The use of paper towels has several environmental implications. The paper industry classes the trees used to make paper towels as a “renewable resource.” This is mainly due to the fact the paper industry plant several trees per year, but even so planting new trees is no where near as environmentally friendly as preserving the existing forests. Even if the paper industry are actively planting new trees or not, the problem is far more complex;
• The Pulp and Paper industry are the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emission in the U.S. according to the State of the Paper Industry report by the Environmental Paper Network.
• The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes that the leading cause of freshwater wetland loss is due to industrial paper plantations.
• Nearly all paper towels are manufactured with chlorine, a toxin which can also release carcinogenic dioxins into the environment. In 1985 Dioxin was label as “the most potent carcinogen ever tested in lab animals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
• The paper industry according to various reports is responsible for release of many persistent toxin pollutants. This includes the previously mentioned chlorine as well as phosphorus, mercury and lead.
• In industrial nations around 11% of all freshwater is used up by the paper industry.
• 25% of landfill waste and one third of municipal landfill waste is down to paper.
• Despite classed as biodegradable, paper towels are very difficult to recycle and often fail to break down in landfill .
• Most inks used in paper towel manufacturing are non-renewable as they are petroleum based.
Environmental Paper Network notes that, “Global paper consumption is currently running at more than 350 million tons per year and fast approaching an unsustainable one million tons per day.” Each purchase of paper towel contributes to large and growing ecological issue.
I use recycled, is that better?
Although buying recycled paper towels is a step in the right direction, it is still far better to eliminate all paper towel use. An NRDC study found that if every household in the U.S. was to buy recycled over virgin paper towels that would save over 500,000 trees. Paper made from recycled pulp also uses far less energy, creates less solid waste, less wastewater, less pollution and fewer greenhouse emissions. Despite the above recycled paper towels have various issues which include;
• They create an illusion of being environmentally friendly, when in reality, the greenest step would be to go paper towel free.
• Recycled paper pulp still requires water, energy and chemicals to produce paper towels.
• Conservatree, which is one of the largest recycled paper pushers, admit the more sustainable goal would be reducing over recycling.
• According to one study recycled paper towels contained between 100- to 1,000-fold the concentration of bacteria as paper towel produced from virgin wood pulp. This is due to bacterial slime common at recycled paper mills.
• The main issue with either virgin or recycled is that these are single use, disposable items.
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