On my first visit to Japan in 1998, I was given a gift of a reusable water bottle, a cloth bag, and a set of hand towels. My host informed me that these were all necessities for my stay. I really didn’t understand the whole “towel” thing until my first visit to a public restroom. There were no paper towels or hand dryers anywhere to be found.
I soon discovered that everyone in Japan — men, women, children — young and old carried a hand towel.
And because everyone carries them everyday, they can be purchased everywhere from the corner convenience store to major department stores like Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya. People even collect them from places they visit on holiday.
In fact, I compiled quite a collection after 8 years of traveling there. My collection came from Puroland (Hello Kitty’s home), Tokyo Disneyland, and famous shrines and museums that I visited. But my favorite one of all, I received as a Christmas gift from my grandkids – a lovely towel with snowflakes and Obasan (Grandma in Japanese) embroidered on it.
The Birth of “People Towels”
I liked the concept of carrying a hand towel instead of using rough paper towels so much that I shared it with my business colleague, Linda Lannon. Together, fueled by our passion for the environment, we launched PeopleTowels, in 2009. We took our savings and placed a bet in a bad economy that Americans would adopt a new eco-habit and be willing to B.Y.O.Towel.
We knew it was going to be a challenge because the U.S. had become such a throw-away culture propelled by mass marketing and advertising. But we saw that segments of the population were beginning to carry other reusables like water bottles, shopping bags. So we thought, if 127 million Japanese can do this, why can’t we?
Respect for the Land
The Japanese never adopted the use of paper towels and other consumable paper products. I believe these are some of the reasons why: only 11% of their land is arable. They do not have the “luxury“ of wasting precious land to create landfills. Their culture is one of respect for their land and natural resources. Individuals are responsible for their own waste.
In Tokyo, a city of 13 million people, there are no trash cans on the street, yet you will find no litter along the sidewalks. If a person has waste to dispose of, they put it in their purse or pocket and take it home (where they pay a hefty price to dispose of it).
Over the past three years, we have learned much about the American consumer. There is still a very small percentage (19%) of the population that is willing to spend more to purchase “green” products and be active stewards of the environment. We have also learned that old habits are hard to break. Nevertheless, given the desire and commitment to make a small change that can have a big impact, even the most diehard paper towel users can make the switch in about 3 weeks.
Are you ready to make the switch?