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.
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?