Our Earth Day Challenge

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Iris in front of The Belle Writer's Studio

Breaking a lifetime of habits isn’t always easy and this we have found true with breaking the habit of using paper towels.

Our mothers came from the era of all of these wonderful inventions that would make life more convenient: Paper towels, microwavable meals, dishwashers, processed foods, dryers, dryer sheets, etc.

Of course, no one ever explained what impact these things would have on the environment, if not our health.

While I’ve been able to make huge changes in our habits that help us diminish our footprint in other areas, cutting out the paper towels completely has not been one of them.

We have cut them back, using more towels when we would previously have grabbed a paper towel, but not as much as I would like, especially given the price is continually going up.

For the past few months, we’ve seen paper towels, like many other things, increase dramatically in price and as I told Dale, it is not only not a good thing environmentally, it is like wadding up cash and throwing it into the trash.

So, this week, we decided to make a commitment to reduce our usage of paper towels, in honor of Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

In coming up with a plan to reduce our paper towel use, I thought of putting a tablet next to the roll and marking each time we use one.

Knowing Dale would probably not do this, I just asked him to mentally be aware of each time we use a paper towel and I came up with ways to reduce usage, including:

  • Using only half of a half (we use the select a sheet) for napkins, unless it is a messy dinner (tacos) until I can get enough cloth napkins purchased for reuse.
  • Dale still uses them to dry dishes after they’re washed. He’s committed to using cloth towels from the drawer (he has sort of a phobia about hairs and lent from dish towels, so I got some non-lent producing towels).
  • Using a reusable sponge or washcloth to wipe down the counters.

These are just some of the ideas I’ve come up with. I hope to reduce our consumption of paper towels by half.

What is it you would like to do better to help the environment. Will you be challenging yourself for Earth Day this month?




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31 Responses

  1. I’m catching up on your posts but wanted to suggest something: Just don’t buy them. That’s how we did it. If they’re not here and handy to grab, we won’t grab them. I use rags for wiping up, newspaper and a squeegee for washing windows, and have never looked back.

  2. Jane Boursaw says:

    Gosh, I’d just like to get myself out to clean out my flower bed. If I can do that, I’ll feel like I accomplished something Earth Day-ish. 🙂

  3. I’m trying to use less paper towels but there are certain spills that are just easier to clean up with those versus cloth. I’m trying to be better. At the store I try to only use produce bags when I have to. Some checkers don’t like the produce sans a bag but others don’t seem to mind

    • Kerri says:

      Ah, yes, the produce bags at the store. I only use them when I have to as well. If I’m buying just 1-2 pears or something, I can get by without it.

  4. Heather L. says:

    I have a friend who made herself tons of cloth napkins in all colors and prints. If you know how to sew, it’s easy. And so much cheaper than buying them.

    • Kerri says:

      The applicable phrase here is, “If you know how to sew….” I don’t! 🙂 Wish I did, but I never got into it. I’m looking for some cool retro ones at the antique and thrift stores we frequent.

  5. Sponges are microbe breeding grounds, so beware. Tea towels, on the other hand, are great favorites in our house. You might really like these eco friendly re-useable towels on a roll from Etsy… http://www.etsy.com/listing/95598071/reusable-eco-friendly-snapping-paper

  6. Ooh. That’s a tough one. I knitted myself some kitchen towels a couple years ago because my regular ones kept ending up out in the garage … ruined. But, I still don’t just love them the way I hoped. Even though they are cotton, they are not great for drying your hands or your dishes.

    • Kerri says:

      I would think they would work better as washcloths, Roxanne. I have some my aunt crocheted for me and I like them very much.

  7. Carol says:

    My biggest use for paper towels is for the windows, the glass table tops, mirrors and the glass fronts on my cabinets. I understand newspaper can be used but have never tried it. My mother was a depression era child, so I learned to save containers, jars, etc. so I rarely use plastic wrap. Foil is a staple and always recycled. Maybe my Earth Day challenge will be to try the newspaper approach for windows.

