A paper towel junkie, that is. I hate to admit it, but it's true. I blame it on genetics. My mom's side of the family. A kitchen without paper towels? Impossible! And the paper towel holder? A must-have appliance... for who could live without the ability to unwind just the right number of squares with one hand while stirring the pot with the other? And the instant gratification of a spill--here one second, soaked up and tossed with ease into the garbage the next, as if it never even happened?
As I grew older and wiser, I became more and more conscious of my impact on the environment. It didn't take an intervention to get me off of paper towels, just the knowledge that ancient and endangered forests are being destroyed to make paper towels (not to mention tissue paper, napkins and other disposable paper products). Plus this statistic from the National Resources Defense Council:
If every household in the US replaced just one roll of virgin fiber paper towels (70 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 544,000 trees.
But how does one live without paper towels, you may wonder. It's a challenge. Especially if you grew up, like I did, with an endless supply of paper towels and just as many uses for them. But, with a little support, it can be done.
Here's how I did it: I started to keep a couple of rags under the sink to clean up floor spills; another rag (in a different color) for counter messes. While in transition, I still had a regular sponge, but added bamboo fiber cloths for windows, mirrors, and our stainless steel appliances. There were a few training issues when it came time for my husband to make the leap and, yes, I dabbled in paper towels here and there, just to get rid of the supply. But once I dropped that last Costco paper towel into the garbage, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment. I retired the paper towel holder to a spot under the kitchen sink... way in the back. I thought about donating this stylish contraption, but wouldn't that make me an enabler?
It was a little strained the first time my mom--a paper towel addict in denial--came over and my son spilled some ketchup on the floor. She began searching high and low, becoming more and more desparate--out of breath as she flung open the last few cabinet doors. "Are you out of paper towels?!" she demanded, sweat forming on her upper lip.
That's when my son blurted out, "We don't use paper towels, Grandma! They kill trees!"
Stunned silence. My mom caught my dad's eye with raised eyebrow. Then she looked at me. It was the same look she gave me when I was in my microwaving-could-be-dangerous phase (I do limit my microwaving--a tough habit to break). But I had hard facts this time. Hard facts from a reputable source. It was my decision and I stood my ground. No more paper towels.
I didn't even try to convert my mom. Not until my cousin introduced me to SKOY cloths. ONE of these cloths saves 15 rolls of paper towels. Yes, I said 15... fifteen! They're 100% biodegradable, reusable, machine washable. You can even throw them in the dishwasher. Don't care about the earth? Then think about the money you'll save. Worried about germs? Just stick them into the microwave wet and you've got a disinfected cloth in 1-2 minutes. And these things are durable. Oh, and did I mention one of these absorbs 15 times its own weight?!
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better... these amazing, yet simple cloths dry so quickly, so it is not a breeding ground for bacteria! AND it's is non-toxic, chlorine-free and made using water-based colors and inks.
I gave my mom a SKOY cloth to try. Yes, she was skeptical at first. But who could argue the amount of money saved?
I don't know if my mom completely kicked the paper towel habit (I'm pretty sure she hides a roll under the sink... just in case of emergency) -- and all of us may need a paper towel now and then. Especially all of you moms and pet owners out there. But to eliminate them from every day use is a giant, admirable step in the right direction. An easy way to count for the earth.
As for me, I have to admit that I keep a few rolls of recycled paper towels just in case my son gets the stomach flu and doesn't make it to the bathroom in time.
What non eco-friendly habit would you like to change?
About The Author
Lynn owns myEARTH360.com and is also a contributing editor to Just Cause Magazine. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, son and two cats.