by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Paper towels are handy for cleaning up a milk spill, drying hands, and cleaning the house. Maybe a little too handy.
In 2017, consumers spent $39,203 million on household paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, tissues, etc). Plus, consumer spending went up by $1,958 million over a two-year period, with spending totaling a lesser $37,245 million in 2015. (1)
Let’s look at it another way.
Americans use 741 pounds of paper each year, on average. Nearly 55 of those pounds are for household paper products such as paper towels, napkins, tissues and toilet paper. (2)
That’s a lot of paper products.
As users of so many paper products it’s worth asking, are chemicals found in these products and if so, are there nontoxic alternatives?
Paper products, such as paper towels can contain dyes, inks, fragrances, chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, adhesives, and other chemicals. Here are a few of the specifics:
There are companies that make paper towels with nontoxic ingredients, such as using peroxide instead of chlorine bleach for whitening. Some companies simply leave ingredients, such as dyes and inks out of products. It’s tough to know for sure though.
Manufacturing companies are not required to list ingredients on paper towels, keeping consumers in the dark about the full list of ingredients used to make the product. The next best thing consumers can do is to choose paper towels that say it does not have dyes, fragrances, or bleach in it.
Another option is to ditch the paper towels (nearly) all together, and use fabric towels instead. Limit use of paper towels to cleaning soiled areas, such as toilets. Instead of using paper towels for dusting and wiping surfaces, use rags (old or new!) for cleaning the house.
Hang hand towels in the kitchen and bathrooms for drying hands after washing. Have one or two extra hand towels hand-y (ha!) when entertaining guests so that towels can be changed if they become too wet. When buying new hand towels, choose towels made from organic, natural fabric and dyes plus those without finishes.
Breaking the habit of using so many paper towels (and other paper products) may take a little getting used to but can be a worthwhile change. There’s a potential to reduce the amount of money that the household is spending on paper products, reduce the amount of chemicals in the home, and reduce the poundage of paper products used per year. An all around win!
(3) ATSDR - CDFs