Reduce paper towel use to increase environmental health


Diane Huang

Paper towels are overused and cannot be recycled after cleaning dirty hands. The towels used in the illustration above were recycled since they were not used for cleaning.

Students, faculty, and staff must stop wasting paper towels after washing their hands. For a community that prides itself on reducing its environmental footprint, whether it be through compost or by reducing the number trash cans (and thereby plastic liners) we collect and toss every day, it’s the use of paper towels in the bathroom is noticeably excessive: they spill from garbage bins, sometimes falling onto the floor.

Although facilities clearly tried to improve the situation by replacing the old paper towel dispensers with new, environmentally friendly ones that dispense measured amounts of paper towel, it doesn’t seem to stop people from dispensing the preferred amount of paper towel instead of the recommended one.

Reducing paper towel use is far easier than it might seem.”

Paper is usually recyclable, which might be why paper towels are used so liberally. However, since paper towels are used for cleaning, they are at risk of containing germs, food, or mold that could contaminate clean paper that actually can be recycled.

Thus, paper towels, by default, are not recyclable, and they must be reduced. Reducing paper towel use is far easier than it might seem: in fact, after any hand wash, only one paper towel (even the really low-quality ones) is necessary. Just follow these steps:

  1. Shake your hands quickly into the sink basin about 10 or so times
  2. Get one paper towel and
  3. Fold it in half, then
  4. Wipe your hands with the folded paper towel.

Take one paper towel and commit to improving one aspect of environmental sustainability – just one.