Welcome to the second installment of a series of special “spring purge” posts that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of months. The topic? Environmentally dubious household items that you might want to take a second look at while tackling spring cleaning duties. And when I say “take a second look at” I mean you should reconsider using and/or replace with a more eco-sensible alternative. 

Last week, I recommended a household purge of antibacterial cleaning products containing the potent chemical triclosan. Today, I’m scrutinizing a household staple — 90 percent of American households use ‘em for cleaning — that doesn’t leave a toxic footprint as triclosan does but is responsible for a staggering amount of landfilled waste … 3,000 tons per day to be exact. I’m talking about paper towels.

I’m not suggesting that you completely purge your home of paper towels — personally, I can’t imagine living without them, especially for bathroom touch-ups — but I do recommend reassessing your paper towel usage as you go about your spring cleaning rituals. For one, I’d move your roll stash into a spot that’s, well, less convenient. Have a roll right by the kitchen sink? Place it somewhere where you’d be less likely to grab for it. This purge is essentially all about habit adjusting. 

When buying paper towels, go the recycled-content route. I used to be obsessed with Viva paper towels, the "Rolls Royce” of paper towel-dom but over the last couple of years, I’ve curbed my plush paper towel route and have begun keep a recycled-content roll around. According to Carbonrally, by using just four less rolls, you'll reduce your personal carbon emissions by 5.8 pounds. Other figures state that if every American household replaced just one regular roll of paper towels with a recycled brand, a half million trees would be saved. 

In addition to a near-purge and switch to recycled-content varieties, I highly recommend training yourself to using a tea, dish, or any sort of reusable towel. Sure, they’re not perfect since you have to launder them but their non-throwaway nature makes them an excellent eco-option. Plus, they look cool and can add a touch of decorative flair to your home. Below are just a few reusable towels to whet your appetite. For even more, be sure to check out this post from back in November. Happy cleaning.

bsharpedesigns I'm Not A Paper Towel Kitchen/Tea Towel @ Etsy ($9)

Claudia Pearson Illustration 2010 Calender Tea Towel @ Supermarket ($12)

For the Love of  Earth Towel @ People Towels ($8) 

SKOY Paper Towel Replacement @ ReusableBags.com ($6.95)

Girlscantell Gardening Tools Striped Towel Set @ Supermarket ($20)

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The spring purge: Paper towels
On a roll with spring cleaning activities? Hold up for a moment and reconsider the way you use and abuse a household cleaning staple: Paper towels.