How (and Why) I Kicked the Paper Towel Habit

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 absolutely hazardous mess only humans can create. 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? We use ours in a closet to hold rolls of string and masking, duct, electrical tape.

12 thoughts on “How (and Why) I Kicked the Paper Towel Habit

  1. Pingback: What’s In Our Compost | Pioneering The Simple Life

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  3. Well this has given me food for thought! I always knew I shouldn’t be using paper towels, but honestly I just don’t know how we managed before they were invented! I use them for everything. But I reasoned that if I bought recycled and then composted them, then that wasn’t so bad. And all those shop receipts we put in the compost bin! I had no idea. Problem is space in our small kitchen, no drawers apart from cutlery drawer and no counter space to store cloths where you can grab one in an emergency – I am very clumsy and beetroot juice is the worst thing to clean up! But something must be done… Ps Wanted to reblog this but there isn’t a button to let me do so…

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  4. Reblogged this on pearsnotparsnipsdotcom and commented:
    Pioneering the Simple Life has become my conscience these days! They tell me what I already know (and sometimes what I don’t), but don’t get around to acting upon and then I am forced to confront my insertia and do something about it. Here is a prime example. We as a family are some of the world’s most profligate users of paper kitchen towels and I admit I am mostly to blame. Dishcloths fill me with horror because of all the bacteria and take so much washing and rinsing out; when there’s a spill it’s so much easier to grab kitchen paper and just throw it in the bin. I justified my use by buying recycled amd then composting them after use. I am now rethinking this tactic after reading this post. You should too. And be sure to read about shop receipts too. BPA is toxic and is everywhere!

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