Parting with Paper
I remember a poem that hung in the office of our family doctor when I was a kid—it is by Dorothy Law Nolte and named “Children Learn What They Live”. Given this theory, it is only natural that our kids need to have green practices ingrained into their daily lives to learn to help preserve the planet that will support their lives and to instill great habits that are essential to preserving their future.
Paper was invented in China in the second century AD and was made from old clothing and bark, one sheet at a time. It was only available to the elite until late in the 1700’s. Now it we take it for granted. We use it to dry our hands, to contain our food, to cheer a sick friend, to write our thoughts, and to filter our coffee. We fold it, we flush it, we fly it, and we unwrap it.
In the past, I assuaged my own guilt of overusing paper by reassuring myself that it was okay, I recycled. In researching for this blog post, I learned that I haven’t been alone. Don’t get me wrong--recycling has been a Godsend. I found a website called Green Living Tips with some great data: "The Department of Energy states that a ton of paper made from recycled fibers conserves 7,000 gallons of water, up to 31 trees, 4,000 KWh of electricity and up to 60 pounds of air pollutants (not including carbon dioxide)." They also note that it requires 60 percent less energy than creating paper from scratch. Despite these positive statistics, only ~63 percent of paper is recycled (2013 statistics), and we in the US use 6 times the amount of paper that is used in China—the land of its invention.*
The downside of recycling is that others, like my former self, have felt that recycling makes it okay to use even more paper. The Paperless Project notes that our paper use has gone up over the last 20 years from 92 million tons to 208 million tons despite the fact that computers make paper use obsolete in many cases.
So let us think about the ways that we use paper or paper containing products. I know that there are some more advanced souls than I that use cloth instead of paper for toilet tissue. I am not quite so noble yet, and my family wouldn’t allow me to be, but there are many other ways that paper use can be reduced. Here are a few on my list:
#1 Kerchiefs: Nearly everyone born before 1970 remembers using cloth handkerchiefs. Prior to then, boxes of tissue never made it onto school supply lists, and it would have been extremely rare then to find tissue littering bathrooms, hallways or cars. Puffs were not widely available until the 1980s! Can you imagine life without them now?
As a nurse, I find the thought of reusable cloth handkerchiefs compelling as a way to limit the spread of disease. During my career, I've picked up countless wayward tissues in hospital and clinic corridors. In my memories of life as a school girl, I can attest that it was very unusual for a person using a cloth kerchief to drop the cloth and walk off without picking it up. Kerchiefs were often gifted and sometimes monogrammed--as gladly received as a styling new pair of socks. Check out Happy Hanky Products & The Handkerchief Shop/TSHU for ideas.
#2 Swiffer covers—instead of the pricy and wasteful disposable ones, use a reusable mop cover. For those DIYers out there, many patterns can be found on Etsy, Craftsy, or Pinterest. We sell a version in our store for those who are less crafty, or with little time for handmaking items--it is reversible with a nubby side for tile and a smoother side for linoleum or wood.
#3 Wrapping paper: There are multiple options out there. Wellness Mama has some how-to's on how to make cloth gift bags. There is a company called Living Ethos that has some bags with a tie closure. I love some little totes sold by Natural Life, 80% made from recycled water bottles. Joanns Fabrics has great sales on fabric that can be used for “tissue” when clipped around the sides with pinking shears, and it can be used over and over. Another option would be to use cloth napkins to cover gifts.
#4 Paper towels: To replace paper towels, my company makes Green & Thirsty Unpaper towels. Our towels are an attempt to improve upon the concept by providing a highly absorptive, quilted product. Knowing my interest in preserving our planet, my sister gave me a set of towels by another manufacturer. Since I had favorited them, I knew how much they cost her. Unfortunately, the towels were not quilted, so after each wash and dry, I had to pull and tug them back into shape so they could be snapped back together on the role. My company’s attempt to improve upon the concept has included quilting them and using organic cotton and bamboo as the terry and flannel as a very absorptive front to the towels.
Another common use of paper towels is to clean windows & mirrors. Microfiber cloth works really well for this use and usually does’t leave streaks or lint on the glass like paper can. They also work really well for dusting. For a list of the top 10 microfiber cleaning clothes, take a look at 10 Best Review.
Unique to Green City Living is a towel to absorb the grease from fried foods, we call it the Bacon Sponge. What is more popular in the summer time than bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches? The sponge eliminates the need for multiple sheets of paper towels to absorb the grease. To decrease paper towel use further, allow a skillet full of grease to cool and solidify, and then you can use a spatula to scoop the grease into the trash.
