pile or use them as weed barrier fabric in your garden. When you do use a paper towel, compost it instead of sending it to your local landfill or incinerator. […]

  5. 100 Things You Never Need To Buy | Trash Backwards - May 15, 2013

    […] 20) Paper Towels: Um, use cloth ones. […]

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