Kick Your Paper Towel Habit! Personal Paper Towel Experiment

Personal Paper Towel Experiment

 Would you throw $1000 in the trash? Maybe it’s time to kick your paper towel habit

It’s true. If you toss 1-1/2 to 2 rolls of paper towels into the trash bin a week as my family did, at $2.99 a pop for those super-absorbent jumbo rolls, you may be throwing $200–or more–into the trash can every year.

That adds up to a whopping $1000 in five years. Small change to some I know. Not to my family. Maybe not to yours.

On this page, I’ll share two more big reasons we pitched our paper towels, in addition to the cost savings. More importantly, by the end of the page–in just minutes–you will have a complete plan, in four easy steps, to chuck yours too.



Two more important reasons we pitched our paper towels

Garbage, garbage, garbage and plastic, plastic, plastic

Not sexy by a long shot, but the desire to reduce our garbage, and especially plastic, springs from our core values: Walk ever more lightly on the planet; do no harm.

At the time we decided to give up paper towels, we were throwing out one to two big cans of trash a week. That’s not light. It’s heavy.

Chucking the paper towels was one of our first steps in reducing waste and moving closer to our goal, one day, of becoming a zero waste household.

Then we learned what is happening to much of the plastic we toss, including the plastic wrappers around paper towels, toilet paper, well, just about everything we buy these days.

We could not bear the thought of one of our plastic bags choking sea turtles and strangling wildlife. We made a decision to cut back on plastic, one step at a time, starting with the wrappers around tissue paper and paper towels.

We thought this change would be tough on us. It wasn’t. In fact, it was so easy, we wondered why we hadn’t done it years ago.



Can you kick your paper towel habit?

By the time you finish this page, you’ll have a plan

Whether you’re just curious how a busy family can get by without paper towels, are thinking of giving it a try yourself, or have tried and failed in the past, by the end of this page, you will have a plan for pitching your own paper towels once and for all, if you choose to do so.

Plus, I share the resources that gave us the boost we needed to keep at it.

Each step of the way, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities to engage and interact while you develop a plan that is right for you. It takes only minutes.


Four easy steps to eliminating paper towels from your life
Or reducing how many uses

A piece of cake with a fork – morgueFile free photo I thought it would be difficult to give up paper towels, but it was a piece of cake. We laid a plan, followed it, and I’m happy to report more than a year later, we haven’t a paper towel in the house. I no longer remember when we last bought a roll.

Here are the four easy steps to the plan. Below, I’ll take you through the steps, one at a time.

  1. Analyze how you use paper towels
  2. Brainstorm, evaluate and select alternative solutions
  3. Anticipate and prepare for stumbling blocks and obstacles
  4. Implement and refine the plan as you go


Step 1: Analyze how you use paper towels

So you know how best to replace them

Take one minute to jot down the ways you use paper towels. When we took inventory of the ways we used them, it boiled down to three categories:

    1. Clean up spills — Has this happened to you? An egg slips from your hand and drops, slow-motion, to the floor. Eggs on the floor are gooey, slimy messes. Paper towels make quick work of them. Spilled milk, juice, soup–all sop up quickly in a wad of paper towels. What’s not to love about that?
    1. Clean icky messes we don’t want to touch and want to pitch quick – Then there are those icky messes: The cat’s hair balls; fur and hair that accumulate behind the toilet; food bits in the drain catcher (Not all of us have a garbage disposal!); and the worst, vomit.
  1. Use in place of napkins and plates – Paper towels are so doggone convenient! It’s easy to grab a paper towel and plop a sandwich or a peach on it, rather than dirty a plate when I’m at my desk, focused on finishing my next Squidoo lens or blog post.
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Coming up: How to replace those paper towels with something just as convenient, but first, a quick questionnaire to help you analyze how you use paper towels.



Step 2: Brainstorm, evaluate and select alternative solutions

Go creative!

This step begins with letting your creative mind go wild. On either a virtual or in-hand notepad, jot down every idea that comes to you–no matter how nonsensical–for alternatives to paper towels.

