Every day, as Americans dry their hands, soak up their spills, and wipe their counters, they are—whether they know it or not—contributing to their country’s dominance. In an era of waning American exceptionalism, inhabitants can at least pride themselves on an underratedly important, probably shameful distinction: They reside in the paper-towel capital of the world.
This status is unquestioned. According to data shared with me by the market-research firm Euromonitor International, global spending on paper towels for use at home (but not in office or public bathrooms) added up to about $12 billion in 2017, and Americans accounted for about $5.7 billion of that total. In other words, the U.S. spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined.
No other nation even comes close: France, the runner-up in nationwide spending, only purchased about $635 million worth of paper towels last year, and the U.K., Germany, and Italy rounded out the top five paper-towel-buying countries.
The Top Five Countries by Overall Spending on Paper Towels
Total U.S. dollars spent on paper towels in 2017, in billions
Of course, the U.S. has the largest population on that list, but it stands apart on a per capita basis as well. In 2017, the average American spent $17.50 on paper towels. The closest competition on this measure comes from Western and northern Europe, led by Norway at $11.70 per person.