The Paper Towel Conundrum

Photo by Mikael Cho on Unsplash

Photo by Mikael Cho on Unsplash

I'm grateful to my mother for never using paper towels (kitchen roll, if you're my British husband) in the house when I was growing up.  I think the only thing she used them for was cleaning the bathroom mirrors (I do this with a towel as well).  We always had grubby tea towels in the laundry room cabinet that we used for bathroom cleaning on Saturdays.  

I've purchased a hand full of paper towel rolls in adulthood, but I never formed the habit of buying them regularly, partially because, living in New York City, the expense wasn't worth it, but also because I always used rags for cleaning my apartment.  

As I've been assessing all areas of my life and how to make little changes to reduce the trash I create, my office has been one of the biggest obstacles.  Well, my industry in general.  Apparel manufacturing is incredibly wasteful, but I won't go into that here (though it's something I will address and come to terms with when the time is right).  But any office is rife with opportunities for creating waste, or, looked at another way, for saving waste.  

My starting point: the bathroom sink.  When I wash my hands, I always use two (okay, three) paper towels to dry them afterwards.  There is a small electric hand dryer on the bathroom wall, but when it's working, the air stream is so pitiful that air drying is almost as good.  So for the sake of convenience, I always go for paper towels.  

How do I break my three paper towel per bathroom visit habit?  If I visit the loo four times in a work day (usually more because I drink so much water and coffee all day), that's 12 paper towels.  5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, that's over 3000 paper towels that are going to a landfill, all so I can avoid the discomfort of some damp hands for a minute or two.  

Are paper towels biodegradable?  Yes.  Are they compostable?  Aye.  But the amount of water used in the production of paper towels is wasteful, the chemicals used are often harmful, and they come at the cost of oxygen-producing trees that I need to keep me from suffocating in the polluted India air (coughs).  

The answer: do a little planning and bring my own damn towel to dry my hands with.  Or, in this case, a bandana, because it's what I had, and it folds up nice and tidy into a square that fits in my jeans pocket.  So I don't even have to look like a weirdo carrying my personal towel to the washroom.  And I know my hands are the only ones that have touched it, so I don't have to worry about rogue bacteria, as long as I wash it regularly.  

Well, that was easy.