Recently, the Recycling Councils of BC, Ontario, Alberta and the SWRC sent a joint letter to Kimberly Clark expressing our dismay with how they market their Kleenex Hand Towels. One of their ads shows a paper towel dispenser in a household bathroom, comparing the disposable towels to a hand towel that is getting blacker as people wipe their (clean) hands on it.
Needless to say, disposable, single-use products are not popular with organizations trying to move us all toward sustainable living practices, especially when reusable alternatives are easily available. Other the other hand, to your average corporation, disposable products are the best thing ever. Why sell someone a single towel or cloth that will last for years when you can sell them a roll of paper towel that they will use up, toss away and then need to go buy another? Enter disposable hand towels. It's not enough that we can't pick up spills from counters and floors anymore with a simple cloth, now we shouldn't even dry our hands with them (hands that we have just washed, by the way).
There used to be this household item called a rag. Often a repurposed towel or t-shirt, absorbent and eager to serve, the rag had a multiplicity of uses and was easily washed and ready to go back to work. No additional funds or trips to the store were required, just toss it in with the rest of the laundry and go. Now we have disposable paper towels for the kitchen, disposable hand towels for our bathrooms, and disposable mops for our floors. Rags (or cleaning cloths, if you prefer a less negative term) can be washed and reused hundreds of times. Their paper alternatives can be used ... hmmm... once ... and then they end up the garbage. They can't be recycled, though some communities may allow them to be composted if they have the appropriate facilities.
Somewhere along the line, corporations have tried to convince us that disposable cleaning products do a better job than reusable cloths. They are cleaner, or more sanitary, somehow. I think washing machines everywhere should be insulted. If they are capable of keeping our jeans and T-shirts clean, surely they are equally capable of cleaning tea towels, dishcloths and cleaning cloths?
There may be a place for disposable cleaning items (emphasis on may). But it's not in households with washing machines that can keep reusable options working for years. Washing machines of the world unite!