Imagine the world without anger, without greed. We have the power, the tools, the skills and the resources right now to build a peaceful world, where people live in harmony with the Earth and each other. This blog explores ways we are doing just that, one post, one change, one day at a time. Join me. Tell your stories. Ask for help. Spread your ideas for making the vision real and, well, ordinary.

Monday, May 10, 2010

War on garbage: Pitching paper towels

Open bag of trash
Waste basket collection
© L. Kathryn Grace
Ugh! Remember this from my Earth Day declaration of war on household garbage? This lot was collected from the small baskets sitting about the house, much of it bathroom waste--paper towels and tissues. I collect almost two pounds of this stuff every week.

Most of the paper towels in this mess have to do, one way and another, with hair. Cat hair. Wads and wads of the stuff.


My sweetie and I are a tad squeamish. There's something about unattached fur that sends us both in a tizzy. When our dear Salome sheds, it's not veils. It's fur balls--tufts and tufts and tufts of Persian longhair. What do we do? Grab a paper towel, wet it slightly, engulf those flighty tufts, one after another, and toss 'em in the can. Five minutes later, do it all over again.

Occasionally Salome leaves us a nice fat hair ball nestled in a slimy puddle. Urrrk. That's the sound we make when we pick it up, carefully covering it first with a paper towel, grabbing the whole mess with another. Involuntary muscle spasms. Urrrk.

That's not all. Cat hair flies, and what flies has to land. Everywhere. I chase hair gingerly, with a damp paper towel, in the futile hope of grabbing it before it sails up and away again. Our tiny bathroom, a favorite Salome nesting spot, is constantly alight with fur. Two or three times a day, I run a damp paper towel around the bathroom fixtures, on the sills, in the corners, everywhere the fur settles. Salome especially likes to nap in the tub, so that gets a swipe too.

Then there's the kitchen. It's not all cat hair, of course. There will be spills. It's so easy to tear off a paper towel and wipe up the trail of slime from the avocado slice that shot from my hand, skipped across the butcher block like a stone on water and landed, smoosh, on the floor I mopped this morning. Or last month. While I'm wiping that up, I catch as much fur as I can reach.

Egg on the floor

How did it come to this? As a young mom, I refused to have paper towels in the house. Wasteful! Somewhere along the line, a roll came into our life. I suppose I eyed it gingerly at first, but then there was that egg that rolled off the counter top and splatted all over the indoor/outdoor carpet tiles (Why would anyone put indoor/outdoor on a kitchen floor?) and halfway up the cupboard doors. That roll came in handy, too, when my three year old poured, and immediately dumped, a brimming glass of milk. It wasn't long before paper towels were a mainstay.

Fast forward. Kids grown up. Many life changes. New mate, just the two of us for decades now, and here we are, until recently using at least one roll of paper towels a week. At $2.99 a pop, that adds up to $155.48 a year, plus tax. Now I know $150 doesn't go far these days (Astonishing!), but it's the principle, I say! The price of convenience, you say?

Not this year. I'm at war with my throw-away habits.

Here's what I'm doing about it

Reusable cloths cost about the same as a roll of paper towels
© L. Kathryn Grace
A couple of weeks ago we bought several new dishcloths to augment our aging and increasingly ragged supply. Serendipitously, they were $2.99 each. Knowing what I do about conventional cotton production (here's just one example), I was compelled to buy organic. Now I ask you, if I'm willing to throw away $2.99 worth of paper towels a week, how can I flinch at paying the same price for organic cotton I can use again and again and whose manufacture is harming no one?

Reusable cloths in basket
No more disposables!
We're also trying out a couple of reusable clothsmade of recycled fibers. We keep them all in a handy basket on the kitchen work table, ready to grab and mop up spills or wipe our hands as we chop, dice and slice.

For the cat hair and every day floor messes, I cut an old, ragged bath towel to hand-sized squares. They're perfect for those quick swipes around the fixtures and to mop up spilled kitty water or to clean the floor boards.

Downside: I have to rinse those hair-covered cloths and hang 'em to dry. Do you know what wet black cat hair on a white cloth looks like? And the sink! Urrrk.


That was two weeks ago. So far, this change is a big success, better than any of the previous times we've tried to cut back on disposables. After two weeks, nearly an entire unused roll sits on top of the refrigerator, accessible, but no longer convenient. That helped. More importantly, this time, we brought the reusables to the work table, instead of storing them in a drawer. They're every bit as handy as the roll of paper towels had been. The floor rags are stored in a bin convenient to the kitty food and water bowls, where the most spills occur.

Making conscious choices is sometimes as simple as changing an outdated habit, but mindful living can be complicated. One concern about switching to reusables was that we might significantly increase our laundry and water use. That would do nothing to help us lower our ecological footprint. Fortunately, despite liberal use of the reusable cloths, I'll wash kitchen linens for the first time this weekend, and we have yet to accumulate a full load of floor rags. No problem.


Update: Buying in bulk
Update on my goal to buy in bulk (See War on Garbage: What is all that junk anyway?): I told you I'd get back to you on whether my sweetie would join me in avoiding pre-packaged foods and commit to buying everything available in bulk at our local organic grocer. The answer: A resounding yes and a new spreadsheet listing all the items we buy prepackaged, complete with suggested solutions for finding even more items in bulk. Tee hee. I'm so excited! We are making progress in the first and most important of the three Rs: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

What about you? What conscious choices are you making this week to help us all live in a world more like the Village of Ordinary?


