Paper Towel Alternatives: Recycled, Bamboo, Swedish DishCloth, UnPaper Towels, and more.

At the beginning of 2019, my family made a pledge to convert our home to being as sustainable as possible. I have been on a mission to switch the products we use in our home to plastic-free and sustainable alternatives. It’s tempting to throw everything out and buy all plastic-free alternatives, but we are on a budget and it just seems wasteful to take that approach. So we decided as we run out of things, the replacements are swapped out for a more sustainable alternative. 
For the month of August, my family checked toilet paper off of the list. You’re probably thinking that toilet paper is an interesting place to start this plastic-free/sustainable conversion. Like why not the obvious zip lock baggies, or plastic food wrap, or even Tupperware? Let me tell ya… the kitchen is coming, but for some reason the bathroom became ground zero.
Click here to check out my first sustainable/plastic-free blog post.
This month, I’m talking paper towels. I think that the fact that my family runs out of paper products so quickly just speaks to the amount we consume on a daily/monthly/yearly basis. If you think about every family and business that uses paper products as frequently as they do, the amount being consumed is huge!
For something that is so highly consumed, a more sustainable alternative is definitely needed.

So what’s the big deal?
Why should you care about ditching the paper towels for a more sustainable alternative??
Let’s look at a couple of the facts:

  • GlobeCoMaine sums it up well, “Producing all that paper consumes a lot of resources including 110 million trees per year, and 130 billion gallons of water. Comparably huge amounts of energy are required to manufacture and deliver it from the factory to the store, causing plenty of carbon dioxide to be emitted into the atmosphere. After a single use, it all goes into the landfill – some 3,000 tons annually – where it generates methane as it decomposes. Like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that’s strongly implicated as a cause of climate change.”
  • From the ecofamilylife blog, if “the average person uses around 3000 paper towels at work in a given year”. Just as an exercise because I’m curious, go ahead and multiply that times the population of your city. For example, the Denver Metro Area, as of April 2019, has a population of 2,932,415. Of that, the most recent data from 2017. says Denver’s workforce population of 402,288.

402,288 x 3,000 = 120,6864,000 paper towels in a given year JUST AT WORK. (And that’s just one city!)

Now let’s talk germs because avoiding germs is one of the main reasons we use paper towels. The paper towels are clean and you use them once so the germs go in the trash. For kitchen counters and other household uses, a possible solution could be a good old fashioned sponge; however, sponges can hold more germs than a dirty toilet seat. Why would I use something that is considered more sustainable if it could compromise my health? I wouldn’t. That’s why the products I mention in this post are on my go-to list for sustainable alternatives. Sponges are out; not only are most conventional sponges made of plastic, but they are a germ cesspool. Ew.

As I mentioned before, my family switched to a more sustainable toilet paper option. You’d think I would stick to bathroom products, but in some ways, it’s great that the next product that I wanted to tackle was paper towels. Many of the same types of materials that are used for toilet paper are also used for your everyday paper towels. I’ll provide a brief overview of each of these, but since I covered the first three in my toilet paper post, CLICK on the first three materials to see the full description of how each of these impact the environment. These include:

Although the majority of paper towels are made the same way and use the same materials as toilet paper options (as mentioned above), there are actually many more options available to replace paper towels in your home. These include:

  • Swedish Dishcloth (Skoy, etc.) – “It is a European made product and 100% biodegradable when properly composted because it is made from a natural cotton and wood-based cellulose pulp. After an independent composting test, Skoy Cloth broke down completely within 5 weeks…Using a Skoy Cloth is equivalent to using 15 rolls of paper towels in an average home.” What I like about these, they come in other colors so stains don’t show up as often. Also, they come in a pack of four, so they last FOREVER!! Also, they are dishwasher compatible, bye bye germs.
  • Twist Euro Sponge Cloths – Similar to the Swedish towel, “One reusable cloth will outlast 17 rolls of paper towels”. What I like about them, they are SUPER affordable, available at your local grocery store (at least at larger chains like King Soopers), and the quality is pretty good for how much cheap they are. What I don’t like about these, they are white and stain really easy.
  • NotPaper Towels – Think cloth towels about the size of one paper towel sheet. What I like about them: machine washable and they come in many different colors including dark gray which is great for hiding stains. Also, no plastic! What I don’t like about them: unless I am on top of the laundry, I run out of clean towels and end up using paper towels in a pinch since they are more readily available and cheaper.
  • Unpaper towels – These are almost the same as the NotPaper Towels that I mentioned above. What I like about these: unpaper towels are usually 100% cotton and they are machine washable! No plastic or chemicals. What I don’t like about them: they are initially a more pricey option compared to the other alternatives and unless I am on top of the laundry, the same thing happens with the NotPaper Towels mentioned above. Also they tend to be white, so stains show up a bit easier.
  • Huck Towels – first of all, what are huck towels? The ecofamilylife blog describes them well, “Huck towels are a cotton towel that can have many different uses. They were originally used to clean surgical instruments and often used for window cleaning because they don’t leave any lint. They are a great addition to an eco friendly home as they can replace disposable products such as paper towel.” What I like about them: they are extremely versatile, tough, and relatively cheap for a cloth towel. They also can come in a variety of patterns and colors if you have a theme or color scheme you are trying to stick with. What I don’t like about them: they are slightly high maintenance or have particular requirements when it comes to washing them.   
  • Unpaper towels with plastic snaps – I mention these, because they are an option that I see frequently in any google search and even in local zero waste shops, but these are out for me… they have PLASTIC snaps! It defeats the purpose! 

