To me, being “green” is important because it is a way that I serve God. God created a beautiful planet for us to enjoy and to express Himself through. And He put this planet in our charge, to keep watch over it. Therefore, in being a good steward, utilizing things that reduce or eliminate waste or cause harm to our bodies or the environment is important to me. It’s how I obey God.
Well, along the green brick road, there comes a choice among paper, plastic, or something else. If feasible, I try to go with a green something else. Which is what today’s post is all about. I’m going to share some areas where you can swap paper or plastic for a better material.
In the Kitchen
- Cloth napkins. Besides making everyday meals feel special, cloth napkins are simply more durable than paper napkins. One instance that comes to mind is sticky barbecue sauce. Cloth napkins don’t rip or roll up when you’re wiping off all that BBQ sauce! And there’s really no need to iron napkins before using them unless it’s a special occasion (I don’t know why, but some people think you have to keep cloth napkins ironed all the time). I keep day-to-day cloth napkins stuffed in one of those cloth bags that are intended for storing plastic shopping bags (like this one) and I keep nicer, special occasion napkins ironed and folded in storage.
- Unpaper towels. Cloth unpaper towels are so fun these days. Whether you sew them yourself or buy them, they can have a myriad of fun colors and cleaning up messes just feels special somehow. A recent unpaper towel design even keeps your paper towel holder use. These recent ones have snaps so they can snap to each other then be rolled around an empty paper towel tube and stored on the paper towel holder. Just like cloth napkins, unpaper towels are more durable. One unpaper towel cleans up a whole lot more mess than one paper towel does.
- Wash rags. In our home, I use old terry cloth washcloths as wash rags. I use one for wiping off dishes and another for wiping off the table and countertops.
- Wet bag. This doesn’t really replace anything in the paper and plastic kitchen, but it answers a question. What do you do with cloth napkins and cloth paper towels and all that other cloth stuff? Usually, it’s damp or wet after use. Enter a kitchen wet bag. It’s just like a cloth diaper wet bag, only for all those cloth things in your kitchen (in fact, you can use a regular wet bag if you want to). You can sew or purchase kitchen wet bags that have two straps and snaps to hang them from the handle on your oven. They look pretty and they’re highly functional. On wash day, throw the wet bag (make sure it’s open first) and all its contents into the wash. Easy peasy!
- Cloth shopping bags. Many stores nowadays charge for the paper or plastic bags that they use to stash your stuff. Check your receipts–you might be surprised to see a bag charge towards the bottom! That’s just one reason to use cloth shopping bags. Another reason is that it prevents your house or garbage from being overrun by a myriad of plastic bags. And they’re easier to carry stuff it. Unless they’re really worn out, they’re not going to burst under the weight of items or rip at the mere brushing of something pointy. Plus, they’re easier to carry. You can pack them chock full of stuff and carry the whole grocery shopping trip into the house on your shoulders and arms (that’s me–one trip does it).
- Cloth produce bags. Yep, even plastic produce bags can be swapped with cloth ones. I love my produce bags! They’re made of a cloth mesh which means that when I get my produce home, I can immediately wash them while they’re still in the bag. And I can store them in the fridge while still in the bag, meaning I don’t have to dig as much for a certain item. And they save me from having to discard the plastic produce bags.
- Cloth Swiffer refills. I actually prefer to use a Libman mop because I can use my own cleaning solution (but you can Google the tricks to remove the lid off the Swiffer cleaning solution bottle). Rather than buy a bunch of throw-away pads, or even rather than purchasing the more expensive microfiber ones, I make my own. It’s ridiculously easy! Just buy microfiber cloths (used for dusting or other purposes) and cut them to size. Ta-da! Super cheap and super easy. I use, wash, and reuse these cloths over and over until they completely wear out.
For Parties or Guests
- Plates. Most people have no problem with agreeing that ceramic plates are better than paper or plastic ones. Ever tried to cut through a steak on a paper plate? Even though paper plates have their convenience factor, just think about how difficult a ceramic plate is to clean. Rinse it off and throw it in the dishwasher. It really isn’t much more work.
- Cups. Paper cups are typically thrown away after just one single use. But glass or stainless steel cups are reused (saving oodles of money) and can be sterilized (removing any smells). If you have a big family or are hosting a large group of guests, you can still opt for the glass or stainless steel cups. To prevent people from forgetting which glass is theirs, use Drink Bands. You can even write names or numbers on the Drink Bands with a Sharpie marker. If you’re hosting a big party and don’t want to chock out the money to buy a bunch of glasses, consider buying mason jars. They’re cheap, in style, and don’t break easily.
