Are Paper Towels Bad for the Environment?

The U.S. consumes nearly half of all the world’s paper towels, with the towels now a common accessory in just about every house and business across the country. This comes as no surprise; the absorbent, soft sheet rolls are convenient, disposable, and cost-effective. Whether in a residential home, commercial business, or public restroom, there is nothing a few sheets of paper towel can’t wipe up, clean, or dry! However, with such frequent usage across the globe, it’s only normal to wonder how this single-use product affects the planet. Let’s discover some ways paper towels can cause environmental problems and how we can reduce the carbon footprint of such frequent paper towel usage.

 Are Paper Towels Bad for the Environment?

Think of other kinds of single-use products similar to paper towels that you use daily. You probably rattled off a few common ones in your head, like tissues, napkins, and toilet paper.

Numerous industries require these types of single-use products in their operations to wipe off hands, clean up spills, or wipe down surfaces—meaning there’s a constant need for paper towels in such establishments! However, this necessity translates directly into negative environmental impact. Did you know that to make one ton of paper tolls, it takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water?

Not to mention, an incomprehensible amount of paper towels ends up in landfills where they generate methane—a greenhouse gas x20 more harmful than carbon dioxide— as they break down. 254 million tons of paper towels get discarded per year, to be precise. The daily use of the paper product is crowding landfills and contributing to global warming.

So, are paper towels bad for the environment? Based on statistics, it’s safe to say yes. However, there are many ways to use paper towels responsibly. Below, we’ll cover a few easy methods that can lower your impact on the planet, while still allowing you to use paper towels freely and to your optimal benefit.

How Can I Reduce the Carbon Footprint of My Paper Towel Usage?

Although paper towels used in excess can affect the planet in dangerous ways, it still remains a convenient, effective, and efficient product for various purposes.

The good news is that there are many alternatives to traditionally harmful single-use products that will achieve the same results and perform just as well as some of your favorite items— without the negative environmental impacts!

Check out some effective, sustainable alternatives to use in auto shops, mechanic shops, hospitals, public restrooms, or residential homes.

Sustainable Alternatives to Paper Towels

  • Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

  • Recycled Paper Towels

  • Cloth Rags

  • Sponges

  • Cotton Napkins

Making this switch to greener, more eco-friendly products helps reduce your carbon footprint and works to lessen water pollution, landfill buildup, and deforestation.

Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

Because of the thousands of fibers per inch of fabric, microfiber cloths can absorb seven times their weight in water! They’re much more effective at removing bacteria, trapping dirt and liquid, and leaving surfaces streak-free and clean. Microfibers also reduce the use of harsh chemicals that are unable to break down in the environment.

Recycled Paper Towels

You may be familiar with the brown paper towels commonly found in public bathrooms to dry off your hands. Fortunately, that natural brown color is an eco-friendly sign! These popular recycled paper towels are made from recycled, unbleached kraft paper. Although you still cannot recycle recycled paper towels, you can compost them, and that’s a sustainable step in the right direction!

Other options of recycled paper towels also exist, with reject or imperfect rolls being a great option to save what may otherwise have been thrown away without ever being used.

Cloth Rags

Imagine working around an auto or mechanic shop or hustling on the kitchen line to prepare meals for guests and using a paper towel every single time you needed to wipe your hands or clean up a small spill. Not only would that waste a ton of product, but that’s a recipe for environmental disaster! You may often see mechanics or professional chefs with cloth rags hanging from a pocket or draped over their shoulders—that’s because they can repeatedly use them! Cloth rags are sustainable alternatives that not only work efficiently to wipe hands and surfaces but last longer thanks to their machine-washability and multi-use purpose.


Sponges are absorbent and gentle enough to use on most surfaces. They can clean up messes and spills in an instant, and they’re one of the most cost-effective alternatives mentioned thus far! Plus, they’re easy to wash and dry fast, ready to use over and over again for convenient cleaning and wiping.

Cotton Napkins

Cotton is a soft, gentle material that works well for dusting and mopping. Not only are cotton napkins extremely durable, but they’re reusable and biodegradable, so you can get the most out of your napkin, wipe, or cloth. The production of cotton does not cause any additional environmental impact; therefore, it’s a great eco-friendly alternative to paper towels.

Make a Sustainable Switch with Discount Shop Towels

At Discount Shop Towels, we believe in making cleaning a quick, easy, and sustainable process. With an extensive supply of top-quality, disposable, and reusable bulk shop towels, industrial wipers, cotton rags, and various other shop-related products, there’s no mess you can’t handle.

It’s never been easier to find single-use alternatives like practical microfiber towels and durable cloth rags. Not only will you make light work of wiping your hands, cleaning up spills, and leaving behind streak-free surfaces, but you’ll better about no longer harmfully impacting the earth! That’s a win-win in our book.

Would you like to discuss what kind of products best suit your auto shop, mechanic shop, or home garage? Maybe you’re interested in setting up automatic monthly towel shipments for even more convenience? We’re here to help! Contact us today.

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