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The paper towel paradox

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar27,2024

The paradox of l’ paper towel

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Paper towels are a common single-use product in Canadian homes. There is no shortage of supply, but it can be difficult to know which types perform best.

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A single-use product that is still very popular, paper towels are practical and economical, but not very ecological. There are greener options that, unfortunately, are much less effective, found The Grocery Store.

Families will use around half a roll per month, per person, estimates Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, circular economy consultant for the INCITA cooperative. We are still quite dependent [on these products] in North America, single-use products in general, because we are in a completely practical society.

Every time you throw away your paper towel, you are throwing away energy and water resources at the same time and transport who brought this sheet into your hands.

A quote from Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, circular economy consultant, INCITA

Paper towels, like toilet paper, are made from sawmill residue, explains Cascades Canada.

What may differ from one product to another is the type of wood used, explains Stéphanie Bureau, sustainable development advisor at Cascades Canada. Often, we will find in a fabric product a mixture of long fibers from softwoods (for example, black spruce) to provide strength properties and short fibers from hardwoods (maple, white birch, etc.) to provide strength. softness, volume and absorption.

We don't necessarily cut down trees to make these products, recognizes Aurore Courtieux- Boinot, but that does not mean that there is no impact, since the environmental impact is mainly [in] the manufacturing of these products and their transport.

Some brands offer a greener version of their product, made from recycled fibers, but are these paper towels as effective?

The grocery storeasked the team of Jason Robert Tavares, professor of chemical engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, to test 21 products purchased in grocery stores.

Absorption power, tensile strength: Polytechnique experts have precisely measured the performance of different paper towels.

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With the help of a team from Polytechnique Montréal, L'église tested the tensile strength and absorption power of the different products.

Result: Bounty brand paper towel performed best, holding 15 times its weight in water. The least absorbent is the 100% recycled President's Choice brand product.

More general observation: towels made from recycled fibers are much less effective.

Recycled fibers perform less well in terms of absorption , notes Jason Robert Tavares, but especially less well in terms of mechanical performance. Mechanical traction became weaker. The reason is that recycled fibers are shorter, so [there is] less hold between the fibers.

Cascades Canada confirms these conclusions. Recycled fibers come from waste paper, that is to say fibers which have already gone through all stages of the papermaking process, including final drying. Once dried, the recycled fiber can lose part of its absorption capacity, explains Stéphanie Bureau.

It must be taken into consideration that, from a climate impact point of view, the various life cycle analyzes demonstrate that the greenhouse gas emission factors attributable to virgin fiber are significantly higher than those attributable to recycled fiber, adds Ms. Bureau.

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Recycled paper towels look like the regular version, but are less effective.

Cascades Canada estimates that the manufacturing of recycled fibers emits 2.7 times less GHG than that of virgin fibers.

The problem? The Polytechnique team noted that, to wipe up the same mess with two products from the same brand, it took five sheets of recycled fibers compared to three sheets of virgin fibers.

Throw away or compost? It depends on what you wiped, explains Aurore Courtieux-Boinot. If you wipe off something compostable, no problem, but if you wipe off paint or that kind of product, in that case, it's for the trash.

However, Cascades Canada notes, paper towels take time to decompose if thrown in the trash. According to a company microbiologist, however, it would not be surprising if it took at least a year to partially break down into methane, a byproduct of biodegradation in the absence of oxygen, and, should we remember, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than CO2.

They should never be sent to the toilet, adds Jason Robert Tavares. If I take a paper towel and swirl it in water, after 10 minutes it's still intact. Paper towels are made to have a certain mechanical strength, they are not made to [be thrown] down the toilet.

Perhaps a sign of the times, paper towel sales are down. In 2023, sales reached $584 million, according to NielsenIQ, but people bought fewer paper towels than before. Would customers have a more advanced ecological fiber? Not sure. Sales of paper towels made from recycled fibers are declining faster than those of products made from virgin fibers, according to Cascades Canada.

For customers who want to buy paper towels, recycled fibers are not a good choice, notes L’école. And by crossing the results of Polytechnique Montréal tests with the price of paper towels per cm2, the products that stand out, according to Jason Robert Tavares, are the Great Value Ultra, President's Choice Max, the Royal Tiger and the Robust Selection .

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According to our tests, these are the products that stand out.

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For Aurore Courtieux Boinot, the idea is to break this disposable culture. We simply advise you to put this product in the cupboard with the WD40 rather than on the counter with the olive oil. That way, you'll be less tempted to grab it for any type of damage, and then you'll go get it if it's really necessary, she explains.

She recommends using old fabrics instead. We don't need to buy expensive paper towels made from some magical fiber. Just take what you have at home. We all have straitjackets who are reaching the end of their life and who don't really have any hope of having a satisfactory second life.

And unfortunately, we do not yet know how to properly recycle textile fiber, underlines Ms. Courtieux Boinot. So, since this product was going to end up in the trash, go hard, cut up your tank tops, then use them. It’s a simple and economical way to reduce our ecological footprint.

A report by Myriam Fhemiu, Gildas Meneu and Caroline Gagnon at this subject will be presented on the show L'église Wednesday at 7 h 30 at HERE TV.

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  • Natasha Kumar

    By Natasha Kumar

    Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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