Do you still use paper towels?

You know how it is when you’ve been doing something out-of-the-ordinary for so long that you forget it’s out-of-the-ordinary?

That happened to me at work last week. I was asked to write an article for our newsletter suggesting people stop using paper towels, and I asked – in all seriousness – “People still use paper towels?”

Okay, yeah, I knew there were people still using paper towels. I mean, I see them in stores and commercials. I’m not completely dense.

But you see, I work for Franciscan Sisters now and this newsletter goes out to their Associates (lay people who take a vow to learn and live the Franciscan way of being). And as Franciscans tend to be more ecologically-minded than your average Joe or Joan, I figured telling them to use cloth rather than paper was kind of … basic?

So imagine my surprise when after the newsletter is emailed out to our 378 Associates, I start getting comments both online and in-person. People loving the idea and asking me how hard it was for me to make the switch (zero hardship involved).

And then I’m asked to send the article to the convent’s “Green Committee” so they can add it to their website. And then they asked if they could have any of my future “green tip” articles as well.

So that’s cool.

Anyway, since it’s going to be on their website, I figured I could share it here too. (See below.)

For the record, when I state in the article I stopped using paper towels five years ago, it’s really more like 10. (I didn’t want to come across cocky.) Also, please make note of the graphic – I created it myself and my pride knows no bounds.

Green tips for a greener world

If you’re interested in walking more gently on our Mother Earth, here’s an easy tip you can do today: ditch the paper towels and use cloth instead.

Switch from paper towels

More than likely, that paper towel you used to wipe up a little spill was made from virgin wood pulp from the boreal forest of northern Canada, one of the last big, intact forests in the world. What’s more, while paper towels are a paper product, they aren’t recyclable because the fibers are too short to be used again. Yet when paper towels break down in a landfill, they generate methane —a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide (Stanford Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2010).

Given these facts, cloth towels make a lot of sense! Making the switch is both easy and far more cost effective, and given the array of different designs and colors available, it’s likely one of the more enjoyable green choices you can make.

Here’s a another way to do it: cut a flour sack towel in fourths and sew the cut edges (two sides per square). Keep them in a small basket or bowl where you used to keep your paper towels, making the switch to cloth even easier. (I’ve been using these for over five years now— they’re very absorbent and if they get stained, they can be bleached.)

But what about those times when only paper towels will do? In that case, choose one made of recycled content. For a list of some of the better brands, as well as other eco-friendly options, go to:

We’ll be posting more green tips in this feature as we find them. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for future tips, let us know!

Back to me: One of the Sisters asked me where I keep my “non-paper” towels. I used to keep them in small basket on the counter, but it was misplaced in our move.

Recently I bought a new basket from the convent’s gift shop. It was made by one of the Sisters.

Basket of nonpaper towels

Lot more attractive than a roll of Bounty, don’t you think? 😉

18 thoughts on “Do you still use paper towels?

  1. Oh my gosh! We use sooo many paper towels around here! I always thought they were bio-degradable. But they give off methane gas? That is awful. Had no clue. Thanks for educating me on this, CJ. I will work on switching over to cloth. Oh, and your visual aid was great. I need to learn how to do that kind of stuff 🙂

    1. Don’t feel bad! Up until I wrote this article, I never knew there was an issue with them either. It has to do with the way they’re produced. If you get the ones that are made of recycled materials and unbleached, then you don’t have the methane problem (7th generation makes them). But for sure, switching to cloth is still a better option. 🙂

  2. Well … you see … I mean … no it goes like this: Yeah sometimes I use paper towels, but mostly I just don’t clean things up. I figure if the dirt isn’t actually moving it can’t be much of a problem.

    My wife has cloth towels all over the place and we rarely buy paper towels – maybe a package every three or four months. I will see if our local store has the better options available.

