Almost 48% of the $12 billion spent on paper towels in 2017 was spent by Americans alone. Joe Pinsker, of The Atlantic, wrote: “In an era of waning American exceptionalism, inhabitants can at least pride themselves on an underratedly important, probably shameful distinction: They reside in the paper-towel capital of the world” (Pinsker, 2018).
Disposable paper towels are wasteful and can only be used once. Some can be composted, but many of them are treated with chemicals and dyes that are bad for the environment and make them impossible to compost. These chemicals are often bad for our health as well.
Creating, packaging, and transporting paper towels generates carbon emissions. This is true with almost all products, including a widely used alternative to a paper towel - a reusable cloth. But a cloth will last much longer than a paper towel, so instead of buying new packaging and paying for more transportation every month or two when you need another package of paper towels, you’re only buying a few towels every couple of years.
There are concerns that reusable cloths trap germs and contaminate surfaces that you’re trying to clean, but there is little evidence to support this. According to Brad Gray, Head of Campaigns for environmental organization Planet Ark, you won’t have to worry about germs as long as you regularly clean your cloths and use hot water.
For the next two weeks, use a reusable cloth instead of a paper towel. This will help you reduce your carbon footprint and your paper use!
One great alternative to paper towels is a reusable cloth. You can easily make one by cutting up an old shirt or other piece of cloth. You can also buy more sponge-like ones at many stores, or use a tea towel.
One not-so-great alternative is a sponge. Sponges often contain harmful chemicals and are disposable. Here is a link to Project 5 Billion’s challenge to avoid sponges from fall of last year. If you want an extra challenge, try avoiding paper towels and sponges for two weeks. Reusable cloths are a great alternative for sponges, too, so you’ll only need one cleaning tool!
Blatchford, E. (2016, July 15). Paper Towels Vs Cloths: Which Ones Should You Use In Your Kitchen? Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/02/22/paper-towels-versus-cloth_n_9294566.html.
Pinsker, J. (2018, December 10). Americans Are Weirdly Obsessed With Paper Towels. Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/12/paper-towels-us-use-consume/577672/.
Instead of our normal challenges this July, we're challenging you to take the Plastic Free July challenge. Try to cut down on or go without plastic for the month. Check out Plastic Free July's website to learn more. Going without single-use plastic, or any plastic, is a lot easier than you might think! Below are links to some of our past challenges that will get you started on your plastic-free journey.
We have to protect our oceans! Jenny Desmond requested that we take a day to talk about ocean protection.
6 Threats to Ocean Life
Plastic pollution: Animals are killed by ingesting or by being tangled in plastic.
Overfishing: Taking too many fish out of the ocean threatens the ecosystem.
Whaling: There are just over 100 West Pacific grey whales left in the wild.
Climate change: Coral bleaching, habitat loss, and rising sea levels are all caused by climate change.
Oil and gas: A lot of oil and gas reserves are under the sea floor.
Shipping: Ships create a lot of damage, including oil spills and anchor damage.
8 Ways to Help
1. Reduce your carbon footprint - take these P5B challenges 3. Participate in beach cleanups (if you live on the coast)
4. Choose sustainable seafood (or don’t eat it at all)
5. Buy sustainable products from sustainable companies
6. Avoid using pesticides and other toxic chemicals
7. Be aware of your impact while on vacation
8. Cut down on all waste - take this challenge: Upcycle
“Oceans Issues & Threats.” Greenpeace USA, www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/issues/.
“Threats to Oceans and Coasts.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/problems/.
“10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean.” National Geographic, 29 May 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/take-action/10-things-you-can-do-to-save-the-ocean/.
Smithsonian Ocean Team. How You Can Help the Ocean, 14 May 2018, ocean.si.edu/conservation/climate-change/how-you-can-help-ocean.
Flower gardens do more than just look and smell pretty. They provide a safe haven for bees and other pollinators. Pollinators are the animals that spread pollen between flowers, allowing them to create seeds. These animals include bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, moths, birds, and bats. Pollinators are essential parts of our ecosystem. In fact, “three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce” (NRCS).
Many pollinators are endangered species, especially bees. One of the easiest ways to help pollinators is to plant gardens full of flowering plants that attract pollinators and provide food
for them. Bees and other pollinators eat pollen and nectar, so planting a garden will help both the pollinators and the plants.
