Monday, February 15, 2010

Throwing in the towel.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I just returned from a wonderful weekend away with my husband and I am exhausted. Why is it that when you return from a vacation (even a mini-vaca) you feel like you need another one to recover from the one you were just on? Anyhoo... I am throwing in the towel on trying to write a post tonight. Instead I offer up this post recycled off my personal blog. Sometimes it is fun to look back at a moment in time. I originally composed this post in January of 2009. In it I mention switching from disposable paper to reusable cloth over a year prior. That means I have not purchased a roll of paper towel in over two years! There was a time when I believed it to be a necessity. Funny how our perceptions change. Think back over the changes you have made. What is one thing you changed that seemed insurmountable at the time, but now you do not even notice it?

Throwing in the towel

Household paper goods are so ubiquitous we do not even think about them anymore, but there was a time when towels and napkins were made of soft, reusable cloth. Nowadays the equivalent of about 270,000 trees are used and discarded each day worldwide. The average North American churns through 50 pounds of paper products a year, including napkins, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper. While some of these goods are made from sustainable tree farms, native forests are still a primary source. This leads to erosion and loss of animal habitats. Plus, papermaking is a toxic process that is hard on the environment. Many paper products are whitened with chlorine-based chemicals - which are not as harmful as chlorine bleach, but still release carcinogens and toxins into the water. Others are scented, dyed, or treated with "lotion" made of petroleum, silicone, and chemical surfactants.

Thinner paper is more environmentally friendly than thick or quilted varieties. Use paper towels sparingly and reuse them when practical; some brands can be rinsed numerous times. Buy only plain, unscented, white, lotion-free toilet paper and tissues, which are better for the environment.

Help reduce chlorine-related dioxins in the air and water by purchasing paper products that have been whitened with hydrogen peroxide, oxygen, or ozone bleach. "Totally chlorine free" (TCF) is best, "processed chlorine free" (PCF) is at least made without the most harmful type of chlorine, and "elemental chlorine free" (ECF) is the least desirable, but better than conventional paper goods. Unbleached paper products are the best choice.

Look for products made of recycled paper. Among the recycled papers, a high postconsumer waste (PCW) content is best, because it keeps paper out of landfills and reduces the need to use virgin wood fiber. Recycled papers usually list the amount of PCW on their packaging; look for varieties with the highest PCW percentage you can find.

Use cloth napkins and wash them when they are soiled; they are more absorbent than some of the "eco" paper brands. Substitute sponges, dishcloths, or kitchen towels for paper towels. A good way to start is to throw a dish towel over your paper-towel rack, as a reminder to dry your clean hands, countertops, and dishes with a reusable cloth towel instead of a disposable paper one.

Our everyday napkins.

Over a year ago I purchased two packs of dish cloths. We have been using them as our everyday napkins ever since. They have survived spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, butter, chocolate milk, many spills, and many messy eaters.

Hand drying towels.

How many paper towels does it take to dry your hands? One, two? One never seems like quite enough, but one cloth towel is all it takes to get the job done. Our hand drying towels consist mostly of the flour sack variety. They are thin and therefore dry fast. I like to throw one over my shoulder while working in the kitchen for quick access. Otherwise, one is always hanging on the oven door pull - which acts as a dryer while baking.

Cleaning towels.

I prefer cloth versus paper when cleaning up spills - no matter how messy and disgusting they are. With cloth one is enough to clean my entire kitchen, it holds up to scrubbing, rinsing is not a problem, it is far more economical, does not come packaged in plastic, and I never run out. These "bar towels" are just the right size for wiping down counters, scrubbing the stove top, cleaning the refrigerator, and catching spills.

By investing just a few bucks I have drastically reduced our waste, my trips to the store, dioxins in our air and water, trees being cut for virgin wood fibers, and plastic packaging; all while getting a far better return on my investment than the one time use and disposal of paper towels.


Two Flights Down said...

When my husband and I first started living together, I had boughten some paper towels for cleaning the windows of our mobile home. I always kept them on hand, but a roll of paper towels would last me a good 6 months or longer because I rarely used them. I remember, though, cringing as I observed how casually my husband used them for everything. I've stopped buying them since.

Now we're living in a small town in Japan (temporarily) and we have found that most people carry a small towel on them for drying their hands when using a public restroom. Even the elementary students do so because the bathrooms don't stock paper towels.

concretenprimroses said...

We seldom use them too, but I like to have them on hand. I like the all white ones that are perforated every 5 or 6 inches, so you can easily pull off a mini towel.
I love the idea of carrying a small cloth towel around. I'm going to start doing that, maybe cut a dish towel in half.
Where I work I have resisted putting paper towels in the kitchenette, and people have learned to cope.
A kitchen towel that can be washed in the dishwasher would be a boon there. Any suggestions for how to make one? I'm thinking a way to stretch very small ones out on the top shelf. And each person could keep theirs in their office until it needed cleaning. Or am I nuts?Kathy

Eco Yogini said...

I also am a huge fan of cloth instead of paper towel, and we have not bought a roll in over a year.

And i used to be a HUGE addict to paper towel!!! :)

If I can do it, anyone can :)

Lisa Sharp said...

I think cloths are so much better anyway. My husband still uses a paper towel on a rare occasion but I don't anymore.

Oldnovice said...

Only paper towels used around here are when my brother-in-law comes. Seems like he ALWAYS finds a reason to use one.

More important in my kitchen was the replacement of paper plates with wooden plates. Wouldn't have done it had my daughter not gotten married this past summer and I'd ordered enough for the wedding guests. Plates didn't arrive in time for the wedding, but we've used them since for parties AND they've replaced the paper plates we once used for snacks. Can line a bunch of them in the dishwasher where 4 china plates might have set, so we feel free to use them for everything.

greeen sheeep said...

@ concretenprimroses- Beth of Fake Plastic Fish uses
Skoy cloths instead of paper towels. I know they can be cleaned in the dishwasher. They are also washer/dryer and microwave safe.

greeen sheeep said...

@ concretenprimroses- Sorry, I forgot the link.

David said...

This covers all the bases = saves you money, helps the environment, helps your health, makes you feel better, it's so easy to do and it costs less than $50.00; Save money and the Earth and be clean at the same time! Add Bathroom Bidet Sprayers to all your bathrooms. I think Dr. Oz on Oprah said it best: "if you had pee or poop on your hand, you wouldn't wipe it off with paper, would you? You'd wash it off” Available at with these you won't even need toilet paper any more, just a towel to dry off! Don’t worry, you can still leave some out for guests and can even make it the soft stuff without feeling guilty. It's cheap and can be installed without a plumber; and runs off the same water line to your toilet. You'll probably pay for it in a few months of toilet paper savings. As for water use a drought is always a concern and must be dealt with prudently but remember the water use of industrial users far exceeds the water use of household users and in the case of toilet paper manufacture it is huge. The pollution and significant power use from that manufacturing process also contributes to global warming so switching to a hand bidet sprayer and lowering your toilet paper use is very green in multiple ways.

Jenn said...

I have been trying to use cloth instead of paper towels, but how do you get oil out of cloth? We make tacos at least once a week, and we make our own tortilla chips. Both of these have excess oil that needs to be drained on some sort of towel. If I just wash them, they smell of rancid oil...any suggestions?

Always Learning said...

I buy the BIG bag of red shop rags at Costco and use them for my napkins and numerous other uses throughout my house for next to nothing.


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