Replacing paper towels and napkins with reusable options is a good place to begin reducing waste and saving money in your kitchen. Paper products (even those made of recycled content) still require a ton of resources to produce, ship, purchase, and bring home – only to use them once and throw them away. Nothing truly breaks down in a landfill and industrial composting (if available) also requires a lot of energy. And because paper towels are relatively cheap and disposable, we tend to overuse them. We then have to go out and buy more, and the cycle continues.
paper towel production uses millions of trees and billions of gallons of water every year, with far reaching effects on ecosystems
What to Use Instead of Paper Towels
- Old kitchen towels (or thrifted tea towels, cut up old t-shirts, squares of flannel sheets, etc) – keep them an easily accessible spot, such as in a basket where your paper towel roll used to be.
- Search Etsy for a local maker of “Unpaper Towels” to keep that old look and feel going with your new habits.
- Check out Pinterest for DIY sewing patterns if you are so inclined and have basic sewing skills.
- Swedish dish cloths. Made of plant cellulose they are super absorbent, washable, and compostable at end of life.
- Hand knit or crocheted dish cloths made from natural fibres.
Reusable cloths made from natural fibres are a great way to eliminate sponges, paper towels, makeup wipes, and cotton facial rounds. Knitting your own is an easy beginner project that can help you learn a new skill and reduce waste at the same time. Already a knitter? You’ll have a stack in no time with this simple pattern.
Paper napkins are not terribly practical either. You need to use more than the equivalent of one tea towel and they are woefully ineffective when faced with their greatest enemy – a small child. Having a few cloth napkins on hand at home can help you to eliminate this waste and expense. To keep track of whose is whose, we leave them on our chairs after we have finished eating and launder after about a week. You can also take them out in the world with you as a napkin, plate, hand towel, food wrap, or impromptu bag.
What to Use Instead of Paper Napkins
- Cloth napkins! Full stop. We have been using the same 12 beige napkins for nearly a decade and while they are dingy, they work just fine.
- Worried about stains? Plaids, checks, and florals are your friends!
- Check your local thrift store! They always have them when I go. Look for natural fibres first for maximum absorbency.
What to Do About Laundry and…Gross Stuff
If you are also using old towels for cleaning or pet messes, you can identify which are which by writing DOG or TOILET or CAST IRON on them with a permanent marker. And hey…if you need keep a roll or two around for emergencies and truly horrific cleanups, go ahead! Use up what you already have on hand while you implement a system of resuables that you will use forever.
Of course washing towels and napkins requires time and resources, but far less than the demand for new products on an endless basis. We no longer notice the “extra laundry” at all. We keep a small basket under the kitchen sink for soiled linens and just toss it in with our regular loads as needed, hanging to dry. Remember that stained doesn’t mean dirty, so no need to keep things sparkling. These things are literally for messes! Get dirty, but keep it green.
Have you gone paperless in the kitchen yet?
What challenges have you had? What has been successful for you?