During the next two weeks, try planting some flowers that attract pollinators. Some of these flowers are peony, milkweed, lavender, and marigold.
In the coming weeks, we’ll post more information about each species of pollinator, instructions for how to plant a garden, and links to other projects that are working to protect pollinators.
“Natural Resources Conservation Service.” Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/.
“Saving the Bees through Outreach and Education.” The Honeybee Conservancy, thehoneybeeconservancy.org/.
One great way to reduce your home’s energy usage (and your carbon footprint) is using a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer. Most clothes dryers are powered by electricity, which, unless you use only renewable energy, is created with fossil fuels.
You might be surprised by how much energy your dryer uses. According to a report by Energy Star,
“Residential clothes dryers account for approximately 6% of residential electricity use” (Energy Star, 2011). This means that switching to a clothesline can save you as much as 6% on your next energy bill.
For the next two weeks, try using a clothesline to dry your clothes. We’ll be posting easy instructions about how to make a clothesline in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ENERGY STAR Market & Industry Scoping Report Residential Clothes Dryers. Nov. 2011,
According to the EPA, compostable food scraps and other natural waste products account for more than 28 percent of a home’s weekly trash (EPA 2019). (For vegetarian households, the percentage is typically higher because more of its food scraps are compostable.) Sending that waste to the landfill increases energy use and pollution: more trash means more trash trucks and more trips to the landfill. In addition, as the waste rots in the landfill, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas.
Composting at home is a simple method of “food recovery” (reducing food waste by redistributing or recycling discarded food). It creates a rich soil amendment for your garden and landscape plants, and it’s totally free (except for any bin materials you have to buy).
Building a compost bin and composting food and yard waste is much easier than most people think. While you can build a three-bin composter to manage your compost in stages, this is overkill for most home use. All you really need is a clear area of dirt that is fenced off to keep out the family dog. Here’s one simple design you can build in a few hours:
To start composting, simply dump your compostable material into a pile, forming it into a mound. Turn over the pile every couple of weeks; a pitchfork works best, but you can also use a shovel. If you add a lot of paper, grass clippings, and other dry materials, you might need to add some water to the compost to keep it moist, but if you compost mostly food scraps, you shouldn’t have to add water. Once the compost at the bottom looks like dark brown soil (in fact, it is soil), it’s ready to use.
What to Compost
Compostables are grouped as “greens” or “browns.” To make the richest and quickest compost, try to add half greens and half browns to your pile.
What Not to Compost
Properly managed compost piles have a fruity-vegetable smell (for real). They smell bad only if you add the wrong types of food or you dump in loads of green grass (which smells terrible). Never add any of these items to your pile.
For the next two weeks, try composting your natural waste instead of throwing it away. If you already have a compost pile, send us some composting tips or tell us what you’re using your compost for.
The planet thanks you!
"Composting At Home." EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Nov. 2019,
This challenge is relevant to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Jane Goodall said the following about the pandemic:
“It is our disregard for nature and our disrespect of the animals we should share the planet with that has caused this pandemic, that was predicted long ago.
Because as we destroy, let's say the forest, the different species of animals in the forest are forced into a proximity and therefore diseases are being passed from one animal to another, and that second animal is then most likely to infect humans as it is forced into closer contact with humans.
It's also the animals who are hunted for food, sold in markets in Africa or in the meat market for wild animals in Asia, especially China, and our intensive farms where we cruelly crowd together billions of animals around the world. These are the conditions that create an opportunity for the viruses to jump from animals across the species barrier to humans."
During the next two weeks, pick at least five meals to make vegetarian (if you eat meat) or vegan (if you’re already vegetarian). If you eat a plant-based diet all the time, share some of your favorite recipes using the hashtag #project5billion or tagging @project5billion/@p5billion. I’ll be featuring my favorite recipes!
Vegan Chickpea Curry
Teriyaki Vegetable Stir Fry
Tomato, Basil, and Corn Pizza
Kale and Chickpea Grain Bowl
Albeck-Ripka, Livia. “How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” The New York Times, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/guides/year-of-living-better/how-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint
Shalant, Jenny. “To Shrink Your Carbon Footprint, Ease Up on the Dairy.” NRDC, National Resources Defense Council, 5 Feb. 2020, www.nrdc.org/stories/shrink-your-carbon-footprint-ease-dairy.