Resist the urge to censor or edit. Everything goes. Funky spellings, crazy ideas, weird words. Jot them all down. Give your brain free reign to point the way to the best possible solutions.

When you feel you’ve exhausted all possibilities, scan the list and pay attention to what pops out. What makes your head spin? Where do you say, “Whoa!” or “Yeah, right!”? Do you say it sarcastically or with enthusiasm? Either way, you’re on to something. Your brain is giving you clues about hidden agendas, hidden solutions, and hidden areas of resistance.

Select a few alternative solutions and imagine how they might work for you. Keep the ones you feel are genuine possibilities. Set the rest aside, for now. Later, you may find yourself returning to them. If they keep popping up, you will know you need to pay attention.

Don’t spend more than a few minutes with this exercise. It’s just paper towels, not world peace!




Step 3: Plan how you’ll handle inevitable stumbling blocks

Pick low-hanging fruit first

One of the best tools for achieving success in any endeavor is to visualize potential stumbling blocks and plan, in advance, to overcome them. You don’t have to wrack your brain for every possible pitfall, but do plan for the ones that come easily to mind.

For us, the biggest stumbling blocks were our habits. Change isn’t easy, sometimes, least of all when you think the change might make life more difficult.

Knowing how stubbornly entrenched habits can be, we opted to pick the juiciest, lowest-hanging fruit first. After we had built some successes, we would tackle the more difficult changes. For us, that meant taking the problems one at a time.

Going back to the ways we used paper towels, we decided to reduce our consumption in three phases, starting with the easiest.

  • Phase I: Change the way we clean up spills.
  • Phase II: Retrain ourselves to use cloth napkins and washable plates every time we eat.
  • Phase III: Change the way we clean up the icky messes.

Next: Take the easy questionnaire below to help you plan for obstacles that may get in your way.



Step 4: Implement your plan

Refine as you uncover new information

You’ve identified some solutions and planned how to handle potential stumbling blocks. Now it’s time to implement your plan.

In our case, to overcome our chief stumbling block–resistance to changing long-standing habits–whatever changes we made had to be as quick, as easy and as convenient as using paper towels.

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Finding alternatives was the easy part. Making them easy and convenient, well, that was surprisingly easy too. After all, when it came down to it, there weren’t all that many uses for paper towels that a washable plate and napkin, dishcloth or floor rag couldn’t handle just as nicely.

Below, see how we implemented ours, in three phases.



Phase I: Change the way we clean up spills

This was super easy

Rather than tearing off a paper towel, we would grab a clean dishcloth instead.

In the brainstorming and evaluation step (Step 2 above), I had already identified a few problems and their solutions. We encountered a few more along the way. Below are each of the problems and how we solved them. Maybe some of these will work for you.

  1. Not enough clean dishcloths for the counter top messes between launderings.
    Solution: Buy more.
  2. Tucked away in a drawer, those cloths weren’t handy. We couldn’t just grab and wipe, like we could with paper towels.
    Solution: Store a bundle on the counter top where the paper towel holder used to stand. The footprint of this basket is nearly twice as large, but the tradeoff is worth it. We don’t miss those few inches.
  3. Insufficient supply of absorbent rags for the floor messes.
    Solution: Cut a couple of worn out bath towels into rectangles in two sizes–One small for those tiny messes, one larger for big spills.
  4. As with the dish cloths, no convenient to-hand supply of floor wipes.
    Solution: Fill an attractive basket with neatly folded floor flags on a nearby kitchen shelf, low enough so it’s not a focal point, handy enough to reach when the grandbaby tips over her juice.
  5. No place to hang wet floor rags out of sight to dry.
    Solution: Install hanging bar in mud room just off kitchen.
  6. Laundry hamper too far away for quick disposal of dirty rags.
    Solution: Install a hamper/basket for floor rags in mud room; Tuck a second basket in out-of-sight kitchen corner for dirty kitchen linens.
  7. Paper towels too handy; we keep using them instead.
    Solution: Store the roll on top of the refrigerator where we can get to it if we have to, but so it’s out of sight and out of the way otherwise.

