- Politics and Social Issues
Kick your paper towel habit!
Would you throw $1000 in the trash? Maybe it's time to kick your paper towel habit
It's true. If you toss 1-1/2 to 2 rolls of paper towels into the trash bin a week as my family did, at $2.99 a pop for those super-absorbent jumbo rolls, you may be throwing $200--or more--into the trash can every year.
That adds up to a whopping $1000 in five years. Small change to some I know. Not to my family. Maybe not to yours.
It's easier than you might think to stop using paper towels. In fact, there are lots of quite attractive alternatives to paper towels in the kitchen and in the home.
On this page I'll share two more big reasons, besides the cost savings, for giving up your paper towel addiction. I'll also show you how we eliminated paper towels completely from our home.
More importantly, by the end of the page--in just minutes--you will have a complete plan, in four easy steps, to chuck your paper towels for good.
We thought this change would be tough on us. It wasn't. In fact, it was so easy, we wondered why we hadn't done it years ago.
Two more important reasons we pitched our paper towels
Garbage and plastic
Not sexy by a long shot, but the desire to reduce our garbage, and especially plastic, springs from our core values: Walk ever more lightly on the planet; do no harm.
At the time we decided to give up paper towels, we were throwing out one to two BIG cans of trash a week. That's not light. It's heavy.
Chucking the paper towels was one of our first steps in reducing waste and moving closer to our goal, one day, of becoming a zero waste household.
Then we learned what is happening to much of the plastic we toss, including the plastic wrappers around paper towels, toilet paper, well, just about everything we buy these days.
We could not bear the thought of one of our plastic bags choking sea turtles and strangling wildlife. We made a decision to cut back on plastic, one step at a time, starting with the wrappers around tissue paper and paper towels.
We thought this change would be tough on us. It wasn't. In fact, it was so easy, we wondered why we hadn't done it years ago.
We went from a big can this size ...
... to a small round can that holds just a teeny bit less than this cute little wall hugger
From a 9-gallon (40 liter) trash can every week - To a 2.3-gallon (10 liter) trash can every month--or less
That's how much we've reduced our kitchen waste in the past few years.That savings adds up for us as a family, but it also adds up in our community.
My city has to truck every bit of its waste to a distant landfill, or ship it overseas. That's a lot of fossil fuels burning to transport our garbage.
Giving up paper towels is one part of that savings, and it turns out to pay big dividends, not only to our family, but to our community.
When we reduce our contribution to the waste stream, we reduce the amount of carbon heating up our climate. Plus, we save taxpayer dollars that can be reallocated to ensure our safety through increased fire and police protection, who knows, maybe even better schools. Now that would be something.
So you can see that one family's contributions add a lot of drops falling into the giant bucket. My decision--and yours--is to decide which bucket we want to add to: The bucket that leaves a brighter future for our kids and grandkids, or the bucket that leaves them with a burnt-out husk of a planet and an intense struggle for survival.
Can you kick your paper towel habit?
By the time you finish this page, you will have a plan
Whether you're just curious how a busy family can get by without paper towels, are thinking of giving it a try yourself, or have tried and failed in the past, by the end of this page, you will have a plan for pitching your own paper towels once and for all, if you choose to do so.
Plus, I share the resources that gave us the boost we needed to keep at it.
Each step of the way, I encourage you take advantage of the opportunities to engage and interact while you develop a plan that is right for you. It takes only minutes.
You can see that the trash bag in that image is plastic. At the time we made the decision to cut back on plastic, we had 100 plastic trash bags in our pantry.
It took years to use them all, but they are sitting in a landfill now, where they may break down slowly, over a hundred years or so, into smaller and smaller pieces.
The pieces will never truly go away. We buy only compostable bags now.
It's easy to get where you're going, if you know where you stand
Before laying a plan, it's good to know where you stand.
Have you tried giving up paper towels and failed? Are you thinking about it? Is this a radical concept for you?
This short questionnaire lays the groundwork for what comes next. Now is a good time to grab a pad of paper and a pencil so you can keep track of your answers.
Where are you on the paper towel continuum today?
When you say you're going to throw something away--Where's 'away?' There is no away.
A clear objective sharpens your focus
Another preliminary step to laying a plan is getting clear on what you want.
This questionnaire brings your purpose into focus. After you vote, take advantage of the opportunity to tell us more about how you feel about giving up paper towels--or not giving them up!