We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.


Wanda said...

We are using what we have rather than buying new. Even if something we have is not ecologically sound (i.e., we bought it before we knew any better...or a long, long time ago), we use it first before buying new. Throwing it away won't make it more ecological!

And we are trying to use rags more often and paper towels less. I plan to shop for unbleached paper towels and TP, too. Haven't found a good source yet. I am not ready to have NO paper towels around; however, using them less often is okay by me.

Hayden said...

I love your basket of folded towels - that makes SO MUCH SENSE.

I use cloth napkins - have for years - and keep a basket of them on the table, right where they're needed. Having them close at hand makes all of the difference. Around here, that's considered down-right weird, if not pretentious! But - I really like 'em, they're practical and they're ecologically efficient.

Right now I'm struggling with the plastics. I cycled many of them out a year ago - after first cycling to "non-BPA" before learning there is no such thing. It's difficult to buy/store enough glass containers. I made a couple of big VATS of stock this week, and after reducing it down a lot, still need to go buy quart jars to freeze it in. I figure: store in quart jars in my basement freezer, moving 1 quart at a time upstairs. Then thaw and decant in 1 cup portions for each week's needs, refreezing them in my fridges' freezer. It's a lot of energy for all of that cold, but I rely on stocks for the mineral-rich nutrition they add to both Jake's and my food. (One of the stocks I made was from turkey feet ;-) Paid $1./lb to cover the cost of the processing, and they basically gave them to me free. Turns out no one asks for turkey feet - but they made a densely gelatinous stock, so probably a ton of calcium in them. And yes, the turkeys were genuinely free-range and sustainably raised.)

I use energy to prepare and store the stock, but no cans, the food is sustainably raised and might have been wasted if the turkey people didn't know me and that I'd be sure to take the feet if they offered.

And yeah, it's COMPLICATED learning to live simply. Yesterday I was beating my head against a wall until I remembered "oh, yeah, I was going to use canning jars!" and put them on my list to buy. Everything needs to be relearned, re-thought.

Kathryn Grace said...

Wanda and Hayden, I so appreciate your taking the time to share your experiences and procedures. This could become a virtual koffee klatsch!

Wanda, I am grateful for your emphasis on reusing/re-purposing existing items before buying new. If you're like me, you learned that from your mama, who learned it from hers. Re recycled paper towels and tissues--I, too, have yet to find a source that works for us. We try every new brand that comes on the market, and re-try old ones periodically, but so far no luck. You may be amused to learn that I know of at least one eco-conscious blogger who has begun using washable, reusable cloths in place of bathroom tissue. Never say never, and I know tissue is a problem, but I'm not ready to go there! Btw, loved learning more about your organic garden, and so much more, on Necessary Room today.

Hayden, I understand that comment about cloth napkins being perceived as pretentious. When I offer a guest a cloth napkin, so often they respond with, "Oh, fancy! It's just me, you know!" or something like. Your comments about plastic are timely, as they are next on my list to tackle. I, too, have used glass jars to freeze soup stock, and my only complaint is the amount of space a jar takes versus the same volume storage in plastic. We don't have a deep freeze, so space is always an issue. Since we, like you, typically need small portions, I'm going to try a suggestion from a commenter on another blog for the first time today. She says she freezes small portions in muffin tins till solid, then removes and stores in a larger, sealed container, from which it is easy to grab just what she needs. Love your turkey feet stock story, and yes, living simply is complicated for those of us who came of age with the super consumeristic disposable society. Thanks for the chuckle!

Paul said...

Kathryn, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. We always use cloth napkins but for some reason we do use paper towels. I'm going to talk with Julie about changing that thoughtless habit. On the positive side, some but not all of our paper towels end up in the compost bin.

Julie discussed one of her conscious choices this morning. For a long time she has been shopping for clothes at used and/or consignment stops. She's vowed to do more in the way of buying recycled clothing. I like that.

A choice I made and implemented earlier this week was to take banana peels home rather than tossing them in the waste at work. At work they will end up in general trash in the landfill. At home they will go into the compost bin. One peel isn't much but in a year's time I'll add 200 to my compost.

SE'LAH... said...

We definitely use more rags, and cloth napkins instead of paper towels. Hope it makes a small difference.

Enjoy your weekend. one love.

Kathryn Grace said...

Paul, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It was a fun one to write. Your comment about the bananas reminds me of a dear former boss. He was known as Mr. Recycling and kept a worm bin in his office for all the lunchy leftovers. Everyone stopped by to drop off their unwanted goodies. Not that you should install a worm bin, but a lovely reminder of a delightful man. Thank you for that.

Se'lah, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Whenever you begin to feel that what you do can't make much difference, remember: It is our collective little bits that got us into this mess. One reason I blog about this stuff is to help us all notice how many of us are doing our part, one tiny paper towel or cloth napkin at a time. That way, hopefully, we will stop feeling isolated in our efforts and begin to realize we are part of a growing movement. It's so exciting! said...

We recycle all plastic, paper, and glass. It's the best we can do at the moment.

Not ready to give up my paper towels just yet!

: )

Hayden said...

I liked your basket of towels so much that when I stumbled across some nice baskets I bought one for myself. Then, because I keep kitchen towels until they're embarrassingly worn, I treated myself to some new ones and placed the ragged ones in the new basket.

I'm still using paper towels, but with the cloth ones handy I can avoid them most of the time. (And I compost mine, too!)

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