In the United States alone, we use an excess of 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year. Worldwide, paper towels produce 254 million tons of trash annually. According to , “If every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year. If every household in the U.S. used three less rolls per year, it would save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees.”
Making the switch from paper to cloth towels and napkins is a concrete way to lessen our environmental impact, not to mention save money, but many people are hesitant to take the plunge. By taking a few small steps and easing into developing a paperless kitchen, you may quickly notice changes in both your budget and your paper waste.
First, determine the right kind of towels for all the different jobs that traditionally fall to paper towels. Because they are ultra-absorbent, microfiber towels do a great job of cleaning up spills, while bar towels are perfect for wiping down counters and other hard surfaces. Many families also choose to let dish or bar towels do double duty and use them as paper napkin replacements, as well. Instead of investing in real cloth napkins, these make an excellent substitute, as long as the aesthetics aren’t an issue.
Do be sure to store your new cloths in easy to access locations. If you have to walk across the kitchen to grab a towel, you’re less likely to continue using them. Make this transition easy for the whole family, so you’re more likely to stick with it. Also, be sure to launder your cloth napkins and towels frequently, so you don’t find yourself with a big mess and no way to clean it up.
Another place in the home where paper usually reigns supreme is the bathroom. Toilet paper, pads, tampons, and wipes, while not all made specifically from paper, create significant waste and can easily be replaced by non-disposable, reusable options.
According to Jennifer Grayson at the , “more than 98 percent of the toilet paper sold in the United States is made from virgin wood,” and considering that the average family of four spends around $20 per month on something that is being flushed down the toilet, switching to reusable wipes, referred to as “family cloth,” can make a difference both environmentally as well as financially.
Getting started with family cloth is fairly straight-forward. Cloth wipes are easy to source or easy to make yourself from old cotton flannel shirts or receiving blankets. Keep a stack near the toilet and use either wet or dry, according to your own preference. Then just toss the soiled wipe into a lidded container or zipper bag until you’re ready to wash them. Washing with hot water every few days is generally recommended. If your family already uses cloth diapers, family cloth can easily be washed along with diapers and reusable wipes.
Choosing reusable menstrual products over disposable products is one way to lessen the environmental impact of the pad and tampon industries while also making conscious and informed decisions about your health and your body.
Menstrual cups, which are made from nonporous, easy-to-clean, silicone are gaining popularity as women realize that there are other options for menstrual hygiene products. Cups like the Luna Cup and the Diva Cup, are sanitary, convenient, and comfortable, and at about $40, will shave hundreds of dollars off the cost of your period over time.
Reusable pads are another easy option. Made from unbleached cotton, and sometimes called “mama cloth,” reusable pads are available in a plethora of sizes, thicknesses, and patterns.
While the idea of going paperless can be overwhelming, by taking a series of small, practical, simple steps, the transition can be painless for the whole family.