Last week, as I watching TV, a commercial for paper hand towels came on and presented the need for a disposable hand towel. The commercial captured what seemed to be the unsanitary, cloth towel that we are used to and love, being used over and over again by various different sets of hands. Then revealed the single-use paper towel, fresh and white, that can be used once and tossed away. My heart sank. Just when I began to think that companies are taking steps towards green living, saving the planet and educating consumers to make the right choice, this commercial came up and shattered my naivety. My mind began racing: cloths towels – need to be washed often (however are being used AFTER we have already washed our hands with soap), disposable towel – what does it take to produce paper towels?
I jumped on the computer and began researching: germs, product packaging, ‘the amount of water used to produce paper’, ‘amount of water used for a load of laundry’…
The results went hand in hand with my instinct. “Life cycle analysis” (LCA) for paper towels starts in a forest with logging, and includes transport and processing usage, disposal, and degradation in a landfill. For paper production, generic emissions values based on the whole paper industry were used. Similarly, average energy per dollar cost data is used for garbage bag production, paper towel transport, and waste disposal. Waste disposal is calculated purely based on cost per weight and emissions per dollar of disposal. It was assumed that 2 paper towels constitute one use. These results showed that depending on the dryer used and its run time, the emissions were anywhere between 9 and 40 grams of CO2 per use (9-20grams per 30 seconds, which equals one button press). Using two paper towels emitted 56 grams of CO2.
It seems as if the commercial ‘forgot’ to mention this information. I began to ponder upon our generation and the need for convenience. It is worth polluting our environment, cut down trees, transport paper towels across the country and keep filling our landfills with waste to avoid adding one little hand towel to our laundry loads every other day?