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Giving up paper napkins and paper towels to make the switch to more eco-friendly options can seem like an impossible task.  You might wonder how you’ll ever manage without them. How will your family react? Can we really do this? Is it weird?  

In this post I’ll share how to stop using paper towels and paper napkins in 6 easy steps – that your family can totally handle it!  

Keep in mind some of these steps overlap or may take place in a different order.  It doesn’t really matter but I think they are all important.  

1. Make the decision

If you’re like me you may be the purchaser of all things household – including paper products.  You hold the key to your family’s access to paper towels, paper napkins and toilet paper to name a few.  

You’ve decided that you’d like your home to stop using paper towels and paper napkins (you’ll let them keep their tp, for now!) In an effort to do your part to live a little greener. 

Yeah!  I applaud you!

Now that you’ve made the decision, you’ve got to stick with it.  I’m not saying there won’t be exceptions here and there (even I have a secret roll of paper towels for those special circumstances!) but in general, your household habit is now no paper towels or paper napkins.

2. Break the News To Your Family

Depending on how old your kids are and how into living greener your significant other is (or isn’t) it may be big news to your family to learn that they will no longer have access to paper towels and paper napkins.

Speaking on non-green significant others, check out the post my not-so-green husband wrote about what it’s like living with a green wife, “Green Wife, Green Life.” 🙂

When I made the decision and shared it with my kids they were old enough to get what that meant – and to have an opinion about it!

They weren’t too happy and had no problem telling me they thought it was weird.  To this day, many years later, I still overhear them explaining to their friends looking for a napkin, “Yeah, we don’t have any paper napkins.  My mom is kind of weird.” 

Hey, I’m totally cool with being weird!  I am finally at that age where I don’t care.  🙂

At this point it might help to share some stats with your family to give a little context about why you’ve made this decision for your family.  It will give them a little more to think about other than you’re weird. 🙂

You can share:

  • US consumers spend about $5.7 billion/year on paper towels

     

  • In 2015 the US produced some 7.4 billion pounds of waste made up of paper towels and other tissue-y products (including toilet paper.)

     

  • To make one ton of paper towels 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted.

     

  • In the U.S. we currently use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year and that number is growing steadily.

     

  • As many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day.

    In any case, give them a heads up ‘cause they are likely to notice when there isn’t a roll of paper towels on the counter.

3. Figure Out How Much You Need

 

Your son is still going to get chocolate all over his face and need a napkin.  You’re still going to need a paper towel to wipe down the countertop after dinner.

So, one of the key steps in giving up paper towels and paper napkins is to figure out what you’re going to replace them with so you’re prepared when the paper stash runs out.  And, when you hear, “Moooooommmmmm, what am I supposed to wipe this spill up with????!!!”

You want to make sure you have enough napkins and towels to get you through a few days at least ‘cause running out is just going make it harder to live without those paper products that always seemed to be there for you.  🙂

A decent way to figure it out is to take the number of sit down meals your family typically has in a week multiplied by the number of people in your home.

Since we don’t always eat at home or all together, our needs sort of looks like:

8 (6 days for dinners and 2 days for breakfasts) x 5 (people in my family) = 40 napkins

That seems like a lot of napkins and we probably don’t have that many but that would likely get us through a week without doing laundry.  

Since the laundry train runs pretty much non-stop, I usually do a basket of cloth napkins and kitchen towels once a week along with the rags/towels we use for cleaning the house.  

One tip for using fewer cloth napkins is to have your family use the same napkin all day for whatever meals they eat at home.   

Giving each member of the family their own napkin ring is one way to keep track of which napkin belongs to who.  

Simple use a different color or different ring for each family member – or check out these handy chalk-board customizable napkin rings!

 

 

 

When it comes to kitchen clean up towels, I think a stack of 10-15 or so is a good number to get you through a few days or a week.

4. Gather Cloth Napkins and Towels

 

Now that you’ve decided to give up paper napkins and towels, broke the news to your family and figured how much you need to not make things inconvenient, it’s time to make sure you have a stash on hand.

You may have some cloth napkins on hand that you’ve been using only for special occasions.  It’s a great time to break them out and use them everyday.

If you’re not into using Christmas tree napkins in July or you really enjoy color coordination, I get it.  

I’ve picked up lots of inexpensive cloth napkins at stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Goods and Amazon.  

Here’s a great starter set that comes in a variety of colors to match any decor.

 

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For kitchen cleaning cloths, I prefer something smaller than a full dish towel and more the size of a regular paper towel.

You can certainly cut up old towels to use since they aren’t likely to be out on display.

Or, you can, of course, pick up inexpensive packages of kitchen towels to use.

Here is just one option by Full Circle but there are lots of others.

 

If you’re someone who really enjoys pulling a towel off the roll feeling, you might want a cloth towel roll.

It works just like a roll of paper towels and fits onto a stand, but is made from cloth.  Each towel is connected to the next by velcro or snaps. After washing, you just snap the clean towels back on the roll ready to use again.  

They also come in a variety of fabrics that you can coordinate to your decor.

I’ve found a few sellers on Etsy that make cloth towel rolls. 

5. Identify a Spot for “Dirties”

This step is super important.  You need to identify a spot where your family will drop the dirty napkins and kitchen towels when they are done.  No more tossing napkins and paper towels in the trash!

Aim to make it a spot that is convenient and make sure to point it out to your family – not that this will keep them from asking you a million times where to put the dirty stuff!  They’ll get it eventually.

6. Stop Buying Paper Napkins and Towels

 

This step may seem obvious but if you’re really wondering how to stop using paper towels and paper napkins, you’ve got to stop buying them!  

If they aren’t available to use in the house, your family will start to use the alternative.  And in time they’ll stop complaining (as much!) and reach for the cloth napkins to set the table without giving it a second thought.  

And once you stop buying paper towels and paper napkins you might save a little money too!  BONUS!  

 

Ready to Stop Using Paper Towels and Napkins?

There you have it – how to stop using paper towels and paper napkins in 6 totally doable steps!

You can go for it and stop using both or do it more gradually and do one at a time.

Either way, you’re headed in the right direction to living a little greener everyday!  

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