I’ve been working my way through a post called 10 Easy Sustainable Things You Can Do Now. The post is focused on easy swaps you can do at home. A little effort can have a big impact. While working through the post I realized that each one deserved more than a quick review; if you choose to dive deeper. I am really passionate about each sustainability tip so here we go; starting the series with the Paper Towel Alternative – Hand Towels.
Over the next several months I will share ten sustainability tips. I challenge you to implement one at a time; allow it to become a part of your daily habits, then implement another. Over time each step you take will become easier. To the point where you don’t notice that you are conscientiously making great strides in reducing your environmental footprint. It’s these little things that add up and make a big difference. And they really are easy!
Let’s get to it!
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1. Ditch the Paper Towels
A powerful sustainable paper towel alternative is the use of hand towels. Easy enough said, right? Just start using hand towels. But is it that easy you ask? It does take practice to break the paper towel habit. And with time it does become second nature.
But oh how I loathe paper towels! They are wadded up all around the house, in pant pockets and just take up unnecessary space. They are such a waste and I have always wondered what we did before paper towels were invented.
I realize that paper towels are a way of life for a lot of people. Myself included at one point! And the thought of living without them could be frightening.
There is tons of information on the impact that paper products have on the environment. I would love to share all that information; it is just not feasible. Instead here are three reasons to ditch the paper towels.
Paper’s Environmental Impact
- According to the EPA website; 2018 being the latest data available and this data pertains to U.S consumption only, “In 2018, landfills received 17.2 million tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) paper and paperboard. This was 11.8 percent of MSW landfilled in 2018.” While this number is down from it’s height of 43.5 million tons in 1990 there is still more we can do.
- Paper towels can NOT be recycled. Huh? It’s paper, so why not! According to an article on Treehugger, “While the [paper] towels do begin as mixtures of wood, cardboard, and paper by-products, they get pounded into a pulp, which weakens and breaks down their natural fibers. This makes it harder to recycle the product at a later time. They also undergo a series of chemical treatments before they get transformed into squares of rolled paper. Toxic additives such as glues, resins, and softeners are often introduced into the paper fibers to help with strength, texture, and absorption, not to mention inks and bleach for coloring. This is why even clean paper towels should be tossed in the compost or trash instead of the recycling bin.
- The NRDC issued a report; The Issue with Tissue, stating,” …, industrial logging claims more than a million acres of boreal forest every year, equivalent to seven National Hockey League rinks each minute, in part to meet demand for tissue products in the United States.” We are literally throwing away forests when we could easily use alternatives.
Paper Towel Alternative – What Can You Do?
Besides using hand towels another paper towel alternative includes cutting up old bath towels and using them as napkins/cleaning rags. Or make the switch to something more aesthetically pleasing like pretty hemp napkins but be prepared to make the commitment to reusing them. Please don’t buy something because it is the eco-friendly thing to do then not use them.
If you are not ready to make the leap to reusing hand towels/napkins you can try your hand at reusable bamboo towels. We went this route before switching to hand towels to test whether we could in fact make the switch. They gave us a trial run that had the illusion of using a paper towel but it in fact was a more sustainable option. And they are compostable. So once the reusable bamboo towels were done into the compost bin they went!
Another paper towel alternative if you are still not ready for the leap to reusable bamboo towels is using recycled paper towels and compost them after use. You can compost at home and/or some municipalities allow you to compost unbleached paper towels in your greens bin. Double check with your neighborhood waste disposal facility to see if you can group your recycled paper towels with your greens.
SO… How Do You Actually Put this into Practice?
We place a stack of about 15 hand towels right next to the kitchen sink. When we “need” a paper towel to wipe off the counter, take to the table, or dry hands, etc… we can easily reach for a hand towel instead. Then we reuse the hand towels as much as possible. Drying hands doesn’t mean the hand towel is done; reuse it as a napkin when you sit down for something to eat. A hand towel used like that can easily last you the whole day.
Once the hand towel gets a bit too dirty, toss it with your laundry and wash with your other towels, lights, whites or darks (depending on the color of your towels). Be sure it is easy for the whole household to toss the hand towels somewhere to be washed. Having the least amount of obstacles of use makes it a lot easier for everyone to get behind this or any sustainable practice. We pile them right next to the washing machine since the kitchen is right next to it. Then whenever we have a load of laundry to do we include the piled up hand towels. This way we can usually stay on top of always having clean hand towels available.
We also have a stack of about 15 cleaning hand towels. These are basic white hand towels as well but they are a bit more worn so we use them for cleaning all the things. Instead of reaching for a paper towel when wiping down glass, mirrors, toilets, sinks, etc… we reach for a cleaning hand towel and wash them with the next load of laundry. Clean, wash, repeat!
Paper Towel Alternative – Set Yourself Up for Success
Keep in mind moving to a sustainable household takes time and it’s about progress not perfection. We still have paper towels in the house but instead of using a roll a week we use a roll a month; a significant reduction!
Every time I picked up a paper towel to wipe down glass, a mirror, counter top or wipe my face I had to ask myself if I could do this with a hand towel or some other paper towel alternative. It took effort to break the habit.
We are not perfect either and that is OK. Fortunately our waste facility allows paper towels to be included in the greens bin so we are able to keep the paper towels we do use out of the landfill. Every move towards sustainability is a win. Don’t get discouraged if your efforts aren’t zero waste, it is way better than where you started!
More At Home Sustainable Practices
While you are waiting for the rest of the posts that make up 10 Easy Sustainable Things You Can Do Now please check out other sustainability practices we have implemented. See if any are a fit for you!
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