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Help Me Kick the Paper Towel Habit

Reducing the use of paper towels

Not long ago, I was surprised to realise just how much paper towel we use in our home, and there are only two of us.

I imagine that households with kids and pets use even more. I’m not sure that I can stop using paper towels altogether (or can I?) but we’ve managed to reduce our usage quite dramatically.Maybe some of my tips can help you – but better, I’m hoping that you’ll have ideas for me.

Cutting down on usage is a great way to save money but it’s also much better for the planet too (see the rather scary statistics below).Paper towel has been commercially available since the nineteen thirties so most of us are just used to grabbing the roll when we need to do a quick clean up job – it’s second nature and so easy. But is it right to do so?

Paper vs. cloths or rags

I know that this is the obvious answer but I do have a few problems with using cloths.

If I was truly green, I’d have a collection of cloths and old t-shirts to use for cleaning jobs (I do have some) and launder them.But I do my laundry once a week and I don’t like the thought of dirty rags hanging around in my house for seven days, getting stinky and attracting whole families of bacteria.

Furthermore, doing the laundry costs me money and the addition of cleaning cloths would require more water, more electricity, more detergent – and, if I’m honest – more effort as I line-dry everything. So what’s the answer?

I was using them wrongly

The first thing I realised was that I must buy the type that have a half-sheet.

Sometimes, we were using a whole sheet just to wipe up a few drops of red wine from the countertop.I switched to the type that are made from 100% recycled paper, so that was a step in the right direction too.Then I realised that the majority of the sheets we were throwing away were barely used.

Sometimes they’d been used to simply dry and polish a wine glass. Or used as a napkin and simply wiped a few crumbs from the side of my mouth at lunchtime.Surely I could re-use these?

I became aware

Once I realised just how much almost-unused paper towel were were throwing into the trash every day, I became a woman on a mission.

I now keep lightly-used sheets in a decorative jar on the countertop.When I find myself reaching for the roll, I head for the jar instead. Does using ‘second hand’ paper seem gross to you? It isn’t really.I’ve seen himself tear off a full sheet just to wipe a few drops of water from his fingertips – that almost counts as clean to me.

Of course, we don’t have pets and should any visiting dog leave a little gift on the floor that paper sheet would go straight into the outside trash. But I estimate that 95% of the sheets we use can be used again.

What for?

‘Used’ paper towel can be used for so many daily clean up jobs. Of course, if someone has sneezed onto it, or if it has been used to mop up raw meat juices, then it needs to go into the trash immediately. But in our household, virtually every sheet can be used again.

If the paper has only been lightly used, it’s perfect for wiping food debris from pans, casserole dishes and plates before putting them into the dishwasher or washing up bowl.
Lightly used sheets can be used to wipe down the fridge door, the exterior of the oven or the stove top. Even after I’ve used it for that, it can still be used for spot-cleaning the kitchen floor.
I use them for wiping out the sink (kitchen and bathroom) or grimy woodwork such as door frames or the kitchen cabinets. Really lightly used ones can be used for windows and mirrors – if your glass isn’t too dirty, they can even be used again.
Instead of grabbing the roll to wipe up accidental spills, I use my ‘used’ sheets.
When I’m cooking, I put a piece on the countertop. If I’m peeling potatoes for example, I peel them straight onto a sheet of used paper. This way, I can just scrunch it up and toss it in the trash.
A couple of evening ago, I fried eggplant slices in olive oil and drained them on paper towel. I kept the oily sheet in a glass jar in the fridge (I’m a manic jar-collector). Tonight when I make a dish that requires a greased oven tin, I’ll use it.
If I composted, which I don’t due to lack of garden, I understand that sheets of paper towel are ideal for the compost heap.

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