Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Going Paperless

Remember the promises that computers would create a paperless society? We certainly aren't there yet! Nonetheless, today I want to challenge you about going as paperless as possible. We all have different comfort levels, but even a few steps in the right direction can make a difference.

At our house, we are now receiving all our bills online. It was a pain to set up at first--DH had set up some accounts with utility companies before, but so rarely logged in we had to reset passwords, etc. It was worth the effort though; I can now pay bills without touching paper!

Another blessing in disguise came when our printer died a few weeks back. We replaced it with a printer-fax-scanner combo, so we've planned to start scanning semi-important documents and shredding the originals. Why not consider doing that with most of the stuff in your file drawer? And remember, you may not need to save everything that you think you do. See this previous post on saving documents.

Here is what I really want to talk about today: Every time I see this commercial I get agitated and vow that I will never, ever buy their paper towels. Let me first say that I don't believe there is an ethical dilemma in having paper towels, paper plates and toilet paper in your home, but I am afraid we've become mindless in our use of them. Environmental concerns aside, the price of such products is astonishing. A nice hand towel might cost you $10 and mine are still going strong after five years. As of this writing, 360 of the Kleenex towels are $21.14 on Amazon. If you have a family of four that washes their hands a mere four times a day, that supply is gone in less than a month--22.5 days!

Another good way to cut costs is to stop buying that gigantic pack of paper towels at the club store. For the past few years I've been cleaning with microfiber towels like this one. I have about five of these in rotation and differentiated by color for tasks: dusting, cleaning the bathrooms, and glass. They can also save you a bundle in dusting sprays, paper towels and glass cleaner. They scrub really well, too. I particularly love wiping all those toothpaste spots off the bathroom mirror, using only the cloth and the steam that's collected during the shower. Add them to a load of towels, wash on hot, and you are ready to clean some more.

Since you already own plates, towels, and probably even nice cloth napkins, why are you using precious space in your house storing disposable versions of these items? It's pretty well known that if we have a bigger package of food, we eat more, so it's pretty likely that buying paper products in bulk will not save us money. We'll just use them faster.

So I challenge you to see if it's really that much more work to run the dishwasher or washer an extra time or two a week to conserve. Yes, it uses water, but that's nowhere near the resources needed to process, transport and then dispose of your throwaway paper goods. So, save the paper towels for when cleanup is a real chore (like when your pet is sick).

Please comment--I'd love to hear what you think about the proper role of paper products in your home.

PS--if you are really into going green, learn about family cloth and mama cloth. These are concepts I heard of only recently from some very green mothers who use cloth diapers. Please note that discussions about these subjects are often frank; don't click if you prefer not to read about bodily functions.


  1. Paper towels were rarely used at my house growing up, so much so that it still feels like I'm a rich woman when I get one to use. I usually end up pinching off pieces of the paper towel instead of using the whole thing. But I do love the ability to throw it away, particularly when cleaning up something yucky or sticky- like when the pet is sick! Just today Austin, my 20 month old son, found the stash of paper towels in the back room and had a blast unfurling them. I heard him shrieking in delight, and when I found him he was surrounded by this high priced item! Oh well, save them for the pet =)

  2. Totally agree on the paper towels. When I moved to my new apartment, I decided to try to cut down on using paper towels and napkins, using cleaning cloths and cloth napkins instead. I still only had to do 1-2 loads of laundry every two weeks (for one person) and I discovered, when I moved 15 months later, I was still on the same roll of paper towels I bought when I first moved in!

    (As a side note, you know how, when you eat at fast food, they give you a whole stack of napkins that you don't need? I always brought them home for guests who didn't like cloth napkins or quick cleanup. Never had to buy paper napkins myself!)

    Also, you can go through a ton of paper towels washing the kids up after each meal. Since cloths can get raunchy sitting out, how about a drawer full of baby washcloths for the purpose? They don't make any significant difference in the size of your laundry load and you get a million of them at the baby shower anyway!