Paper towels have been around since the early 1900s. At first, consumers were not convinced that a towel made from paper could be as strong or as absorbent as the cloth towels they had always used. Today's paper towels are used for a myriad of tasks around the home as consumers have discovered their versatility and strength. The construction makes a paper towel strong.
Arthur Scott, head of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania paper products company that is now Kimberly-Clark, created the first paper towels out of necessity in the early 1900s. Scott had received a railroad car full of paper that had been rolled too thickly for toilet paper, its intended use. A local school teacher had been distributing pieces of soft paper to his students to use instead of the cloth roller towel located in the school's washrooms. The teacher hoped to prevent the spread of colds by isolating the sufferers from the community towel and replacing it with individual paper sheets. Scott heard of the idea and used his carload of paper to make perforated towels 13 inches wide and 18 inches long.
Making Paper Towels
Paper towels are made from long-fibered softwood trees such as pine and spruce. The log is debarked and the wood is ground into small chips. The chips are then cooked to remove the natural bond that holds the wood fibers together. The resulting wood pulp is run through a series of cleaners and screens. Bleaching whitens the mixture. The pulp then goes through a high-speed paper machine and is strengthened with the addition of resin. The water is removed and the fibers bond into sheets. Two layers or more are combined with adhesive and embossed to produce absorbent air pockets.
A good paper towel needs to be strong and durable and hold together when wet. Having the correct wood fiber components in great enough numbers gives the paper towel structure and strength. Two-ply paper towels are stronger than their single-ply counterparts. The resin added to the wood pulp in the manufacturing process also adds strength to the product.
Recycled Paper Towels
To save trees, some paper towel manufacturers are now using recycled wood fibers. This process maintains strength while providing environmental benefits.
The Cascades paper mill just outside of Montreal, Quebec, Canada is one of these "green manufacturing" facilities. Here paper towels are made from 100% recycled wood fibers with no added virgin fibers. No chlorine bleach is used at Cascade. The company saves six times more water and emits half as much carbon dioxide as the industry standard.
Sustainable manufacturing of paper towels protects and sustains natural resources while maintaining the quality and strength of the finished product. Many manufacturers will only work with forestry companies who plant more trees than they remove. The manufacturers use otherwise discarded materials. Procter and Gamble, for example, has reduced water use by 52 percent, energy use by 48 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 52 percent and waste disposal by 53 percent per unit of production since 2002.