Once we identified and solved each of these problems, retraining ourselves to reach for a dishcloth or floor rag was easy. In fact, it was so easy, that when we used the last paper towel from the roll on top of the refrigerator, we put off buying more. To this date, we haven’t felt a need.



Phase II: Retrain ourselves to use cloth napkins and washable plates

Every time we eat

This turned out not to be nearly as difficult as we expected. We already used cloth napkins for breakfast and dinner, and always have plenty on hand. Each member of our household has a distinctive napkin ring, so we can reuse our napkins until they become soiled.

The main problem was retraining ourselves when we grabbed breakfast or lunch on the run. We were in the habit of tucking a sandwich or cheese and fruit into a paper towel. At snack time, I tended to snag a paper towel to hold my cookie or pear at my desk.
Solution: Consciously build a habit of grabbing a reusable container and small cloth napkin for on-the-go meals and a plate for lunch or snacks at my desk.

Coming up: If you don’t already have a supply of eco-friendly napkins and napkin rings, I’ve included a selection of lovelies sure to please. Afterward, we hit the third and final phase of implementing your plan to reduce, perhaps even eliminate, paper towels from your life.



Phase III: What about those icky messes we don’t want to touch?

And don’t want to have to clean out the cloth rags after

That turned out to be one of the easiest solutions of all. In fact, it turned out to be a win-win, kill-two-birds-with-one-stone solution.

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Sure enough, that paper worked just fine for cleaning those icky bits of goo from the drain catcher and grabbing the fur balls that accumulated behind the toilet faster than you can spit. A handful of them worked nearly as well as paper towels to clean the slime and hair ball from the floor, too. I had to retrain myself just a smidge to take a cloth floor rag and a small amount of spray cleaner to the smear that remained. I’m not as squeamish as I thought!


Cleanup easier without paper towels?

Surprisingly so!

The other day, I inadvertently spilled nearly the entire contents of a fruit crisp while pulling it from the oven. We scooped up the big globs with a couple of spatulas, and I wiped away the rest of the mess with two-floor rags. The floor was good as new in no time. In the past, I’d have used nearly an entire roll of paper towels for that mess. This was actually easier! I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photograph or two so I could show you. Next time! Not that I intend there to be the next time, but sooner or later, it’s bound to happen.

Green your bathroom AND save big on my Seventh Generation Bathroom Tissue

48 rolls packed in a simple cardboard box

There is no extraneous packaging in this container. True, the rolls are shipped to our door, and that means we are contributing to fossil fuel depletion and carbon infusion. On the other hand, we order only every 2-3 months, and in all that time, we use NO plastic-wrapped rolls. The tradeoff between buying twice-plastic-wrapped rolls which have been delivered to our local grocery or discount store and buying these without plastic feels like the better solution right now.

Plus, we’re saving money. These 500-count rolls aren’t available in any of the stores where I shop. They last twice as long as our old brand, and we’re contributing one-fourth fewer spent cardboard rolls.



From a 9-gallon (40 liter) trash can every week

To a 2.3-gallon (10 liter) trash can every month–or less

That’s how much we’ve reduced our kitchen waste in the past few years. That savings adds up for us as a family, but it also adds up in our community. My city has to truck every bit of its waste to a distant landfill, or ship it overseas. That’s a lot of fossil fuels burning to transport our garbage. Giving up paper towels is one part of that savings, and it turns out to pay big dividends, not only to our family, but to our community.

When we reduce our contribution to the waste stream, we reduce the amount of carbon heating up our climate. Plus, we save taxpayer dollars that can be reallocated to ensure our safety through increased fire and police protection, who knows, maybe even better schools. Now that would be something.

So you can see that one family’s contributions add a lot of drops falling into the giant bucket. My decision–and yours–is to decide which bucket we want to add to: The bucket that leaves a brighter future for our kids and grandkids, or the bucket that leaves them with a burnt-out husk of a planet and an intense struggle for survival.



Have you given up paper towels?

Would you?

If you’ve already given them up, how has that worked for you? What are the pros and cons? If you’re considering it, where do you stand on the idea after reading this article?

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