Are there any “good” paper towels?



Making paper is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. It uses huge amounts of water and energy. It may use chlorine to bleach the paper white, and that chlorine may create dioxin, one of the deadliest toxins on earth. Some paper manufacturers discharge dirty water, often laden with dangerous chemicals, back into rivers and lakes. Never mind how many trees are cut down to make paper, how much paper is used to package other paper, or how much air pollution is generated transporting paper from the manufacturer to the retailer.

Needless to say, given these impacts, I'm not a big fan of paper that's produced just to be used once and thrown away. What's in that category? Paper towels. Paper napkins. Paper face tissue. Disposable wipes made from paper. Toilet paper (well, okay, I tolerate toilet paper). 

Why not use cloth? In every category except toilet paper, cloth offers a cheaper and more eco-friendly option. Cloth towels and napkins can easily replace their paper counterparts and save consumers hundreds of dollars a year. When they wear out, they can be used as rags and wipe-up cloths. A cloth towel or napkin has a useful life of years, compared to the seconds a paper towel has value.

Marcal tissue Why the rant? Because I just received an e-mail from the Marcal paper company extolling the virtues of their "Small Steps Save-a-Tree" Paper Towel Design Contest. The contest is urging "artists and tree lovers of all ages" to submit original drawings that show their love for trees. The winner of the contest will be flown to California to "hug a giant tree." The winning drawings will be used to promote Marcal products – throwaway paper products.

Now, Marcal is more virtuous than many other paper companies. It makes all of its paper products from recycled paper as opposed to pulp from virgin forests. It does not use chlorine to bleach its paper, and it adds no dyes or fragrances.

The problem is, it still makes paper designed to be used once and thrown away. Which begs the question: apart from toilet paper, should Marcal (or any company, for that matter), be in the throwaway paper business at all?

Campaigns like the Small Steps Save-a-Tree Design Contest make consumers feel good about using throwaway products. That's wrong. Marcal and other companies would do the planet a world of good if they encouraged consumers to use cloth instead of throwaway paper.

By the way, what do you think the carbon footprint will be of the person they fly to California to hug that tree?

10 Responses to Are there any “good” paper towels?

  1. Janet May 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Campaigns like the Small Steps Save-a-Tree Design Contest make consumers feel good about using throwaway products.
    By the way, what do you think the carbon footprint will be of the person they fly to California to hug that tree?
    Two excellent points!

  2. Jeff May 2, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Save money and the Earth and be clean at the same time! Get serious and add Bathroom Bidet Sprayers to all your bathrooms. I think Dr. Oz on Oprah said it best: “if you had pee or poop on your hand, you wouldn’t wipe it off with paper, would you? You’d wash it off” Available at http://www.bathroomsprayers.com with these you won’t even need toilet paper any more, just a towel to dry off! Don’t worry, you can still leave some out for guests and can even make it the soft stuff without felling guilty. It’s cheap and can be installed without a plumber; and runs off the same water line to your toilet. You’ll probably pay for it in a few months of toilet paper savings. And after using one of these you won’t know how you lasted all those years with wadded up handfuls of toilet paper. As for water use a drought is always a concern and must be dealt with prudently but please remember that in the big picture the industrial water users always far exceed the water use of household users and in the case of toilet paper manufacture it is huge. The pollution and significant power use from that manufacturing process also contributes to global warming so switching to a hand bidet sprayer and lowering your toilet paper use is very green in multiple ways. Blog; http://jeff9.livejournal.com/932.html

  3. Dolly Bates May 5, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    Looking for information on cosmetics.

  4. Elizah Leigh May 5, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    It is amusing that their catchprase is “Saving Trees Since 1950″ — what a curiously clueless perspective. Perhaps if Marcal read your thought-provoking post, they might be inspired to shift over into the household cloth picker-uper biz after all. I really think that you should contact them!! http://www.marcalpaper.com/community.html
    I often wonder what planet many of these companies are from — Colgate is another clueless purveyor that gets my goat!! http://www.greenwala.com/my_blog/389-The-Micro-Toothbrush-A-One-Hit-Wonder-With-Lofty-Landfill-Aspirations

  5. Diane MacEachern May 5, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    Good points. I don’t think they see the “forest” for the trees, if you catch my drift!

  6. Deborah May 5, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

    Hi Diane,
    I am slowly giving up paper towels and using rags. Having a toddler makes giving up certain conveniences more of a challenge, but it just means an extra load of rags each week. Not too bad. I don’t like that paper towels are also wrapped in plastic. So, they have 2 strikes against them. I am looking for a toilet paper (other than the Scott tissues that comes wrapped in paper; single rolls) to switch to. Do you know of any other brand? Scott tissue is too thin. My husband is a former IBS sufferer of 20 years and will ONLY use something extremely soft :-)

  7. Green School Fundraising May 6, 2009 at 5:41 am #

    Yes, I heard about this contest also. I’m a bit torn. I think they have a good alternative to regular paper towels, but you still do throw them away.
    Paper towels are a lot like disposable water bottles to me. I just don’t need ‘em.
    http://www.ecolabelfundraising.com

  8. Diane MacEachern May 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    Hmmmm. Re soft toilet tissue: I use the CVS eco brand lately. I’m not sure if it’s soft enough for your husband. You could give it a try.

  9. Valerie C May 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

    Check out this green/beauty article from http://www.Bettyconfidential.com.
    http://www.bettyconfidential.com/ar/h/a/a01055.html

  10. Kelly Crawford August 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I think, it is more convenient to use a bidet than toilet paper and paper towels. This way, you can also secure your personal hygiene. Been actually using one from http://products.mercola.com/toilet-bidet/ And I’m satisfied.

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