Sunday, August 18, 2013

How I Stopped Using Paper Towels

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
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I’m pretty middle of the road when it comes to green-ness. I am obsessive about recycling, but I used disposable diapers with both kids. I don’t eat meat, but I almost always forget to lug my re-useable grocery bags to Trader Joe’s.

When I first met Kate and learned how she came to create Love for Lemons, she told me that giving up paper towels was one of the first steps she took in her journey to being more environmentally friendly. I stowed that idea away, considering it from time to time as something I should look into. But with a preschooler, a toddler, and my own tendency to slosh coffee everywhere, spills happen. Daily. Coffee, body fluids and milk coat the surfaces of many of our belongings. Grabbing a wad of paper towels was second nature to me. I used them for spills, wiping faces after meals and cleaning. Half the time, I grabbed them without even thinking. The idea of giving them up seemed daunting. 

But I decided to try giving up my paper towel habit anyway. I figured I could try it for a few weeks, and could always revert to using them if it proved too hard. Shoring up on motivation to help me white knuckle my way through paper towel withdrawal, I learned that the environmental impact of using paper towels is considerable. Besides the epic amount of trees and energy required to produce them, they have a significant impact on landfills. An estimated 3,000 tons of paper towels are thrown away daily.

So I washed up all our cloth napkins, and I braced myself.

And it was… just fine.

My daughter dribbled a slug-like trail of watermelon juice from the kitchen to the living room. My son spilled milk on his shoes. I used those cloth napkins to wipe the floor. I ran them across mouths and fingers. Couches and counters. The thick, cushiony roll of paper towels stayed in the kitchen, forlorn.

I had one brief relapse when I was getting ready to take the kids to the beach. After scrambling around for 30 minutes juggling towels and Tupperware for snacks, we were finally ready to go. As I was changing my daughter into her swimwear, she trickled a steady stream of pee all over the kitchen floor. With no cloth napkins in sight, I guiltily reached for the paper towels.

But otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing. I don’t miss paper towels. It was so easy for me to make the switch that I leave you with only two tips should you decide to try it:

  1. Have plenty of cloth napkins, towels and rags ready and reachable for spills, wipes and cleaning.
  1. Toss the napkins and towels in with the rest of your laundry so you can replenish your supply often. (Please note that mingling your laundry can have unintended side effects.)

That’s it! If I can stop using paper towels, anyone can. Maybe, despite what Kermit the Frog says, it is easy being green. Or at least, greener.