“Hun, can you bring me a wet paper towel?”
I’m pretty sure I could blame this on the pandemic or maybe my sudden retirement from an actual workplace to retreat to, but man does my spouse get under my skin. Approximately 30 times a day I will hear some version of the aforementioned query. It’s not that he’s particularly clumsy (he can be) or that he doesn’t always think through whatever project du jour he’s up to (he doesn’t) but more than that he considers a moistened paper towel one of the greatest inventions of mankind. He uses them for everything.
He isn’t alone. The good old U. S. of A. holds the rather worrisome title of the world's top consumer of paper towels - the ultimate, entitled, single use product ever conceived in the womb of capitalism. Good for us! Let’s chop down a tree because little Richard spilled his milk. On his shirt. Again. And only wet paper will keep it from staining. Richard is 69 going on 10. It’s only 9:30 in the morning.
According to a report in 2017 the world spent about 12 billion USD on paper towels and the United States accounted for 5.7 of those billions. That’s like half. Now we did come up with the concept back in 1907, but half? That’s a huge amount of money and waste. It’s become so embedded in our culture that everybody uses them for everything. As a napkin, as a sponge, as a handkerchief, as a plate. Use it - toss it - repeat. Even though they are compostable, most of them go straight to a landfill.
Not going to lie, this is a hard habit to break. Like really hard. I consider Richard a smidgen obsessed with paper towels, but I use them too and have not been able to go cold turkey myself. Is that going to stop me from suggesting that you go cold turkey? Of course not. Because it probably is the easiest way. We have stopped buying them, but someone may have enough in our garage for a zombie apocalypse. However. Directly in front of the paper towel dispenser is a cheap standing paper towel dispenser that is dispensing … UNPAPER TOWELS; really nifty little squares of absorbent fabric that you can throw in the wash instead of the trash. They roll onto and off of that dispenser like it was made for them. It stops me like 45% of the time.
Another 45% of my paper towel use has been obliterated by discovering the Swedish dishcloth. Invented by some Swedish engineer in 1949, these babies are the ‘paper towels/sponges’ of most of Europe. Made of cellulose and cotton they’re super absorbent, but they dry ninja quickly which keeps a lot of that bacteria at bay. If it gets a little grimy, toss it in the wash. They just keep going. It’s been suggested that one Swedish dishcloth replaces something like 17 rolls of paper towels. Lots more money in your wallet and space in your garage and at the end it goes right in the compost. Where the paper towels should be going. See what I just did there?
We keep repeating “Progress, not perfection,” because not all changes are no-brainers. Some require effort and mindfulness. The little change you make in your kitchen today isn’t going to save the world (although I will personally canonize St. Richard the day he reaches for fabric first!) If enough of us care to make that effort, it will change the world. One step at a time.