So far in our #sustainablesaturday series, we’ve covered plastic’s big 4: single use grocery bags, water bottles, coffee cups and straws. So today, we’re going to switch it up a little bit and move to single use items in the home. Specifically, paper towels & napkins.
Our modern, American society has been using paper towels for almost a hundred years, so it’s no wonder that paper towels are such a staple for us. But if we’re trying to become more sustainable, these paper products really are just more single use products that get tossed out. Most recycling centers don’t allow paper towels to be recycled because they may contain food waste or bacteria. And although most paper towels are created from recycled paper, the fibers in that paper towel are short which make them difficult to be recycled again.
Wrapping your mind around ditching your paper towels and paper napkins may take a little more effort if you’ve never considered it before. I actually stopped using paper towels and napkins long before the rest of my household did.
Are you interested in ditching paper towels and napkins in your home? Then read on for my tips on how to be successful with this.
- Replace the paper with a more sustainable option. You might be thinking, “well, what am I going to use instead of my paper towels?”, and the answer might be obvious: actual towels. We all already have dish towels in our homes, so we’re going to start using them for more things than just drying clean dishes or wiping our hands when we cook.
- Replace your paper napkin habit with cloth napkins. If you don’t have any cloth napkins at the ready, get creative! You can use wash cloths, hand towels (cut down and hemmed or not), and even, old, clean t-shirts that you’ve cut up and re-purposed. Or, go shopping. This is one of those times that thrift stores may have the treasures you’re seeking!
- Start slow. Our last package of paper towels lasted at least twice as long as it normally would have when I stopped using them myself and weened my husband off of them. How did I do it? I went slow. I consciously paid attention to those activities where I wanted to reach for that paper towel (the two main examples I can think of were: to drain oil from veggies, and at the time, fish; and drying my hands), and then, one at a time, I stopped using them for each activity. But I allowed myself to adjust to actual towels before I even attempted to influence those in my house. I also stocked up on fabric napkins and made sure I was the one to set the table every night, so they didn’t have to reach, or look for, paper ones.
- Invest in higher quality, reusable products. My father in law gifted us with these weird, chamois-like towels that are great for wiping down counters, small spills and even washing dishes. They’re from a brand called Skoy and they’re compostable! If you’ve never used these, they may take some getting used to because you have to get them wet in order for them to be effective. However, the more you use them, the better they absorb! One of my favorite zero-waste bloggers, (Kathryn from Going Zero Waste), mentions some hand towels from Sur La Table that she’s had great success with, you can find those on Amazon.
- Do what you can. I know that some of us are germaphobes, some of us deal with water restrictions, and some of us might not be ready to completely let go of our single-use paper towels & napkins. And that’s ok. Just do what you can for now, and over time you might do more and more. You may even be like me and wonder why you were so attached to paper towels at all!
- Keep an open mind and have patience. I know we have some critics out there who are steadfastly digging their heels into the ground, with their arms crossed and telling me that they “can’t clean their mirrors or windows properly without paper towels!” And I get it. But I do it all the time!! It just takes an open mind and some patience. Whenever you’re making a lifestyle change, big or small, these 2 things are KEY to trying something new. If your hand towels, bath towels, Skoy cloths, or whatever, leave streaks, then give newspaper a try. Those of us in the U.S. get those pesky Tuesday mailers that are part newspaper, part fancy-almost-magazine-like-papers, full of ads and coupons (how do you stop that btw?). Instead of immediately tossing that in the recycling (like I do), save the newspaper bits for your windows & mirrors. Then, compost them! (Be sure to use non-toxic, all natural cleaning products if you’re going to compost! Btw, that’s next week’s blog post!)
Are you ready to let go of your paper towel obsession? You’ll not only reduce the waste of the plastic covering they come in, the waste of the towels themselves, but you’ll also save $$! Not totally convinced? Let’s play the Wal-Mart game again, shall we?
According to walmart.com, a 12-count pack of Viva paper towels (I think these are like mid-range towels, not the cheapest, not the most expensive) costs you $12.98. Let’s say a household of 4 people goes through 2 rolls a week (I have no idea if this is accurate, but let’s pretend it is), then this 12-count package will last you 6 weeks. Over a year’s worth of time, you purchased 8 of these packages, which cost you a total of $103.84, before tax.
Now, let’s say instead, you want to use that same $103.84 to invest in those Sur La Table towels and some Skoy cloths. You can buy 8, 3-packs of towels on Amazon (and now that have such a high quantity in my cart, the shipping is free!) for $79.60. With the left over money, we can purchase 3, 4-packs of Skoy cloths for $20.97 on Amazon with free Prime shipping. Our total today for 24 towels and 12 Skoy cloths comes to $100.57. Not to mention that these towels and cloths will last at least a year if taken care of properly! I love saving money, don’t you?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and let me know how it’s going. We’re in this together and I’m here for you! If you read this entire post, leave me a pink heart emoji on Instagram (@sageandcrow). And we’ll chat again next week!
~Sending you all the love!
P.S. To read Kathryn’s post on ditching paper towels, click here.