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Cutting consumption: NMSU students help get on road to replacing paper towels

With Earth Day on the horizon, green activists and enthusiasts everywhere are urging communities to adopt sustainable habits, go green and embrace an efficient way of looking at energy. On the New Mexico State University campus, the Organization of Aggie Students Inspiring Sustainability is experimenting with the idea of replacing paper towels.

Cloth hand towels
The People Towels distributed to students for the duration of the survey were light, compact and stitched with a loop for easy backpack or purse clip on. (NMSU photo by Jocelyn Apodaca)

People Towels is a company promoting on-the-go cloth towels as an alternative to the conventional paper towel. They have engaged students in a study on habit forming and paper towel consumption.

After a week of analyzing the students’ paper towel use, the company provides two cloth hand towels for students to use as an alternative.

A weekly survey for the span of one month tracks how often students use paper towels and whether People Towels have made an impact on their usage and behavior.

“As a campus, we are a long way from understanding the importance of minimizing our waste and realizing the effects of not doing so for the planet,” said joni newcomer, manager of environmental policy and sustainability at NMSU. “I have been using my People Towels since 2011 and can honestly say that I use a paper towel or paper napkin at most twice a month. My People Towels solve any need instead of using parts of a tree to dry or clean my hands.”

People Towels pride themselves on their fast-drying, 100 percent certified organic Fair Trade cotton and its ability to save trees and cut landfill waste.

Universities and college campuses throughout California have switched to a more sustainable approach, enabling composting and recycling programs. The University of California at Santa Cruz went paper free in residential halls in 2013 and has vowed to reach zero landfill waste by 2020.

The original inspiration for People Towels sprung from Japanese culture. Because most public restrooms are not fit with paper towels, many Japanese people carry their own hand towel to dry their hands, use as a coaster and even pick up small spills. This method has been used for decades.

“If we reach an era of having no paper towel dispensers on campus, like they do in Japan and on California campuses, it will be a long, long time from now,” newcomer said. “My one voice is small, but I won’t stop talking about waste minimization while I’m Sustainability Manager.”

Students who participated in the study admitted to being surprised at how fast they were able to change their habits.

“At the beginning it was interesting trying to remember to use the towels, but closer to the end it was a lot easier,” Jamie Lakey said.

Lakey spent a week in Nicaragua, an experience she said made it easier for her to use People Towels because of the lack of paper towels in public facilities.

“The con was that you have to wash the People Towel,” Jose Cerna said, “but it made me realize I really don’t have to use paper towels as much as I usually have.”

People Towels market their eco-friendly designs online and through various retailers. Students looking for an on-the-cheap variation can use basic hand towels and keep them in their bag or bathroom.