Friday, April 6, 2012

Paper Towels

Paper towels, like bottled water, are one of those products, that not too long ago simply did not exist, but today seem as necessary as oxygen.   Do we over-rely on these products?  I know I did.

I ran out of paper towels the other day.  Well, not really ran out, but realized, that since I hadn't been to the wholesale club in a while, that we needed some towels and were down to two rolls.

But it got me to thinking - what did we do before these things were invented?  I mean, how did our parents get along?

Granted, there are a lot of paper products out there that are a vast improvement over what came before.  For example, toilet paper, or disposable diapers.  But paper towels?  Maybe less so.

Some cooking recipes call for them, particularly when microwaving ("wrap in paper towel, microwave for 1 minute").  And they are handy for cleaning up spills and nasty messes.

But increasingly, we find we use them to dry our hands, which in this era of anti-bacterial soap, is something people do a lot more than in the past.  A handful of towels here, a handful there, and pretty soon, you've gone through another roll.

Before we had paper towels, we had cloth towels, of course.   When you washed your hands, back in 1967, you used a cloth towel to dry your hands.  And many people still do today.   But what I found was, that in places like the laundry room or kitchen, I was using paper towels more and more.

So, we went back to using hand towels.   And this has cut our paper towel consumption by 90%.   We have tons of hand towels, and they are not hard to wash and dry and fold.   I mounted some hooks near every sink to hang them on, when not in use.  I found some coat hooks in the closets that were not in use and hung them by the laundry sink in the garage and by the bar sink.  This way the towels dry.

But is this sanitary?  Good question.   But in the not-too-distant past, this is what we all used, all the time.   Towels should be changed often, of course.  But for hundreds, if not thousands of years, we used towels to dry our hands.

And in restaurants today, well, chefs aren't going through rolls of paper towels every time they wash their hands.  Various hand towels and the like are used all the time in restaurants, with little apparent ill effect.

In fact, some have argued that our germ-phobic culture is backfiring on us.   We are so isolated and insulated from our environments that people are developing stronger allergies and less resistance to infection.   Anti-bacterial hand soap is a good thing - but you can have too much of a good thing.

We will get more towels, down the road, the next time we visit the wholesale club.   But I want to scrutinize the cost of these things further.   Paper towels are one of those things that seem to have irrational pricing - and are hard to compare - as many are labeled in terms of "cost per sheet" even though they have different sheet sizes.

But, like living without coffee, it is interesting how quickly we adapted.  And it almost seems obscene how we used to tear through huge packages of paper towels in just a few weeks.