- Real silverware and utensils. I remember eating a chili dog at our local county fair when I was a teenager. When I tried to cut a piece off with a plastic fork, the plastic head snapped off and hit me in the eye! Fortunately, it didn’t cause any lasting damage. But I’ve hated plastic utensils ever since. Real silverware won’t break off and threaten blinding you.
- Bottles and sippy cups. Rather than using plastic bottles or sippy cups, opt for glass or stainless steel. The glass ones are tempered so if your wee one throws or drops it onto a hard surface, it’s unlikely it’ll break. And both glass and stainless steel have an insulating effect, helping to keep cold beverages cold and warm beverages warm.
- Cloth diapers. Besides preventing a ton of waste which blemishes the world God blessed us with, using cloth diapers are also cheaper. It was this cheaper factor that originally got me started on cloth diapers (more so than the green factor). And the more children you use your cloth diapers on, the more money you save. Some people are leery of the “ew” factor surrounding cloth diapers. Well, when you have a kid, poop happens whether you use cloth or disposable. You’re gonna touch it at some point! And if you have a diaper sprayer, you don’t really touch it anyway because you spray the poo into the toilet (by the way, I’m finding that sprayer making potty training less yucky because I can spray out the potty chair). Plus, cloth diapers are so stinkin’ cute!
- Cloth wipes. If you’re cloth diapering, you’re gonna wash yucky diapers anyway, so why not use cloth wipes? Just toss them in the cloth diaper pail liner along with the cloth diapers.
In the Bathroom
- Hankies. Rather than using facial tissue (i.e. Kleenex) to blow your nose, try some old fashioned handkerchiefs. They only cost about $1 or less in most stores and they, just like other cloth products, hold up better than their modern paper replacement.
- Cloth toilet paper. This usually gets a big “Ewww!” But, to be honest, it’s really not that bad. Especially if you already cloth diaper–it’s not any different than using cloth wipes. Keep a covered trash can (or diaper pail) with a cloth diaper pail liner in it next to the toilet. Then fill a container with cloth squares or rectangles (or even circles or ovals). You can use cloth baby wipes or, to save money, cut up old washcloths or some kind of soft cloth that you purchased on clearance. I’d aim for darker colors, if you know what I mean! On wash day, toss the pail liner and all in the washer. If you cloth diaper, toss it in with the cloth diapers. If you don’t cloth diaper, toss it in with the towels. And trust me, washers do an excellent job of sterilizing things.
- Feminine products. Since I started using cloth pads, I could never go back to disposable ones! The cloth ones are so very comfortable. The paper ones feel scratchy to me now! To clean the cloth pads, I rinse them off in the sink (then sterilize the sink afterwards) and store them in a small wet bag that I keep in the bathroom. On wash day, wet bag and all gets tossed in the wash with the cloth diapers or towels. If you prefer tampons, I recommend either sea sponge tampons or a menstrual cup. Click here to see Green Monthly Friend Guide!
Tracey @ Dont Mess with Mama says
Great tips. I gave up paper towels about a year ago and haven’t looked back. I think small changes make a big difference and doing it slowly helps everyone in the family stick to it.
Keara B. says
Just had to tell you that this is a fantastic post. So many little things we can do to be more “green.” I have yet to get some cloth product bags- I really need to get some! And the cloth toilet paper? I’m all for it, but I think it might be a hard sell for hubby. I’ll just have to work on that. 🙂
Jonathan (EcoDad) says
Glad to report we do 14 of the 16 in our house. I just can’t fathom cloth TP (family cloth as I’ve heard it called elsewhere) yet. Then again, when my twins (now 8) were in diapers, I couldn’t fathom cloth diapers and we are now huge proponents of cloth diapers. We’ve got some great green party tips on our blog…check them out.
Brittney Minor says
Great tips! I do most of these, especially everything in the kitchen. I never thought of getting a wet bag for the kitchen! I used one for my kids for diapers but never thought to transition one into the kitchen. I normally let the stuff dry on the counter then transfer to a laundry basket in the laundry room.
Wow… this is a great wealth of ideas for living more sustainably. Have you read Beth Terry’s “Plastic Free” book? She also runs a blog. She hasn’t used any plastic at all for a number of years. It’s really amazing.
Nope, never heard of it. 🙂 I’ll check it out though. Thanks for letting me know! 😀
Great tips to share! One of my contributors is actually taking Beth’s Plastic Free Challenge right now. We are only in week 4 on my blog but have learned a lot!
Unpaper towels are definitely on my list of things to explore making this summer. Thanks for linking up with Tuesday Greens!