#5 Coffee cups & disposable sleeves: Most coffee shops allow patrons to bring in their favorite Contigo or Hydro Flask mug for a coffee/latte/mocha fill. This saves a paper cup, and burnt fingertips without the use of a cardboard clutch or sleeve—items which are also available in reusable options—see our Off the Cuff Coffee Sweaters or The Cozy Project’s awesome products that come in a wide variety and can be personalized.
#6 Coffee filters: While talking about coffee, I’d be remiss not to mention that there are several companies besides ours that make reusable filters. One of the largest is Coffeesock—available in many organic or natural food stores. I’ve reused one set of three of our EcoBrew filters for over a year now. I love them because they filter out the oil in coffee that can make it taste bitter, and we never have grounds go through. I reuse one for a week before sending it through the laundry—each day dumping out the grounds and giving it a quick rinse before loading it anew.
#7 Drink cups: instead of getting reusable cups at fast food restaurants, bring a mason jar for fill ups. Here are some other great drink ideas you can make to fill up the jars.
#8 Cloth napkins: A great alternative to the paper napkins, they are light weight, can be obtained fairly inexpensively, and last a long time. We make some that coordinate with a lot of our bag linings.
#9 Vacuum bags: My husband and I purchased a Dyson vacuum a few years ago off of Craigslist—so it was relatively inexpensive and doesn’t require bags. There many more of the bagless option available on the market now.
#10 Paper plates: I love melamine dinnerware—it is super durable, is available in a wide variety of patterns, and best yet, it is very light weight. Yes, the investment for one plate is about the same as 1 or 2 packages of paper plates, but with them, you’ll never need to buy paper plates again. And yes, they do require washing, but they clean up easily even with dried up food remnants, so I don’t feel the rush to get them rinsed and in the dishwasher. They are thin so many can be stacked without taking up the entire sink. A person can enjoy their guests and clean up later. Check out Pier 1 for a great variety at fairly low prices.
#11 Dryer sheets: anyone who has followed my prior posts knows how I feel about these. Not only do they create unnecessary waste, they are full of chemicals. Skin really is our largest organ and it absorbs chemicals that it comes into contact with. Dryer sheets are made with carcinogens. Think about the sensitive areas that your clothing covers—do you really want these areas in constant contact with carcinogens? I’m a nurse—I can tell you that cancer “there” happens. Please don’t use tennis balls either—they are made of rubber, and can trigger dangerous allergies. You can made dryer balls from rolling up roving, tying them up into pantyhose, and soaking them in warm water and murphy’s oil. Roving can be very pricy, so if you prefer, you can purchase our Fluff Dry wool balls through our online store. At markets, I'm always being told that we sell them too cheaply--because they are significantly larger than the ones you can get on Amazon for just a few dollars.. We actually make them about the size of a baseball, and they will last for at least a decade (probably longer). Add drops of essential oil for a great fresh scent of your choosing. Throw in a crumpled ball of clean used aluminum foil (instead of throwing it away after using in the kitchen) to decrease static in addition to the softening affects of the dryer balls.
#12 Baby wipes: cloth diapers have come a long way since my children were small, but can be difficult if one parent or if daycare is not supportive. Reusable baby wipes though are easy to make—see this blog from growingagreenfamily.com. For those who prefer to purchase, see Kellyscloset.com or JonaCreationBoutique (she also makes reusable pantyliners). They are easy to rinse out, and can be put together in a kit that is just as convenient as the disposable ones. In addition, making them lets parents control what they are using on their baby’s skin and decrease the amount of plastic going to the landfill.
#14 Convenience packaging: instead of purchasing items in boxes or bags, use muslin sacks like these from Simple Ecology to buy bulk foods. It is often times less expensive, and food can be transferred into food safe plastic or glass containers at home. Mason jars work very well for keeping nuts or grains and allow you to see what you have on the shelf and can be labeled with the contents and date.
#15 Shopping bags: reusable shopping bags can be found in most stores. Once in a great while, I forget to bring them in or don’t have one to use. I literally cringe every time the sales clerk puts two paper bags together to make it sturdy enough, or tries to use separate plastic bags for every 2-3 items. Bobbin@5280 sells a heavy duty tote that I am partial to--it will last for years, is lined with laminated cotton (waterproof) and machine washable. I also really like Envirosax as they fit easily in my purse, and I can take them to the mall without looking like I’m trying to grocery shop at Nordstrom’s.
#16 Reusable feminine hygiene pads: Many people turn up their noses when I bring these up, but there really is such a thing, and most people that use them find them to be very comfortable and easy to use. Again--that area of skin is very sensitive. Reusable pads are hypoallergenic, and you know what they are made of. They are comfortable, absorbent, and some are pretty styling. I'm just saying...what do you think women did in "the old days?" Check out Trojek Farms--these are definitely not your grandma's maxi's.