How I Zero Waste: Paper Towels
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Yes I was a paper towel addict. I used them for everything, drying my hands, cleaning up spills, using them for food instead of dirtying a plate, ALL the time. I bought multipacks, and kept them stocked in my cabinets.
I decided to stop buying paper towels for two reasons, one being the fact that I couldn't afford them. I saw the prices for the multipacks getting more and more expensive, while I was getting cheaper and cheaper. Spending $10-15 every couple of months on an item that just went in the trash, was too much for me.
The second reason was the space, after moving into my tiny apartment I realized I could no longer store an 8 pack of paper towels without taking up so much of the limited storage space I have.
I first started transitioning myself off paper towels a year and a half ago. I started by purchasing individual rolls of paper towels, and tracked how long it would take before I would have to buy another roll. I dug out some old blue kitchen towels I wasn't using just because they no longer matched the "theme" of my kitchen. (I have since gotten over the themed kitchen phase and use a variety of different colored towels.)
I had stored away some old wash cloths after buying a new matching set of towels for the bathroom, and decided to add those to my towel pile for any dirty spills.
I learned that I had been holding on to a large amount of towels, that I could have be using instead, in my house free of charge.
I now have organized my reusable towels into four groups:
1. Regular bath towels, these stay in the bathroom primarily, but can be used to clean up large spills.
2. Nice Kitchen towels - I hang these on my kitchen towel rack, and give to guests for napkins since they are not as dirty as my other kitchen towels.
3. Kitchen drying towels - these towels are used more for cleaning up spills, and when handling food.
4. Older dingy wash cloths - these are used for cleaning up spills majority of the time, specifically the ones that stain like curry power/tumeric, and gross messes like cat throw up.
After being completely paper towel free for the last nine months I have leaned more and more ways to use them effectively around my house, including:
- catching water under dish drying rack (I do not own a specific mat for this)
- hand towels
- wrapping up food
- cleaning spills
- bacon grease (the grease will stain the towel, just FYI)
- cleaning (scrubbing counters and oven)
- ironing (I lay a towel on my kitchen counter and iron on top of that)
- covering food in the microwave (meaning I don't have to use plastic here either)
I think a big part of using towels is having them handy when you need them. I store mine in a bunch of places to be sure I am prepared for different situations. I keep towels:
- lunch box
- kitchen drawer
- hanging up in kitchen
- in bathroom
Ultimately I learned that I had to cut off my supply of paper towels, and actively tell myself the I don't need them. After a couple of months, I was finally I was able to stop purchasing them. Then, when I ran out, I had to start using my cloth towels. Initially, my mind would automatically go to grab something I could easily throw away for a spill. It was an adjustment that occurred slowly, but I was able to adapt to the reusable mindset.
Now I have gotten into the pattern of using a cloth towel, tossing it on the ground to dry and then putting it in my hamper for a wash. Additionally, I use the towels several times, I often grab one, and use it for several meals before washing it again. Yes, I have more towels to wash, maybe one additional load a month, but I am also only one person, I'm sure a household of 4-6 people would feel their wash load increase.
If you don't have a stash of kitchen towels you can purchase fancy ones like these or these both I have not used. You could cut up a large "dingy" towel you infrequently use, or hit up a second hand store for some gently used cloth towels.
Nevertheless, there are countless statistics over how many paper towels are used each day, and how many trees and gallons of water are used to produce these rolls and rolls of paper towels. I think the most important thing to know is that there are alternative options, and transitioning to using reusable towels in your home is possible.
Let me know where you are in your own paper towel journey!