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A simple, thoughtful action
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paper towel

How to use a paper towel

By Anna Phelan
Format team, TED


It's easy to get discouraged when we think about the human impact on the earth and to become apathetic when we look at all the work that still needs to be done. You might ask yourself (as I do): What difference can I make in this culture of wastefulness?

Joe Smith's TED Talk is a little interjection into that narrative and a celebration of a tiny change that can ripple into a bigger impact. It's a call to do one simple thing: never use more than one paper towel. 

Smith demonstrates -- in his hilarious, everyman style -- how to accomplish this feat. He even explains the science of why folding your paper towel in half will lead to better absorbency. 

It sounds trivial, but the numbers tell us it's not: Americans alone use 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year. How many pounds of paper could we save if each of us just used a single paper towel each time we washed and dried our hands? It's a simple, thoughtful action for the future of our planet.

I watched this TED Talk years ago, and truly I now never take more than one. When I see others reach for that second or -- the horror! -- third paper towel, I shudder. It's difficult for me not to reach out, tap them on the shoulder and ask, "Haven’t you seen Joe Smith’s TED Talk?"

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