Which is the more eco-friendly option: paper towels or cloths?
Welcome to our Glorious quiz.
Today, we’re about at solving one of the riddles which keeps eco-conscious folks awake at night.
Should you go for paper towels or kitchen cloths?
Tricky question, right?
But don’t rush for your buzzer and take some time to read our article.
To make it easier, Sheet Glory has broken down the environmental impact of these two options in multiple categories.
Let’s run through them so you can stock up (without panic buying) on the green champion and perhaps doze off afterwards.
When talking about waste, reusing something is generally better than relying on disposable items.
And that’s true in this case too.
Whether made of cotton, flax (linen) or microfibers, reusable kitchen cloths will reduce the amount of paper waste ending up in a landfill.
And that’s a huge bonus as there will be less methane emissions.
Why is that good?
Because methane drives global warming 30 times more than CO2.
Having said that, if you want to look at the bigger green picture, you’ll need to consider other type of waste:
- resources consumed during production (e.g., cotton is greedy for water and microfibers are made from fossil fuels)
- water, chemicals, and energy you need for washing and drying the cloth
- other impacts (e.g., microfibers release plastic when washed; more on this below)
You can probably see why claiming these to be zero waste would be cut out of whole cloth.
To add to that, not all single-use paper towels produce the same level of waste.
While you want to avoid those made of virgin paper, recycled paper towels are much more eco-friendly. Just to give you an idea, by using a tonne of waste paper you’ll save 3 yd3 of landfill space.
Finally, reusable bamboo paper towels are a valid low-waste alternative to cloths. Besides being much more absorbent than disposable tissues, you can use them up to 100 times. Think that a single roll of reusable bamboo kitchen paper is worth 286 rolls of the disposable one.
Other than paper, you want to go easy on water as well.
So, how can you water this down with your shopping?
And even when compared to linen cloths, paper napkins are way less thirsty, drinking about 70 times less water.
Out of paper towels alternatives, opting for recycled paper will save up to 30,000 L of water/ton compared to processing newly logged trees.
However, a potential winner for this round could be bamboo, as it grows 4 times faster than trees while drinking 30% less water.
It’s time to unveil the dirty secret hidden behind the microfiber cloth: Plastic.
We can see your quizzical look, but that’s what is made of.
Polyester and Nylon, to be precise.
Ironically, these dirty ingredients make microfiber a good cleaner.
On the other hand, whenever you wash these plastic-containing cloths, you’ll send tons of tiny fibers straight to the ocean. Here, the infamous microplastics will become a staple for fish and wildlife.
Just to avoid misunderstandings, it’s not a very nutritious meal for them. Quite the opposite. They feel so full of rubbish they don’t eat and may die of starvation eventually.
You know what’s even worse?
So, other types of kitchen cloths and paper towels win the plastic-free rally. Especially when you order our bamboo paper towels, which comes in a plastic-free packaging.
Not surprisingly, paper-free cloths are ahead of the game in this case.
Kitchen rolls made of regular paper are driving forest clearance.
Yet, tree-free paper towels options like hemp or bamboo can be a competitive alternative to cloths.
That’s because these plants grow much faster than trees. Also, having a short growth cycle, once reached maturity you can harvest them one or more times per year. Which means they’re renewable sources.
Besides saving the Earth’s lungs, choosing tree-free paper towels will protect wildlife species habitats and Indigenous people’s land.
However, for them to be truly forest-friendly, you want to make sure their harvest is FSC-certified.
We’ve left this as a final round for a reason. Pretty much all of the previous factors boost climate change to some extent.
For instance, you need to burn fossil fuels to make a microfiber (i.e., plastic, as we now know) cloth. And that releases a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Also, cutting down trees to make paper towels means cutting down on natural CO2 absorbers.
The result of that?
Our planet will become even warmer.
So, what has got the best climate-friendly score?
Based on napkins production, paper is smashing its rivals, emitting 10 times less greenhouse gas (GHG) than linen cloths and 100 times less than cotton ones.
But, of course, you want to bet on (reusable, ideally) bamboo paper towels rather than on those made from regular paper.
Because making bamboo fibres release 30% fewer GHG than producing virgin paper fibres.
What’s even greener about bamboo is that it’s a more powerful lung than a tree.
Right, time’s up.
And the winner is…
We know it’s a bit cliché but the answer to our dilemma is: “it depends”.
The type of raw material you use to make kitchen cloths and paper towels, and whether they’re single-use or disposable.
Although it’s a tight eco-battle, overall reusable bamboo paper towels seem to be the more eco-friendly solution that will put an end to your restless nights.