Writing your thoughts down deepens and expands your sense of purpose.
What is your #1 reason for giving up paper towels?
Four easy steps to eliminating paper towels from your life
Or reducing how many use
I thought it would be difficult to give up paper towels, but it was a piece of cake.
We laid a plan, followed it, and I'm happy to report more than a year later, we haven't a paper towel in the house. I no longer remember when we last bought a roll.
Here are the four easy steps to the plan. Below, I'll take you through the steps, one at a time.
- Analyze how you use paper towels
- Brainstorm, evaluate and select alternative solutions
- Anticipate and prepare for stumbling blocks and obstacles
- Implement and refine the plan as you go
Step 1: Analyze how you use paper towels
So you know how best to replace them
Take one minute to jot down the ways you use paper towels. When we took inventory of the ways we used them, it boiled down to three categories. Yours may differ, but these were ours.
- Clean up spills. Has this happened to you? An egg slips from your hand and drops, slow-motion, to the floor.
Eggs on the floor are gooey, slimy messes. Paper towels make quick work of them.
Spilled milk, juice, soup--all sop up quickly in a wad of paper towels. What's not to love about that?
- Clean icky messes we don't want to touch and want to pitch quick. Then there are those icky messes: The cat's hair balls; fur and hair that accumulate behind the toilet; food bits in the drain catcher (Not all of us have a garbage disposal!); and the worst, vomit.
- Use in place of napkins and plates. Paper towels are so doggone convenient! It's easy to grab a paper towel and plop a sandwich or a peach on it, rather than dirty a plate when I'm at my desk, focused on finishing my next Squidoo lens or blog post.
Coming up: How to replace those paper towels with something just as convenient, but first, a quick questionnaire to help you analyze how you use paper towels.
Questionnaire: How do you use paper towels?
This is where you take that first step, analyzing your paper towel usage. Take this poll, and you'll have completed Step 1 in kicking your paper towel habit!
Make it easy on yourself. Copy your selections into a notepad text file or your word processor, or make a list with good old pen and paper.
How do you use paper towels, or do you?
We urge you to rethink your 'insignificance' and get on and make a change anyway. Once your friends and family see you making changes they might be inspired to join in. Before you know it you will be making a real difference.
The Green Family in All About My Zero Waste
Step 2: Brainstorm, evaluate and select alternative paper towel solutions
This step begins with letting your creative mind go wild. On either a virtual or in-hand notepad, jot down every idea that comes to you--no matter how nonsensical--for alternatives to paper towels.
Resist the urge to censor or edit. Everything goes. Funky spellings, crazy ideas, weird words. Jot them all down. Give your brain free reign to point the way to the best possible solutions.
When you feel you've exhausted all possibilities, scan the list and pay attention to what pops out. What makes your head spin? Where do you say, "Whoa!" or "Yeah, right!"? Do you say it sarcastically or with enthusiasm? Either way, you're on to something. Your brain is giving you clues about hidden agendas, hidden solutions, and hidden areas of resistance.
Select a few alternative solutions and imagine how they might work for you. Keep the ones you feel are genuine possibilities. Set the rest aside, for now. Later, you may find yourself returning to them. If they keep popping up, you will know you need to pay attention.
Don't spend more than a few minutes with this exercise. It's paper towels, not world peace!
Here's what my brainstorm list looked like - I liked the maid idea!
See what I mean about not censoring or editing? Lay everything out as it comes to you.
With this exercise, I actually anticipated most of the stumbling blocks we would encounter in the implementation of our plan, such as where to store the wet rags until they dried and could be laundered.
List of viable solutions after evaluating and revising - The maid is gone, alas
When you're making a significant household change, it helps to get buy-in from the fam. During revision, I added a few To-Dos and other suggestions to discuss with my family.
My sweetie later came up with the idea of re-purposing an old shredder basket that had been taking up space in a closet since the shredder ground to a halt. The shredder basket became our kitchen linen "hamper."
How did it go?
What amusing whacky solutions came up? What did you decide might work for you?
Did you brainstorm a list of ways to reduce your paper towel consumption?
Step 3: Plan how you'll handle inevitable stumbling blocks
Pick low-hanging fruit first
One of the best tools for achieving success in any endeavor is to visualize potential stumbling blocks and plan, in advance, to overcome them.
You don't have to wrack your brain for every possible pitfall, but do plan for the ones that come easily to mind.