There are so many different alternatives out there that are healthier for you and the environment! And of course, when there are more sustainable paper towel alternatives available, basic-plastic-wrapped paper towels should not be the only option. 
I get it though, making the switch to reusable cotton dish towels seems doable, but what happens when the dog pukes on the carpet? I might opt out of the reusable dish towels since I don’t really want to put that in my washer! For THOSE messes… you know we all experience them, I’ll opt for a more sustainable paper towel.
Pictured below are all sustainable options available at the local grocery store or zero waste store for THOSE messes (from left to right, top to bottom):

So overall, out of all of these options, which ones have received the ultimate stamp of approval from my family?? See below:
Skoy ClothFor wiping down the kitchen counters, tabletops, etc.What I like about it:

  • It saves so many paper towels!! By using less paper towels to clean up things like my counter, etc., I’ve noticed I don’t use as many trash bags through the week since I swear most of my trash can is filled with food, plastic food wrappers, and paper towels.
  • They come in different colors, other than white, so staining really isn’t a problem. No one wants stained white cloths hanging out on their counter.
  • It dries completely and it is dishwasher safe! After I use it and set it on the drying rack, I am comforted by the fact that it’s not just sitting in a sess pool of germs since it dries quickly like a sponge would.
  • When it’s time to throw it out, it won’t add to the trash problem since it is compostable.

What I don’t like about it:

  • Storage is a bit of an issue. When the cloths dry, they don’t dry flat. I’ve found that a napkin holder works really well for holding them in all of their shapes. 
  • There is an upfront cost that seems pricier than other options, especially when you are on a budget.
  • It’s not as readily available in local grocery stores as regular paper towels. If you want to make the switch you need to plan your shopping trip in advance so that you don’t resort to good ole fashioned plastic-wrapped paper towels.
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Who Gives A Crap Forest Friendly Paper TowelsFor “the dog puked on my carpet” messes mentioned earlier.What I like about it:

  • Little plastic is used. Each roll is wrapped in paper and the cardboard box is recyclable. Like I mentioned in my toilet paper post, there are reviews out there that mention their box was delivered with plastic zip ties around the box, this has not been my experience and I have been purchasing products from this company since the beginning of the year.
  • I was concerned about where they source their bamboo from, so I asked and they answered (very quickly too) – In their email response to me, the stated that “our bamboo is predominantly grown in remote areas of Sichuan Province, China by local farmers who plant bamboo on the borders of their small family farms to supplement their income. Unlike industrial agriculture (like special plantation forests created for toilet paper and other paper products) no vast areas of land are cleared. On top of this, the bamboo process is all very localised. Each village has its own bamboo co-op and after it has been harvested, it gets chipped and then goes to a local pulp factory. Sourcing bamboo this way means there are no adverse effects on natural forestry or wildlife.”
  • A percentage of the profits goes toward a cause. You can find their giving initiatives HERE. I like that my money goes further than just the product that I’m buying.

What I don’t like about it:

  • I don’t think each roll needs to be wrapped in paper. Seems wasteful. 
  • My paper towels don’t need to be bleached. It would be nice if there was an unbleached option.
  • When I first started using this product, we used it very quickly. It just seemed like the rolls weren’t very thick. That was before we started incorporating a “euro” cloth into our routing. Now that I use euro cloths (like Skoy) to clean my counters, etc. I am not using paper towels as much so the Who Gives a Crap Bamboo Paper Towel Roll lasts longer. We don’t change out the paper towel roll as often with the new routine.

Where can you find these products? Click on the name of the eco friendly alternative above to purchase each product from their website. If you live in the Denver area, check out one of my favorite stores, Zero Market. I cannot guarantee these shops will have the products in stock, but it’s worth a look. If you don’t live in Denver, search “zero waste” in your area on Google Maps. More and more zero waste and sustainable shops are popping up globally.
I will update what has been working for my family in Paper Towel World as new products come on the market and new research becomes available regarding the environmental impact of the products we use on a day to day basis. 
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to find out when I post about sustainable alternatives for your home. I really hope you are now feeling encouraged to make even a small change in your home!
Until next time, 

*Disclaimer – I am not being paid or asked to review any of the products that I mentioned in this blog post. I simply love sharing what has worked for me and my family in hopes of helping you, the people you do life with, and the environment, as well.

Resources:1. https://durafreshcloth.com/881-2/2. https://ecofamilylife.com/cleaning/paper-towel-usage-facts-amazing-things-you-need-to-know/3. https://www.skoycloth.com/products?gclid=Cj0KCQjwz8bsBRC6ARIsAEyNnvoG3qw7zuOf_6oOboN5-qzXGm3WWgiVqcp_nojM0sFUzyCSwaYVwA4aAs1fEALw_wcB4. https://www.kingsoopers.com/p/twist-euro-sponge-cloths/00894319001115. https://wellearthgoods.com/products/unpaper-towels-12-pack?variant=16574608572475&currency=USD&utm_campaign=gs-2018-11-10&utm_source=google&utm_medium=smart_campaign&gclid=Cj0KCQjwhdTqBRDNARIsABsOl98A4AsSbE8vGQaM0FECG_LsijEd5Uze_RuX88vh-YD0SDqVn0sYS7saAov7EALw_wcB6. https://food52.com/shop/products/6628-unpaper-towels-set-of-167. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014NVXL1G/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=ecofamilyli02-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B014NVXL1G&linkId=a26c6466df4f11c6915866ce46ad989b8. https://ecofamilylife.com/home/what-are-huck-towels-and-why-you-will-want-one/9. https://kdvr.com/2019/04/18/new-census-data-denver-metro-population-nears-3-million/10. https://denverdweller.com/denver-refill-shops/11. https://us.whogivesacrap.org/pages/our-impact

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