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Cabell is pilot location for student's waste-reducing, environmental project

April 19, 2018

Beginning soon after Earth Day, visitors to James Branch Cabell Library's restrooms will see a sticker on paper towel dispensers advising "Just Use One."

The public relations campaign, designed to reduce our paper waste by thousands of pounds, is the brainchild of Emily Ko.

A chemisry major from Richmond, Va. she is interested in environmental health. "New technologies make the field more interesting every day.  However, there are many sides to our impact on the environment that are not widely known. Waste management, for instance, is not a hot topic issue, and our relationship with waste actually seems "out of sight, out of mind."  I wanted to bring the "Just Use One" campaign to VCU to add another dimension in environmental discussions and awareness."

As part of a service learning project, Ko approached the VCU Office of Sustainability about launching an information campaign to encourage people to think before grabbing and using multiple paper towels. Whether at the restroom sink or in the kitchen, the impact is significant. 

Paper towels are not recyclable and therefore are pure waste. Paper towels don’t contain much fiber, so the ROI for recycling them is not good. Because they are dirty, wet and gunky after use, the fibers are even further degraded. 

Then, there is our great affection for the paper towel. According to data from the Energy Co-op, Americans use 13 billion (yes, with a "b") pounds of paper towels each year. That’s more than 45 pounds of paper towels per person per year. If every American reduced the number of paper towels they use by just one per day, we would divert 571,230,000 pounds of paper waste each year.

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