For us, the biggest stumbling blocks were our habits. Change isn't easy, sometimes, least of all when you think the change might make life more difficult.
Knowing how stubborn entrenched habits can be, we opted to pick the juiciest, lowest-hanging fruit first. After we had built some successes, we would tackle the more difficult changes. For us, that meant taking the problems one at a time.
Remember the ways we used paper towels? In this step, we revisited those and decided to reduce our consumption in three phases, starting with the easiest.
- Phase I: Change the way we clean up spills.
- Phase II: Retrain ourselves to use cloth napkins and washable plates every time we eat.
- Phase III: Change the way we clean up the icky messes.
This way, we built success into our plan, so that each step seemed easier than the last.
Next: Take the easy questionnaire below to help you plan for obstacles that may get in your way.
Questionnaire: What stands in your way? - And how can you turn it to dust?
What might keep you from achieving your goal of kicking your paper towel habit once and for all?
After the poll, you'll have space to tell the rest of us how you plan to overcome those stumbling blocks.
Who knows? Your solution may be a no-brainer to you, but might be a slap-on-the-head, why-didn't-I-think-of-that for someone else. Besides, sharing is good.
What stumbling blocks stand in the way of pitching your paper towels for good?
Step 4: Implement your plan
Refine as you uncover new information
You've identified some solutions and planned how to handle potential stumbling blocks. Now it's time to implement your plan.
In our case, to overcome our chief stumbling block--resistance to changing long-standing habits--whatever changes we made had to be as quick, as easy and as convenient as using paper towels.
Finding alternatives was the easy part. Making them easy and convenient, well, that was surprisingly easy too.
After all, when it came down to it, there weren't all that many uses for paper towels that a washable plate and napkin, dishcloth or floor rag couldn't handle just as nicely.
Below, see how we implemented ours, in three phases.
Phase I: Change the way we clean up spills
This was super easy
Rather than tearing off a paper towel, we would grab a clean dishcloth instead.
In the brainstorming and evaluation step (Step 2 above), I had already identified a few problems and their solutions. We encountered a few more along the way. Below are each of the problems and how we solved them. Maybe some of these will work for you.
- Not enough clean dish cloths for the counter top messes between laundering.
Solution: Buy extras so there would always be enough.
- Tucked away in a drawer, those cloths weren't handy. We couldn't just grab and wipe, like we could with paper towels.
Solution: Store a bundle on the counter top where the paper towel holder used to stand. The footprint of our basket is nearly twice as large, but the tradeoff is worth it. We don't miss those few inches.
- Insufficient supply of absorbent rags for the floor messes.
Solution: Cut a couple of worn out bath towels into rectangles in two sizes--One small for those tiny messes, one larger for big spills.
- As with the dish cloths, no convenient to-hand supply of floor wipes.
Solution: Fill an attractive basket with neatly folded floor flags on a nearby kitchen shelf, low enough so it's not a focal point, handy enough to reach when the grandbaby tips over her juice.
- No place to hang wet floor rags out of sight to dry.
Solution: Install hanging bar in mud room just off kitchen.
- Laundry hamper too far away for quick disposal of dirty rags.
Solution: Install a hamper/basket for floor rags in mud room; Tuck a second basket in out-of-sight kitchen corner for dirty kitchen linens.
- Paper towels too handy; we keep using them instead.
Solution: Store the roll on top of the refrigerator where we can get to it if we have to, but so it's out of sight and out of the way otherwise.
Once we identified and solved each of these problems, retraining ourselves to reach for a dishcloth or floor rag was easy.
In fact, it was so easy, that when we used the last paper towel from the roll on top of the refrigerator, we put off buying more. To this date, we haven't felt a need.
Tip: Save your worn out cotton t-shirts!
Worn out cotton t-shirts, bath towels and other absorbent materials make excellent rags. Get in the habit of saving them in a rag bag or bin.
Switching to cloth is cost effective, even when you buy organic cotton
We bought a variety of eco-friendly reusable cloths, including organic cotton dish cloths. They averaged $2.99 apiece, which was exactly the price we were paying per jumbo roll of paper towels.
Only difference is, we will reuse each of these cloths for years to come. Savings score!
Recently I discovered Tookies hand knit dish cloths - Made of 100 percent organic cotton
These little gems have terrific scrubbing power. They feel good in the hand. Best of all, when you buy them, you help women in Calcutta earn their living with dignity and without sacrificing their health and well-being.
