10 green ways to break the paper towel habit

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By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

America, you are addicted to paper towels.

Spill on the floor? Get a paper towel.

Mess in the microwave? Mop it with a paper towel.

Oil in the pan, dog accident on the rug, wet hands, the kid’s tears, cut on the finger, dinner napkins  – paper towels and lots of them.

A sure sign of addiction: Do you get anxious when you’re on your last roll?

Consider a few paper towel facts:

  • The average American uses 60 pounds of tissue a year, according to a market research firm. Tissue is the industry term for paper towels, facial tissues, paper napkins and toilet paper. (The average German resident, on the other hand, uses 33 pounds, Euromonitor International said.)
  • Those big-name fluffy paper towels that feel so good are made from virgin wood – that is, from a freshly cut  tree. They are whitened with chlorine. Read the label and see what you find (if the maker chooses to list ingredients.)
  • The “virgin wood” pulp and paper industry is the third greatest industrial emitter of global warming pollution, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
  • If every American household replaced one – just one – roll of paper towels made of virgin wood with one that is 100 percent recycled, that would save 544,000 trees in one year, the council reports.
  • That virgin wood doesn’t come from tree farms. The massive boreal forest of Canada is a prime source of wood that turns to pulp that turns to paper towels. Replanting a tree – as the paper industry says it does for every tree that’s chopped – occurs on controlled land, not in a forest.

The good news: Out of the paper industry, the tissue segment uses the largest amount of recycled materials. Bad news: Most of that is for commercial or manufacturer use, and virtually none for consumer-grade paper towels.

A shopper’s guide to the greenest (and least green) brands in the tissue industry was updated last year, according to Darby Hoover, a senior resources specialist at the NRDC. More companies are producing recycled paper products, but the market hasn’t shifted dramatically, she said.

Don’t cry over what to use for that spilt milk.

Here are at least 10 alternatives:

Biodegradable, natural microfiber cloths by Skoy

1. Microfiber cloth

Even though they are usually made from polyester and nylon, the very, very thin fibers of microfiber cloth make it super absorbent. It’s reusable, and there are lots of varieties, some greener than others.

Skoy cloths are 100 percent biodegradable, made of natural cotton and wood-based cellulose. The cloths are chlorine-free and the colors are water-based. A 4-pack of 7×7 inch colorful cloths is $7.

Another cute microfiber cloth is made by MU. They aren’t organic, but they’re pretty and come in a variety of sizes, including some with a built-in scrubber. There are even microfiber mop-heads. Shop around for relatively inexpensive bulk packages in the auto supply stores or in the car care section of discount stores.

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