Are paper towels or sponges more efficient?

Written by tim


Skepticism about claims of greater efficiency or lower energy use are healthy, but Catherine Mohr (as she acknowledges) may be trying a bit too hard to make the right choices when it comes to building her home:

OCD jokes aside, it’s a really important exercise to examine the assumptions we often make about how sustainable or environmentally friendly a given action truly is. Her example of a disposable paper towel versus a cotton towel versus a sponge is illustrative: using a throw-away item like a paper towel seems more wasteful, but if you’re going to use hot water to rinse out your sponge you may as well tear off some paper and toss it in the landfill.

If you’re building a home – or just interested in the math behind calculating the embodied energy of various objects and actions – check out Catherine’s excellent blog. It was nice to see TerraPass mentioned on her spreadsheet for calculating the carbon footprint of her travel. Building and living in an energy efficient home is a difficult and worthwhile task, but flying to Asia can quickly erase any carbon savings made in the process.

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1 Comment

  1. JP Collins

    Well, I guess it’s the right tool for the right job. I use all three mentioned above and use them for different purposes.
    But when it comes to paper towels, I use 100% recycled and put them into the compost bin afterward, unless it’s something that shouldn’t go into the compost.
    But because I use all three, I don’t go through a lot of paper towels and because of the paper fiber content and the composting, I don’t feel too bad about it. We use energy and water for just about every process in our contemporary life, so we can only do what we can to minimize that impact. Either that or we should all go back to using leaves.