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]

We're Hiring a Staff Writer!

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iStock

We're looking for a staff writer to join the award-winning Mental Floss team.

Mental Floss has won Webby Awards (three!), lost ASME Awards (thrilled to be nominated!), and published 15 books and five board games. Our YouTube channel has 1.3 million subscribers, and we reach 13 million people a month through mentalfloss.com. Our goal is to find fascinating stories and bring them back to our readers. The kinds of stories people want to share, and not just in the social media sense. There are so many incredibly interesting things out there. Can you help us uncover them?

Staff Writer

We need a writer who is as comfortable covering science as they are pop culture. Primary responsibilities include writing three posts for publication on the site each day as well as writing a number of lists each month; reported features and special projects will also be in the mix.
Ideal candidates will have:

  • One to two years of experience pitching and writing for the web
  • Excellent time management skills, the ability to prioritize, and a high level of attention to detail
  • Energetic, positive written voice
  • Strong research, reporting, and interviewing skills
  • The ability to: conceive, pitch, and execute timely stories on tight deadlines; translate complicated concepts into accessible writing; and generate large volumes of creative story ideas.
  • Be comfortable with photo research and sourcing, and have the ability to think creatively about what images might work for stories when a specific photo isn’t available.
  • Knowledge of social media platforms, analytics, and SEO
  • Willingness to take ownership of projects and collaborate with the rest of the team

How to Apply

Just click here!

Behr Will Pay Someone $10,000 to Travel the U.S. and Canada in Search of New Paint Colors

Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina
Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina
iStock.com/RiverNorthPhotography

Want to add a bit of color and excitement to your life? Behr has just the opportunity for you. The company wants to pay a “Color Explorer” $10,000 to visit vibrant destinations across the U.S. and Canada in search of new hues that will ultimately be turned into actual Behr paints.

“The Behr Color Explorer will kayak the glacial blues of Lake Louise in Banff [Alberta, Canada], people-watch at a vibrant music festival, take in the bold exteriors of Charleston’s Rainbow Row, and experience many more moments of positively pigmented wanderlust in between,” Behr writes in its job description.

Throughout their trip, the Color Explorer will take field notes and plenty of photos, and document their experiences on Behr’s blog and social media. After seeing all there is to see, this person will head to the company’s headquarters in Orange County, California, to work with Behr's marketing team on naming the new colors they uncovered.

Behr's paint names tend to range from the alliterative (see: “Bali Bliss” and “Barely Brown”) to the poetic (“Moth’s Wing”) to the straightforward but still somehow evocative (“Wheat Bread” and “Swiss Coffee”). The company's color of the year for 2019 is called Blueprint.

The ideal Color Explorer will be adventurous, interested in color, and knowledgeable about the latest trends, according to Behr.

In addition to providing a $10,000 stipend, the company will also cover all travel expenses, accommodation, and experiences. Would-be explorers can apply for the gig on Behr’s website by writing a short description of the color that inspires them most before the May 15 deadline. Applicants must be at least 21 years old and residents of the U.S. or Canada, and they must also have a valid passport.

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