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Monday Mission: Use the Real Thing

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to find one way to reduce plastic usage by using the real thing instead of disposables on the table.

How to Reduce the Use of Plastics

It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure Monday Mission.

Click each idea for more details on how to reduce the use of plastics in your home; they are more or less ordered as Baby Steps –> The easiest is first and then gets more involved.

  1. No more disposable plates at dinner!
  2. Use real utensils, paper plates at your next gathering.
  3. Use real dishes at your next gathering.
  4. Yes, pitchers and cups; No, plastic water bottles!

1. Use Less Plastic by Using Real Plates at Dinner

What can I say? If you’re regularly using disposable plates, bowls, cups, utensils, ETC. at normal meals in your home, please consider the earth and switch to the real thing. (Unless you’re Michelle Duggar and have 18 children. Then, you do what you have to do to survive!)  It pains me every time we eat at my in-laws because their dishwasher sits there in perfect working condition while we eat off thick, plastic plates and then throw them away.

disposable plates, plastic plates

2. Reduce Plastic Usage by Using Real Utensils and Paper Plates With Company

In my opinion, the thick plastic disposable utensils and sturdy plastic or styrofoam plates, while convenient, make an awful lot of waste when tossed. Plastic takes a loooooong time to biodegrade, and I believe it’s rather costly, environment-wise, to produce.

If you’re hosting a big get-together anytime soon, I challenge you to use real utensils, which aren’t all that hard to toss in the dishwasher or even clean by hand. I also vote the hassle of floppy paper plates over the waste of plastic. Even if you switch to the thicker, cardboard-style plates instead of plastic, keep the earth in mind when you make the purchase.

UPDATE:  I was reminded by a reader in the comments about the corn-based biodegradable plates and utensils. You can find utensils at 3 Green Moms for starters. They’re a bit pricier than standard, but if you’re serious about the Earth and about not doing dishes after a party, this is one way to go.

plastic silverware, plastic forks

3. Reduce Plastic by Using Real Dishes at Your Next Gathering

I had disposable plates on my shopping list when I hosted a Pampered Chef party a few weeks ago. It wasn’t until it became a hassle to purchase them that I realized: “Duh, Katie. You’re trying to save the earth here. Serving 15 women on real plates isn’t going to be that hard!”  I thought of paper plates because that is the status quo for hosting a party. It’s time to change the definition of “normal” and make a statement by using real plates.

I even took it one step further and had fun serving with my good china. I absolutely love the pattern we chose and received for our wedding, and it gets used once a year or less. Why not make it a fancy PC party and just enjoy it? I stuck them in the ol’ dishwasher without rinsing, made sure they were completely cooled before removing them to preserve the gilded edge, and it was so fun!

Yes, this generated more dishes, some of which had to be done by hand. Yes, if you know me at all, you know how I feel about dishes (they’re right up there with the proverbial root canal, and, say, my house burning down). This night I was pleased to have made the “green” choice and remembered to offer up my time in the kitchen for good prayer intentions. It was worth it.

plastic cup

4.  Use Pitchers and Cups; No Plastic Water Bottles!

I almost cry when I see single-use, single-serve plastic water bottles being used when a sink is mere yards away and cups- even disposable cups! – are available. The tiny 8 oz. bottles nearly give me fits, because people always need more than one with a full meal.  So much waste is generated by plastic water bottles, whether they’re recycled or (as is the case at most parties) not. The fuel needed to transport the (very heavy!) water to the store is only one part of the story.

The next time you’re responsible for the drinks at a party, try a pitcher and cups, whether disposable or not. At least do your part to avoid plastic water bottles if they’re not absolutely necessary.

glass pitcher and cup

UPDATE: In 2020 I’ve now been using both cloth napkins and hankies for a decade, and I’ll never look back! It’s totally the norm for our family, and it’s still really easy. Shall I move to the next level? Check out my reusable alternatives to toilet paper, paper towel, and more right here!

At what level are you tackling your disposables this week? It’s always the perfect time to cut up a blanket or start a new habit of reusing napkins, so put “decrease disposables” on your to-do list. Thanks for saving the earth with me!

