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Do Your Part: Ease away from paper towels, napkins

Terri Bennett McClatchy Newspapers

There is a secret obsession taking place in kitchens across America. It’s an addiction to paper towels and napkins.

I know they’re easy and convenient and sanitary, but there are other choices that will help you tread a little more lightly on the planet without sacrificing convenience.

The most eco-friendly alternative to paper towels – and likely the most inexpensive in the long term – is to dedicate a drawer in your kitchen for reusable washcloths and towels that will last for years.

Yes, you will have to launder them and that requires energy and other resources. But that’s far less than the impact of continually producing, distributing and disposing of a paper towel that we use just once.

If you just aren’t ready to give up paper towels completely, then pick a better paper towel.

Look for towels made from recycled paper – specifically, those made with a high post consumer content of 50 percent or more. That’s the recycled paper you and I as consumers generate. Now when you reach for a paper towel at least it’s not a virgin paper product that will never get used again.

Paper towels and napkins can’t be recycled because they are usually soiled with grease or food residue that can contaminate the recycling process.

Don’t worry if the recycled paper products you buy aren’t gleaming white. Paper isn’t white naturally; it has to be bleached. When pulp and paper mills use chlorine-based bleach the result is toxic emissions into our air, land and water.

So feel good about your selection of slightly off-white or brown recycled paper towels (and napkins), knowing that you are not only reducing waste, you’re reducing pollution in the environment too.

For help selecting chlorine-free paper towels and napkins with the most recycled content visit

I gave up paper towels a year ago. My children and husband, however, did not. I keep a roll of recycled paper towels near the sink and we go through a roll about every two weeks, so we’re getting better.

The added benefit is that I’m also saving money since I’m buying fewer paper products.

Habits are hard to break but it’s easy to reduce your dependency on paper towels. Whether you cut out paper towels completely, cut back on how many you’re using, or pick a smarter paper towel, you’ll be doing your part to live a greener, more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist and host of, where you can find everyday green living ideas that are better for you and the planet.
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