When I was a kid we always had a decorative napkin holder on the kitchen table. It was there when we ate, and even when we weren’t. There was always a tidy pile of clean white paper napkins waiting inside the napkin holder. Everyone got one at every meal – tucked under the cutlery of course – and if you needed another one while you ate you just took it from the holder. Sometimes extracting one from the holder would be tricky, because there were so many crammed in there.
I think we may have used cloth napkins for special occasions, like Easter and Christmas, but I can’t quite remember. It is likely that the pile of white paper napkins got switched out for special-edition paper napkins that had prints of holiday greenery on it instead. It’s also quite possible that for special occasions we swapped out the regular napkin holder for a fancier one. But that is neither here nor there. It was what I knew, so when I started my own household I took this practice with me. Paper napkins were always on the table, in a napkin holder.
At one point, several years ago now, I had a bit of an epiphany. I wondered why we were wasting our money on these things when we could easily use cloth napkins. And so we replaced our paper napkins with cloth ones. It was not hard to do. Some of our napkins are ones I’ve sewn, and others are ones I’ve purchased. Every once in awhile I buy and use paper napkins (such as cocktail napkins for a party), but these occasions are few and far between.
The cloth napkins are pretty low maintenance. Everyone gets their own and uses it for a couple of meals, at which point they get tossed in with the other laundry. They don’t even need to be ironed either. Easy stuff really.
But once again I got to thinking about all the paper products we use.
According to Wikipedia, a 2007 study shows the consumption of paper towels and other tissue products is highest in the United States, at around 24 kilograms per capita, with consumption higher than in Europe, and more than 500 times higher than in Latin America.
Why are we using so much? I hate that it’s been drilled into us by marketers that we can’t get by without paper towels, and we have grown to believe that paper towels are a critical component of every day household life. They’re made to seem indispensable, which is simply not true. Commercials show a mom wiping up a kitchen spill in the kitchen, and I wonder… can’t she just use a sponge? What did my grandmother use to wipe things up?
We live in a time and place in which convenience trumps everything else. And that’s not sustainable. So we are going to try to drastically reduce our use of paper towels here at Casa Fishbowl. But as we launch into this I have to ask myself, what are we using paper towels for right now? When I really think about it I realize that we’re not exactly paper towel addicts, but they do get used.
- If a spill happens on the kitchen counter, we are likely to clean it up with the cloth we use for washing dishes. This cloth is washed regularly, in the washing machine and in the dishwasher.
- If someone spills milk on the dining room table, I think the kids are more likely to make a dash for paper towels instead of the kitchen cloth. I’m more likely to go for the cloth.
- Most cleaning is done with different cloths, except in the bathroom. Mirrors are cleaned with window cleaner and paper towels, and most other surfaces are cleaned with multipurpose spray and paper towels. (Both are from terra 20’s eco-bar.)
- Kitchen uses for paper towel also include, wiping out greasy pans before putting them in the sink for washing, and microwaving bacon.
- Dog barf is mopped up with paper towels. (This is going to be the toughest one for me.)
- Killing centipedes.
- The inside of the car is cleaned with spray cleaner and paper towels. (Although we’re moving away from that too.)
All of these things can be done with cloth; with cloth rags or cloths bought for a specific purpose. For example, our granite counter is cleaned with a pair of granite-polishing cloths (also from terra20) and occasionally with Method brand granite cleaner.
One of the things that tends to use up several rolls of paper towel around here is window cleaning. I’d be lying if I said that window cleaning is a regular chore around here. It gets done once a year, if that, but we were overdue, so I dropped by terra20 to see what they had in the way of window cleaning cloths. (I should mention terra20 is a Fishbowl patron, but this post was not prompted or sponsored by them in any way.) One of the sales people suggested I try the Wipe and Glow cloths. It was $5 for a big one; much cheaper than paper towels, and reusable! I thought I’d give it a try.
It’s not very fancy. In fact, the texture was a little startling. I don’t know what I expected but it was a little stiff. As per instructions, I filled a bucket of water, and swished the cloth around to get it wet.
I should point out that there was nothing added to the water. It’s just a bucket of ordinary hot water. I wrung out the cloth and started wiping down our family room windows, starting from the outside where they face the deck and the street beyond. They were filthy from winter weather, construction dust (of which there has been plenty), and Piper’s nose prints. I didn’t use any window cleaner. And guess what? They came sparkling clean. I could hardly believe it.
Washing windows without a cleaner is tough to wrap my head around. How can this be possible, given that SC Johnson has been telling us for years that we need Windex, and that our windows can’t possibly be clean and streak free without it? (Answer: just because a product manufacturer tells us we need something doesn’t make it true. They just want to sell more product, and there’s no better way of doing this than by their product becoming a household habit.)
So this aspect of paper towel usage has been solved. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to using paper towels and cleaner on our windows.
Next up, cutting down on paper towel usage in the place we use them the most…