    • Kerri says:

      Newspapers work very well for the windows, Carol. We do use them!

      • Carol says:

        We’re dinosaurs and still take a daily newspaper, so we do have a supply for lots of stuff and to be recycled. Love to do the crossword 🙂

        • Kerri says:

          I guess if you’re one, I am too, Carol. I have to have the feel of the paper in my hand each morning. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the quiet of the pre-dawn with my coffee and newspaper. My fondest memories are of my parents doing this very thing (although smoking with it). We do recycle our papers and also use them for window washing and lighting the coals for the BBQ and the woodstove in the winter.

  8. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for the Earth Day reminder! As to paper towels, I remember being shocked at 21, when I moved to France, to find kitchens had none. Instead people used dish towels. There were three kinds, one for drying glasses, one for drying everything else, and one for wiping hands, pans, etc. We still use dish towels, although I do not have all the different kinds.

    • Kerri says:

      Dish towels are best. I also noticed when we went to Europe the lack of paper towels, plastic bags and clothes dryers!

  9. mat says:

    We ran out of paper towels this past weekend and you’d have thought the world came to a stop. No, it wasn’t that bad, but you’d go to reach for one…and…nope. I don’t use them very often anymore, I peel a quarter off a sheet (my wife gives me weird looks for this) and use it to wipe out the coffee grinder after each use. Once in a while, I’ll spray down the stovetop with a degreaser and use a couple of them but I *think* I’m fairly conservative in their use. Of course, nothing is more convenient for spills….
    Normally, we do dishes with a dollar store kinda…woven dishrag…thingie. We cut them in half to stretch their use and we use them to clean dishes, wipe counters, and the like. Never on the floor, of course. And when they’re used up after two weeks or so, we don’t feel bad about tossing them.

    • Olivia says:

      Mat – you can buy a special brush for wiping out your coffee grinder. I have used one for years . . . very efficient. If you can’t find this brush I think probably an artist’s soft bristled paintbrush would work but get a good one. The hairs might fall out of a cheap one. However, I think you could probably find the coffee brush.

  10. Sheryl says:

    I’m very conscious of using too much paper towel…it just drives me crazy when my kids or husband rips off a huge sheet when they could just as well get by on a much smaller piece. That’s one of my pet peeves, I guess…

    • Kerri says:

      It drives me crazy when my husband does that as well, Sheryl. Last night, however, he took a half for a napkin with dinner and before I could say anything, he ripped it in half and handed it to me. They can be re-trained. 🙂

  11. I admit that I’m addicted to them and am trying to cut back, but it’s tough. We live in the country and have animals, so it’s really handy to grab a paper towel when the cat coughs up a hairball or the dog tracks muddy prints through the house. My husband is almost as bad as the pets as far as making messes, so we can go through a lot of paper towels if I grab one whenever there’s a little mishap.

    Like you, I did come up with some rules that help cut back on my usage though: I only use paper towels for a mess on the floor. Countertops can be cleaned with a sponge or cloth. And like you, I only buy the half size paper towels, and sometimes I even tear one of those in half. But even with these restrictions, I know I still use way more than necessary. This is a good post, something that has nagged at me because I know it’s wasteful and environmentally damaging and now I have new resolve to change a bad habit. Next time I start to mindlessly grab a paper towel, I’ll stop and consider whether there isn’t something else I could use that would be just about as easy. 🙂

  12. Jean Landers says:

    I have used cloth napkins and good lint-free cotton dish towels for years – I probably use 4 to 6 a day depending on what I’m doing – I keep paper towels around but rarely use them anymore. I’ve been working on the same case (Costco) of Bravo towels for 3 years and have a lot left to go. It can be done and I applaud your efforts!

  13. Twila says:

    We don’t use paper towels at all. The one thing I can’t live without is foil. It is so much easier to grab the foil for a pizza in the oven then reach in and grab it out no hot pads needed.

    • Kerri says:

      Good for you, Twila. I wish we had never started using them. Foil can be recycled, so I actually do not mind using it. What I hate is plastic wrap.