Stylianou, Nassos, et al. “Climate Change Food Calculator: What's Your Diet's Carbon Footprint?” BBC News, BBC, 9 Aug. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46459714.
Orjollet, Stéphane. “Jane Goodall Says 'Disrespect for Animals' Caused Pandemic.” Yahoo News, 11 Apr. 2020, news-yahoo-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/news.yahoo.com/amphtml/jane-goodall-says-disrespect-animals-caused-pandemic-091036641.html.
Here are just a few easy upcycling projects to get the ideas flowing:
That favorite old shirt may be too ratty to wear in public, but it’s perfect for a soft and stylish throw pillow.
Game Board Wall Art
You loved Chutes and Ladders, but you haven’t played it since you were seven. Here’s a way to clear out that game cabinet without throwing out the memories.
Pillowcase Garment Bag
Old pillow cases are the perfect size and shape for covering suits, prom dresses, and other fancy clothes to keep them fresh and dust-free while in long-term storage.
Coffee Pot Terrarium
Coffee pot decanters—and any other old, chipped, or otherwise unloved glass container—can become your little indoor micro-garden.
Dryer Lint and Cooking Oil Fire Starter
For those with a real fireplace or woodstove at home, this simple recipe recycles both old dryer lint and used cooking oil.
T-shirt Tote Bag
Reusable bags are an earth-friendly staple. Take the idea a step further by upcycling your own instead of buying them.
America loves fast food. The world loves fast food. But fast food creates a lot of packaging, especially when it’s taken “to go.” While huge fast food chains such as McDonalds and Starbucks are making efforts to switch to recycled, sustainable, or at least recyclable packaging, the overall effect of these changes is not likely to have much impact unless our habits change.
Recycling food packaging is a nice idea, but the fact is, only a small fraction of it is actually recycled. A 2015 report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains that Americans recycle less than 14 percent of its plastic food packaging. That same single-use food packaging is one of the primary sources of the almost 270 tons of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The problem of minimal recycling has only gotten worse since 2015. According to the EPA, in 2017, only 13 percent of all plastic containers were recycled in the U.S., and almost 70 percent went to the landfill.
If we’re not recycling even the recyclable stuff, a better solution is to cut out the packaging altogether. Fast food, or take-out from any restaurant, is a good place to start.
For this week’s challenge, if you eat out, try to leave the restaurant without needing packaging. Some fast food restaurants, such as Mad Greens, make this easy by using real (not disposable) dishware and utensils for dining-in orders. If you really can’t take a few extra minutes to dine in, choose fast food joints that have made a commitment to minimal packaging that is recyclable or, better yet, made with 100% recycled materials. Then recycle it!
Liquid soap isn’t the first thing most people think of when it comes to reducing their environmental impact. But surprisingly, liquid soap has a large impact with its packaging and energy use. Luckily, there are easy alternatives that you can make yourself or buy for not a lot of money.
According to Conservation Magazine, “liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do” (Tyler 1) . In addition, on average, people use over six times less soap in a single use when they use bar soaps. This means that bar soap lasts much longer than liquid soap, so it’s also an economical choice.
Liquid soaps typically contain more chemicals than bar soaps, and these chemicals go through the water system and end up in the ocean and the Great Lakes. This harms the flora and fauna in the water.
Unfortunately, bar soaps do have their drawbacks. They contain more natural ingredients, which requires land to produce. This makes the land impact of liquid soap less than that of bar soap.
For the next two weeks, use bar soap instead of liquid soap. This will lessen your impact with packaging, chemicals, and soap use.
There are many eco-friendly soaps that are very inexpensive. Any bar soap will require less plastic and will last longer than a liquid soap. You can get bar soap from most stores. If you’re the DIY type, you can easily make your own soap with a custom blend of ingredients.
Johnson, Donna. “What Are the Ingredients of Liquid Soap?” Healthfully, 24 Dec. 2019, healthfully.com/what-are-the-ingredients-of-liquid-soap-4998848.html.
O'Brien, Brendan. “Consider The Environmental Impact Of Soap.” CleanLink, 19 Mar. 2015, www.cleanlink.com/cp/article/Consider-The-Environmental-Impact-Of-Soap--18045.
Tyler, David. “Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap.” Conservation, University of Washington, 25 July 2013, www.conservationmagazine.org/2013/05/bar-soap-vs-liquid-soap/.
These challenges ask you