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MOVE OVER COPENHAGEN:
HOW ONE SMALL ACT
CAN HAVE A BIG
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Letís face it ---Itís happened to all of us. Youíre in the restroom drying your hands and you grab a paper towel, probably two, and a whole handful of paper towels come flying out of the dispenser. What the heck---itís only paper. Itís not as if you meant to be wasteful.

Do you ever think about where those paper towels come from? Can you connect the dots in the paper towel supply chain? The National Resources Defense Council tells us that we each use about 741 pounds of paper a year. Maybe we should give a little more thought to where our everyday conveniences, like paper towels, originate.

Paper towels begin with trees. Approximately 60% of our paper towels still come from virgin wood. That means that a tree is cut down to produce a paper towel that is used once and thrown away. Wasteful donít you think? You know those white paper towels that so many of us buy? They require bleach, chemicals, and millions of gallons of water to produce. Some of us have moved to recycled paper towels. Yes, they are better, but those towels still start as paper, i.e. trees, and require energy, chemicals, packaging, and distribution to get to a store near you. Not to mention that there is still some virgin fiber in paper towels that are made from less than 100% recycled paper. The really bad news is that the handful of paper towels that you used once and threw away, is now slowly decomposing in your local landfill giving off methane gas, the leading cause of greenhouse gases.

Six Really Good Reasons Not To Use Paper Towels

1. Trees, trees, trees: 17 trees are consumed to make 1 ton of paper towels.

2. Water is the new oil. Thousands of gallons of water are used make one ton of paper towels. Can we really afford to waste that much water for a single use product such as paper towels?

3. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up the largest share of municipal solid waste. While about half of paper waste is recovered for recycling or compost, the other half ends up in landfills, where it does not readily decompose.

4. Leading experts such as Greenpeace Canada, and the National Resources Defense Council, say that some of the virgin fiber used in paper towels is coming from ancient forests. Is it possible that single use disposable products, such as paper towels, could be made from ancient and endangered forests???

5. World Watch Paper reports that the US, with less than 5% of the world's people uses 30% of the world's paper. That's 7 times the world average. China, with more than 20% of the world's population, uses 11% of the world's paper. Sure, itís not all paper towels, but read onÖ

6. North Americans use 50 lbs. of tissue papers (thatís the paper classification for paper towels, toilet paper, etc.) per person, per year, up from 37 lbs. per person twenty years ago. We estimated that each of us uses 2,400 paper towels at work alone, equaling about 23 lbs. of paper. That means that paper towels outside of the home makes up almost 50% of our annual tissue paper consumption.

Itís not all that difficult to swear off paper towels at home and replace them with reusable sponges and old washable cloths. Itís another story to figure out how to reduce our use of paper towels while weíre at work or out and about. Paper towels, once a luxury, are now a mindless convenience. Theyíre just part of every oneís life, right? Well not exactly ---Japan, arguable way ahead of the US in sustainability, has been using reusable personal hand towels in public restrooms for decades. As many public restrooms in Japan do not provide paper towels, the choice when drying your hands is simple; carry a personal hand towel or use the back of your pants/skirt. Not always the best optionÖ

Isnít it time for those of us who now remember to bring our cloth bag to the grocery store, who have changed all our light bulbs to CFLs and refill our reusable water bottles, to start tackling the issue of single use products, such as paper towels? We all need to find more of these small sustainable acts with a big environmental impact to add to our daily Green routine. If each of us switched from paper towels to reusable personal hand towels in public facilities, in one year a ľ of a tree would be saved, 23 lbs. of landfill waste would be reduced and 250 gallons of water would be conserved. Not badÖ

How can you make this difference? Think about ways to carry your own hand-drying towel, B.Y.O.T. (bring your own towel) just like you do your water bottle and shopping bag. You can grab one from the linen closet or consider something that is less bulky and dries faster, such as organic reusable PeopleTowels. Remember to pack a personal hand towel in your purse or briefcase or clip on your backpack to use when youíre out and about. Put one in your drawer at work. Tuck one into your carry-on before getting on a flight. And, when youíre modeling this Green behavior in public restrooms, spread the word, and suggest that others help make an impact on the environment. Who would have thought that public bathrooms would be the next frontier for saving the planet?

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