Paper towels are so good for the environment.
But they’re also incredibly expensive.
A $1.29 paper towel at a major grocery store costs roughly $3.50 at a grocery store in Seattle, where the average household spends $1,500 a year.
And when it comes to paper towels made from recycled paper, prices are rising rapidly.
And if we’re looking at a paper towel made of 100% cotton, the price jumps to $7.95 at a Costco in Seattle.
The material is more expensive to make than its predecessor, polypropylene, which is less prone to breaking.
“The more cotton that we can produce, the more we can price the paper towels at a lower price,” says Mike Schmitt, a spokesperson for the National Paper Products Association, which represents the industry.
But with the advent of technology, Schmitt says, the paper towel industry is moving to a new generation of paper, with less-than-ideal properties and higher prices.
“There’s a lot of paper being produced right now that we don’t want,” he says.
“If we can replace some of the fibers with more sustainable fibers, then that’s something that we’ll be willing to pay more.”
And it’s not just about cost.
As the industry continues to grow, the amount of paper that’s produced each year is expected to double.
“In the next few years, paper towels will be more like a car or a home appliance,” says David Smith, a paper and products manager at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s just going to be more expensive, more labor intensive, and we’re going to need a new technology to make it more sustainable.”