This is a guest post from Sarah at Early Bird Mom (clearly not me!!).
Did you know that Americans use 3,000 tons of paper towels each day? (source) That’s a LOT of paper (and money) that goes straight in the garbage.
A lot of you already know that there is a better way.
What if more people had a paper-free kitchen?
If you don’t already, what if you switched to the “real” thing: cloth napkins, kitchen towels for spills and clean-ups, and cloth washcloths to help scrub little hands?
Why go to the trouble of avoiding paper and reducing waste in the kitchen? With a little extra work, you can avoid a whole lot of waste and save a lot of money. If your kitchen is as hard-working as mine is, there’s a LOT of clean up on a daily basis! Using cloth helps avoid throwing a ton of paper right into the garbage.
6 Ways to Keep Paper Waste Out of the Kitchen
1. Regular dishes (obviously) instead of paper plates.
I know, I know: sometimes even getting plates into the dishwasher is more than a tired mama can bear, but hopefully these times are the exception to the rule. Plus, once your kids are old enough, they can take over this chore and you’ll be less tempted to fall back on paper plates.
If it helps you stick with this ideal, don’t buy the paper plates to begin with. If they’re not in the cupboard, you won’t be tempted to use them.
2. Cloth napkins
We keep a basket of napkins (found on Amazon) for mealtimes. I find that 2-3 napkins per person is enough for our family. After meals, we toss them back in the basket (as long as they’re not messy). We usually go 2-3 uses between washings. If you want to get a little more organized, color-coded napkin rings will help family members re-use their own napkins.
3. Baby washcloths
I keep a small bin of baby washcloths(found on Amazon) for washing my youngest child’s hands and face. He usually needs a wipe-down after a meal or a snack like yogurt and honey so this makes it quick and easy to do. The bonus with washcloths is that they hold up much better than paper towels so you can really scrub off that stubborn tomato sauce or jam that gets stuck on little faces.
4. Kitchen washcloths
I keep a supply of washcloths for hand-washing dishes and wiping counters. I prefer using these over a kitchen sponge because they hold up much better over time and I can toss them in the laundry at the end of the day or whenever they become grimy.
5. Kitchen towels
Cotton towels are used for drying hands, pots and pans, and counters.
6. Cleaning rags
The hardest working cloths in my stash are my cleaning rags. I keep a drawer full for extra-messy clean-ups like sanitizing the counter after cutting up meat or wiping up spilled tomato sauce. These rags are also great for wiping up spills on the floor.
The cheaper flat cloth diapers (found on Amazon) you see in the stores are a great choice for cleaning. They are usually super-absorbent and will last forever. I drop these cloths right in the laundry after one use so they don’t spread around germs.
How Do You Launder All These Cloth Items?
If you have a large enough collection, you can have a separate basket dedicated to these items. When it’s full (or you’re running low) toss them into the washing machine. Teach your kids to fold them somewhat neatly (see my comprehensive Chore Guide HERE) and you’ll be all set.
I like to keep my napkins and rags separate from the other laundry for 2 reasons:
- No sorting required. Everything can come right back to the kitchen to be put away.
- More sanitary. I wash this load in hot water and kill any lingering bacteria. Plus, no leftover food accidentally stains our other laundry.
Using this system, I have approximately 1-2 loads of rags, napkins and towels a week. This is the easiest load I do and it fits in with my simple laundry system without much extra work (especially if I have the kids do the putting away).
Don’t Worry About Stains
This may be the key to staying paper-free. If you don’t worry about stains, the laundry is much easier to manage. And truly, does it really matter if a rag that’s going to be tossed right in the laundry has a spot on it? If the cloths are clean, some set in stains won’t hurt anyone.
My cloth napkins aren’t in pristine condition. They are clean, but they do have some stains. I don’t really care, though. The napkins are all dark colors to help hide any stains and we keep one nice set for special occasions.
Being paper-free in your kitchen does take some extra work, but the cost savings and environmental benefits are huge.
It would be great if everyone switched out their paper towels for kitchen towels. Until then, we’ll just keep saving the world one step at a time.
Are you currently paper-free in your own kitchen? What steps can you take today to be paper-free?
Photos by Sarah Mueller
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Disclosure: There are affiliate links to Amazon in this post from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.