We spend lots of money on products that eventually end up in the garbage. Whether it’s a napkin, Kleenex, toilet paper, or paper towel, we buy it just to use it once and then we throw it away. However, these products are also for a lot of people… essential. The reusable options have been deemed unsanitary since we’ve become accustomed to our throw away culture. However, it’s probably one of the easiest areas to cut down on waste.
An easy way to even get started is by just grabbing less. Don’t grab a handful of paper towels for a drop of water and don’t grab a handful of napkins when you’re eating out. Start by reducing the amount of your disposable paper waste. It’s a lot easier than it looks and is also very easy to get into the habit of doing.
One thing that got the ball rolling for me was a Ted talk about how to use one paper towel after washing your hands.
This video got me to go from grabbing more than one paper towel to just one. It has since spiraled form there. I had a bunch of old tshirts that I was looking to reuse and was looking for inspiration on the internet for ideas. One was to turn them into old rags. I cut them up and eventually when we used up our last paper towel, we started using those rags 100% of the time. It was much easier for me to give up paper towels than my husband, but that’s because he’s in the kitchen a lot more. Since the t-shirts weren’t as absorbent as paper towels, we bought some washable hand towels that we can use in the kitchen for bigger messes. Even though it had an initial cost, we’ve been able to wash them over and over again which doesn’t cost anything.
One thing that I’m still working on is the paper napkin. Since starting this zero-waste journey, I’ve made some from old unused material but I’m not 100% perfect. I still like my occasional fast food, and with that comes the handful of napkins they throw in the bag. I’ve cut down on the places I know that do this, or I’ll go inside that way I can grab the one napkin I require. I’ll use my handmade napkins when I can remember then, but again, I’m not 100% there. I do find it easy enough as long as you have enough of them to last you a week.
As for Kleenex and toilet paper, those are the biggest areas for me to work on. I’ve stopped purchasing the little to-go packets of Kleenex, and don’t use much tissue overall. However, I’m still trying to get comfortable with the idea of using a handkerchief. That, along with toilet paper, is not something I can easily give up. For toilet paper, I just try to reduce how much I use. However, I have stopped using hand towels in the bathroom. I eventually just realized I didn’t even need to use the one that I would grab. Now I either just air dry (not the ones provided in bathrooms) or wipe my hands on my clothes.
Why you should reduce or remove your paper products
While paper products aren’t necessarily as bad as plastic, they still do a lot more damage to the environment than people think. A lot of times, the paper used for these products come from young ‘sustainable’ forests. Compared to old-growth forests, these trees don’t absorb as much carbon monoxide as the larger trees. Plus, they get cut down to create our disposable products which releases those toxins right back into the environment anyways.
As for reliable wood for building/construction, the younger wood isn’t as dense and has much more problems, which is fine for products that recycle that pulp like napkins and toilet paper. Because of our demand for paper disposable products, it requires a high demand and the reason why building with wood is no longer as viable as it used to be.
Another problem with a lot of these disposable products is that they usually come bleached. While you can buy ‘natural’ colored napkins or tissue, they’re usually still chemically processed with some level of bleach. While bleach itself isn’t inherently bad, think about the last time you used one of these products. We’re using them on very sensitive areas of our bodies. Not only is bleach a big byproduct of these items, but those covered in scented oils or lotions can create lots of waste in the manufacturing process as well.
Finally, remember how you purchase each product. The paper product themselves might not be so bad, but they’re marketed and wrapped in flimsy plastics that can’t be recycled like harder plastics. Many people don’t properly recycle it and plastic waste adds up if you’re going through a 3-pack of paper towels a week.
Here’s an article that further explains toilet paper and paper products.
I am hopeful that there will be a switch to using all hemp pulp for these products. Hemp is an incredible resource that uses much less water to grow, absorbs more CO2, and grows faster than the current system of ‘young forests.’ While the best solution is to refuse these paper products, at lease hemp will allow people to reduce their paper footprint when it comes to disposable paper products.