America's Paper Towel Obsession, Explained

iStock.com/Eerik
iStock.com/Eerik

At this point, the Brawny man can probably afford something nicer than a flannel shirt. Americans spend roughly $5.7 billion annually on paper towels, using them to clean up everything from spilled coffee to baby dribble to windows. Roll after roll is unspooled from a paper towel holder, makes a detour into a mess, then winds up directly in the garbage.

Are we really so lazy that we can’t wring out and reuse a sponge, a cloth wipe, or washable napkins? Or has Big Towel brainwashed us into believing that paper towels are simply the most convenient method of keeping things clean?

The question was recently explored by The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, who noticed that Americans make up nearly half of the world’s paper towel use. (Second-place France spends just $635 million per year on discarded towels, little more than a tenth of what the U.S. shells out.) Pinsker wondered if it was due in part to population, but even on a per capita basis, we still spend more on towels than any other country in the world. Countries with comparable economies don’t buy as much as we do.

It turns out that the reasoning behind our alleged paper towel obsession may reside in how we problem-solve. In using a disposable towel, a mess can be immediately addressed and discarded, leaving no trace or obligation to clean our cleaning supplies.

There may also be pragmatic reasons: Using one-time-use towels reduces the chances of cross-contamination. (Imagine a sponge covering a bacteria-covered surface, then being set aside for reuse later.) And in a public bathroom setting, paper towels may actually be more hygienic than hand dryers, which can spread bacteria.

If you have a paper towel addiction, one tip Pinsker passed along is to consider reusing them. (Provided, of course, the mess wasn’t made up of raw meat or fish.) Sturdier paper towels can sometimes stand up to multiple applications before they start to break apart. You can also try using fewer towels by folding one in half and taking advantage of what’s known as interstitial suspension to trap water between the layers.

[h/t The Atlantic]

You Can Buy an Extinct Volcano in Devon, England, for $60,000

People buy private islands, so why not buy a private volcano? Posbury Clump, a 250-million-year-old inactive volcano located in Devon, England, could be yours for the seemingly reasonable price of about $60,0000.

As Smithsonian reports, the volcano is 500 feet tall at its peak and surrounded by 4.9 acres of woodland (holly, oak, and ash trees), so you get sweeping views of the English countryside. The wooded outcrop and rolling hills make Posbury Clump look less like a volcano and more like a forest. Architects used the basalt stone from a former on-site quarry to build two of the area's most famous structures: Crediton Church and Medland Manor.

Because of its unique potassium-rich lava and other rare geological features, Posbury Clump has been designated a site of scientific interest, and as such has been formally marked for conservation.

Currently, only a few houses reside in the area, but Posbury—settled during the Iron Age, between about 800 BCE and AD 100—once housed convent Posbury St Francis, which was a part of the Posbury Clump estate. Those interested in possibly purchasing the volcano can contact agent Jackson-Stops. The cost is £50,000, or around $60,800, which is about what you'd pay to rent a studio apartment in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood for one year.

Just remember: If you do buy the volcano, you won't be the first person to purchase such a thing. According to Atlas Obscura, famed cartoonist-turned-oddities-collector Robert Ripley tried to purchase Parícutin (a baby volcano that suddenly sprung up from a cornfield in Mexico) in 1943, but was beaten to the punch by muralist Gerardo Murillo. Several individuals have privately owned New Zealand's active Whakaari volcano, and people privately own volcanoes in California and Oregon, too.

Reality Bites: A Humongous Tick That Chases Its Prey Has Been Found in the Netherlands

ironman100/iStock via Getty Images
ironman100/iStock via Getty Images

Humans have long been discouraged from tolerating the parasitic behavior of the tick. These pathogen-ridden arachnids latch onto their hosts for a blood buffet while transmitting a variety of diseases through their bites. Typically, ticks in infested areas wait for their hosts to stand or pass by and hope a bare leg presents itself.

But not all ticks are so passive. In the Netherlands, there have been reported sightings of Hyalomma marginatum, a kind of Andre the Giant of ticks that are twice the size of a more common species, Ixodes ricinus (sheep tick). Worse, they don’t sit idle. If they want to bite you, they’ll run after you.

The non-native species has been spotted twice in the past month. One was in Drenthe, a province in the northeastern part of the country, and the other was found in Achterhoek. They measure up to 0.2 inches but can grow to 0.7 inches when engorged with the blood of their hosts. The ticks are known to hide in brush. When they spot a potential meal, they run toward it. H. marginatum can detect a victim from up to 30 feet away and track it for 10 minutes before abandoning pursuit.

The species is typically found in northern Africa and Asia as well as parts of southern and eastern Europe. How did they get to the Netherlands? Researchers theorize they hitchhiked on migratory birds. And while their appearances have been scarce, they’re still a cause for concern. H. marginatum is known to harbor the virus that causes Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, which lists uncontrolled bleeding among its undesirable symptoms. The ticks, which were collected for analysis, tested negative for that disease but one was positive for the bacteria Rickettsia aeschlimannii, which causes spotted fever.

There have been no sightings of H. marginatum in the U.S., but native ticks remain a perpetual concern. If you’re outdoors, it’s always a good idea to monitor yourself for ticks and take steps to remove them safely.

[h/t LiveScience]

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