See all of Decreasing Disposables here.

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

54 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Use the Real Thing”

  1. Hankies are wonderful for winter sports sniffles, because they don’t disintegrate when you touch them with snowy mittens, or when your pocket gets wet!

    I think there must be a number of people beyond which you may as well use disposable plates, like more than 20? I only own 8 plates, so I guess that’s my limit. Doesn’t happen very often for us!

  2. Great article. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find any more ideas than what we are doing. We already use
    #1. cloth unpaper towels
    #2. mama cloths instead of pads
    #3. family cloth instead of tp
    #4. cloth napkins
    #5. “real” plates, cups, cutlery

    We do use paper towels for emergency cat dos on the floor, and paper napkins for ketchup or bbq sauce meals. And tp for #2. The only thing I cannot do is the cloth kleenex. I never reuse a kleenex, nor use it on more than one kid. I cannot imagine doing that. These are all great! Any more ideas out there?

    1. Deirdre,
      I was thinking before I read this that I’m going to make each member of the family a different color hankie…maybe that would be a solution for you to be able to participate in that one? 😉 Katie

  3. After winning a set of four cloth napkins last year, I wanted to try, but four isn’t really enough for a family of four to make a go of it. I went on Amazon and found a clearancing company offering simple white cotton napkins with a small yellow flower embroidered on the corner. I bought 80 of them for about $30. It was a great deal, and they’ve held up beautifully! They get a bit dingy, and then I use a bit of oxygen bleach on them.
    My family gets a lot of colds, and I am not sure I’m ready to go all out with hankies only, but I do like the emergency kleenex idea. I’ve been decluttering with FlyLady, and perhaps I’ll make some hankies with some of the items I am planning to fling… THanks for the post!

  4. I also hated seeing all the paper napkins we were throwing away as a family. I have three small boys and really wanted to start using cloth napkins, but I kept finding ones that were just too expensive or too pretty for my boys to trash :)… we bought brightly colored (jewel tones) washclothes to use. My 4 yr old son loves to fold them when they set the table; they add a little color to the table and in the laundry, we can tell them apart from our regular washclothes/dishrags because of the bright colors.

  5. Pingback: Renae’s Personal Goals For 2010 | Madame Deals

  6. Sara @ ThrivingMama

    I love the idea of the handkerchiefs out of the flannel receiving blankets. I have piles of receiving blankets that needed a new use – I can’t wait to give this a try!
    .-= Sara @ ThrivingMama´s last blog ..Monthly Menu – Success! =-.

    1. Except when you throw them in with the diapers or white load. We use cloth all the time now, for toilet paper too. No increase in washing. Just throw them in with the diapers.

  7. I’ve been doing all the things on your list for years (and people do think I’m weird) except for one: hankies.
    Just can’t go there- I want that snot gone. 🙂 Also, I compost the white tissues, which decompose easily, even with our “cold” (ie, not turned) lazy compost style.
    But here’s my biggest thing against hankies: as a preschool teacher, I had to ask the parents NOT to have their children bring hankies (we live in a super “green” area)- it was really gross to have to help the child deal with this snot-filled hankie that they were always dropping. It’s a challenge to stay healthy surrounded by snotty little ones, and this was not helping! Needless to say, I’m VERY grateful for disposable tissues. 🙂

    1. Jami,
      What an interesting (and, I’ll admit, kind of funny) perspective! I bet those kids will be able to handle their own hankies in a few years… There IS a place for disposables, I agree.
      🙂 Katie

  8. I would love to hear how your hankies hold up in the wash. Every time I have tried the pinking shears trick I get fraying in the wash and end up with a big ball o’ hankies (or cloth baby wipes, as the case may be). I have one set of wipes it worked on but I think it is some kind of artificial fiber.