    1. Hey now! Did you teach my husband your not cleaning tips? That sounded awfully familiar! 🤔

      I think I’ve had the same roll of paper towels for a year now. It’s in the basement for those few times we really don’t want to use cloth (usually involving a pet accident of some kind 🙁)

  3. Guilty as charged, C.J. Guilty, guilty, guilty! Perhaps most embarrassingly, we use paper AND cloth, with no rhyme/reason about one over the other. A roll of paper towels beckons (too) conveniently at the edge of the kitchen sink. A dish towel waits patiently on the adjacent kitchen island. Both get ample use. Talk about getting caught up in the ordinary without even thinking about it. Thank you for this PSA. We’ll look forward to your future nods to Ms. Earth. In the meantime, we’ll see if we can’t get along without our roll of Bounty.

    1. Yeah, I’ve found making the paper less convenient is key. It’s just waaay to easy to grab it when it’s RIGHT there. That’s why our roll is in the basement — we have to really put thought into it before using.
      Your sins are forgiven, Dave. 😉

  4. We use both. I am a big fan of cloth but sometimes I need paper for those extra messy messy messes. I didn’t know the paper towels were giving off methane though! It’s probably better to use cloth for the really bad messes and then throw those out. Thanks for the info – great piece. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lynette!
      I hadn’t thought of using the cloth for extra messy messes — usually that’s the only time I use paper now, but you have a point. Especially as a woman at work told me she throws hers in the compost bin (as long as they’re all-cotton.) Thank for the idea!

  5. Hoo boy, brace yourself, because the benevolent crown is about to be knocked off my head. This is one area where I am failing society in a shocking and miserable manner. Both Partner and I think nothing of using copious amounts of paper towels in a slattern manner. Compounding the issue is that we have so many CLOTH towels in this house that we just recently dragged an entire box of them to the local Goodwill for resale, because we had never used at least 75% of our supply. (Price tags still dangled, it was that reprehensible.)

    I now sit here, drenched in shame. Sometimes you just need a gentle slap to get your focus where it should be. Thank you for that.

    1. Haha!
      You know the saying, “the more you know, the more you grow”? Guess it’s the opposite of “ignorance is bliss” — there’s no growth when you remain in ignorance. And I can never imagine you being blissfully ignorant of anything, so no worries. You may restore your benevolent crown.
      It’s your destiny, Brian. Live INTO it! 🤴

    1. We’re probably about the same, saving the paper for the more detestable kind of jobs. Though Lynette (above) makes a good defense of using cloth in those situations too. I’ll have to give it more thought…

  6. Guilty here, too. I use cloth extensively. But when the dog pees on the carpet, out come the paper towels! My husband prefers them to Kleenex for his honker. On the rare occasion I use one to wipe up dirt, it always goes in the compost bin. But I’ll give this some serious thought.

    1. Well, dog pee is a mess deserving of paper, I’d say. I’m guilty on that account, with no shame whatsoever. Though now that I know what paper towel decomposes better, I’m switching brands pronto.
      It’s a learning process, that’s for sure!

  7. CJ,
    This is a great post- I am sorry I read it so late- I am Indian and Indians have never gone much for paper towels for anything. But unfortunately in these last few years, ever since I have been out of India, I have given my mother boxes of paper tissues for them to use while guests come home- to hold finger food or to wipe their fingers after eating with their hands, when we could easily use the wash basin( as we have been doing for ages). And it is better not to bring TP into the equation- I live in a dorm now, where the TP runs out every day.
    We need to provide cloth towels for all our events and cloth handkerchiefs and cloth counter top wipes and cloth dish rags and so on.
    Love the idea of the cloth sack towel holder.
    I am going to go that route. Have you heard of women using cloth as sanitary napkins?

    1. I didn’t realize that about Indians, but it doesn’t surprise me. I expect Americans are the worst offenders when it comes to producing waste.
      As for sanitary napkins – yes! I heard of that fairly recently! Makes me wonder why it never occurred to me at the time. 🤔

  8. Christi,
    There are a couple of students in my environment and climate change class who use – menstrual cups- I can’t even bear to think of it but I am sure it helps the environment in its own way.
    Indians use banana leaves as plates, jack fruit leaves woven into spoons as cutlery ( we don’t use knives or forks)- very environmentally friendly but sad for the poor trees and a lot of waste generated while the leaves degenerate and go back to nature.

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