Best dishcloth I've ever used. Absorbent, strong, durable and just plain good scrubbers. At first I thought I wouldn't care for the size and heft, but they turned out to be just right.
Phase II: Retrain ourselves to use cloth napkins and washable plates
Every time we eat
This turned out not to be nearly as difficult as we expected.
We already used cloth napkins for breakfast and dinner, and always have plenty on hand. Each member of our household has a distinctive napkin ring, so we can reuse our napkins until they become soiled.
The main problem was retraining ourselves when we grabbed breakfast or lunch on the run.
We were in the habit of tucking a sandwich or cheese and fruit into a paper towel. At snack time, I tended to snag a paper towel to hold my cookie or pear at my desk.
Solution: Consciously build a habit of grabbing a reusable container and small cloth napkin for on-the-go meals and a plate for lunch or snacks at my desk.
Coming up: If you don't already have a supply of eco-friendly napkins and napkin rings, I've included a selection of lovelies sure to please.
Afterward, we hit the third and final phase of implementing your plan to reduce, perhaps even eliminate, paper towels from your life.
One quick, easy place to start--Colorful, reusable cloth napkins for the kids
Teaching children to respect the planet and her resources is easy. It's the little things we do every day that instill a deep respect--or not--for the planet and its resources.
Using organic cotton reusable napkins is one way to introduce age-appropriate discussions at dinner time, when families most frequently gather.
These child-centered, organic cotton sets come with several motifs and colors.
Children love the bright colors and cheerful designs on Fabkins organic cloth napkins.
Let them pick a new napkin ring each week to save their napkin from lunch to dinner.
Organic cotton napkins double as place mats
When the grandchildren grab a glass of milk and a couple of cookies, I whisk a napkin under their plate and cup to catch any crumbs or spills.Then toss them in the laundry for easy cleanup.
Tuck them in your bag with a sandwich and piece of fruit or in the children's lunch box.
These 10"x10" organic cotton napkins are the perfect size for lunchboxes and bags. Their cheerful colors will brighten the gloomiest winter day.
Let each member of the family pick a napkin ring so they can reuse their napkins until they are soiled.
For years, we have tucked our everyday, unsoiled cloth napkins into distinctive napkin rings and reused them.
Kids especially like these whimsical napkin hugs. Recycled black rubber dolls--two girls and two boys--hug your child's napkin with interlocking arms.
I'm waiting for the day they come out in bright colors, but these would be fun in a sophisticated chrome and black leather dining room, too, don't you think?
Phase III: What about those icky messes we don't want to touch?
That turned out to be one of the easiest solutions of all. In fact, it turned out to be a win-win, kill-two-birds-with-one-stone solution.
You see, as part of our quest to eliminate plastic from our lives, we had already searched for and found this soft, recycled toilet paper, which is available in bulk with no plastic wrappers.
It wasn't an easy feat. We're fussy about the tissue that touches our tushes.
But what to do with the paper wrappers? Turns out, they're mighty handy for those extra messy jobs, like the other day, when I dropped an egg yolk on the floor. Talk about a greasy mess!
The wrappers are not as absorbent as paper towels, but enough so that I can easily follow them with a damp rag and, if necessary, a spray bottle of all purpose cleaner.
Why is it so important to eliminate those plastic wrappers?
Every day, plastic of every kind, awash in our oceans, chokes, strangles, maims and starves sea turtles and other wildlife.
We are responsible for our part in that.
To cut back, first we eliminated plastic shopping bags--we got in the habit of carrying reusable, cloth shopping bags.
Next, we eliminated the plastic wrappers around toilet paper, and now around paper towels.
Do you have a viable plan?
At the beginning, you had an opportunity to participate in a poll indicating where you stand regarding paper towel usage.
What has changed for you as you've answered the questions on this page?
Have you changed your mind about paper towel use? What new idea did you discover or learn?
Did you make a plan? How do you feel it will work for you?
What, if anything, has changed for you after reading this page?
A second to brag
In its former incarnation this hub received an award that knocked my socks off
This hub originally appeared on the now defunct Squidoo web site, where on December 31, 2011, it received their highest honor, Lens of the Day. (As HubPages calls our articles hubs, Squidoo called them lenses.)
I know. Bragging. But it was an honor that made me proud and encouraged me to continue writing. May we all, writers sweating graphite, continue to be encouraged in ways that help us become better and better writers.
© 2009 Kathryn Grace