    1. Amie,
      I think about this comment/question every time I wash towels, and I think it’s been long enough that I can say that they’re holding up well! They are a little frayed, yes, nothing you would show off somewhere, but they are not falling apart or making a mess. I bet some fabrics would, but this is a tight weave, almost like felt. I’m so glad it worked out!
      🙂 Katie

  9. Renae @Madame Deals

    Well, I have cloth napkins but I embarrassed to say that we have not been using them. Really, I don’t know why. I am going to get them out and start using them though! We are almost out of paper towels and I am going to put my foot down and not buy anymore. My husband uses paper towels like crazy! I am always telling him to use a cloth towel to clean up a spill since you have to use several paper towels which is too costly. Won’t he be shocked when he reaches for a paper towel and there is a cloth towel in place! Thanks for the tips!
    .-= Renae @Madame Deals´s last blog ..Free Personalized Phone Call from Santa =-.

    1. Renae,
      I’m impressed by your conviction! Sometimes you just have to pull the old switch on the husbands, you know? 😉 It’s all about the baby steps to success!
      🙂 Katie

    2. Ranae,

      Your family sounds like my ex-paper-towel loving family! I first discovered cloth unpaper towels as a way to cut expenses. My husband was VERY skeptical until he started using the them. Now we don’t use paper towels or paper napkins. We also came up with a product that allows quick dispensing of the cloth unpaper towels right from the counter where our paper towel used to stand. 🙂 No ironing. No folding. They go straight from the dryer into the specially designed “towel house.”

      We didn’t even have to change our routine, except for the “not-throwing-it-in-the-trash part!” I just put a small, narrow bathroom sized trash can underneath our sink to take the dirties. Once a day, as part of our routine clean-up, we just run our unpaper towels to the laundry. Voila!

      You can take a look at


  10. 1. cloth napkins – we used those growing up and use them now. We use them until they get gross and/or it is washing day. Color coding keeps them assigned to the right person. We use paper napkins for bbq only.
    2. paper towels only get used on greasy glop – otherwise, we go to the rag bag (even to clean up cat ack). Even the 5 y.o. knows the drill for her spills.
    3. paper plates and cups – don’t use them unless it’s a real emergency or having a big party.
    4. i use disposable tampons and napkins.
    5. I keep a pile of washcloths (18 for $4) next to the toilet and use this for #1. #2 still gets the tp.
    6. we only bring out water bottles at parties – otherwise we have a big collection of pint glasses – no two alike – that get used for drinks. I use either stainless steel, glass or non bpa plastic for drinking water – hubby reuses old plastic bottles until they are green in the bottom
    7. hankies – haven’t gotten there yet but I’m sure we will in the next year or so.

    1. Susan,
      I love the “drill for spills!” My 4yo is all there, too. We’re raising them green, in all the right ways. 🙂 Katie
      (For example, your hub’s green water bottle would be a “wrong” green! Yikes!)

  11. I am trying soooo hard to switch to everything cloth right now!! I mean — cloth napkins, cloth “paper” towels, everything. It is a big money saver as well as being good for the earth. 🙂 I’m so excited about it! Thanks for the tips.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..God Working in My Life =-.

  12. I use hankies for the morning allergy clearing of the nose. Then I put it in the laundry hamper. kanmuri has a small point about hankies spreading germs but that’s really only if you have the cold or flu. During that time switch to disposables to reduce the chance of infecting other household members and switch back to cloth when you are well.

    My dog wipes his runny nose on my pant leg when the need arises. I suppose that makes me his hankie. I really wish he would learn to use his own though.
    .-= Condo Blues´s last blog ..Sew Easy Homemade Gifts for Girls and Guys =-.

    1. Condo Blues,
      LOL! I can just see your next blog post: “Sewing a hankie for my Dog…” 😉 Katie

  13. We never use paper napkins at my place. Even when I was a kid, my parents would have us use wet fabric “napkins” to wipe our finger. For me, napkins are something you use at parties.

    As for the hankies, I am against them. The reason is simple: they carry germs. With the recent influenza epidemic, all the hospitals urge people to throw away their tissues right away to avoid propagating the virus. And, in all honesty, I find it gross that someone would be willing to carry packets of snot in their pockets all day…
    .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..It’s time to leave when… =-.

    1. Kanmuri,
      Definitely a point to consider with the hankies. If I’m out and about and I have one tissue in my pocket to wipe the kiddo’s nose, though, if I throw it away and don’t have access to more, they’re dripping all over. So I wouldn’t do away with disposable tissues in my home, but I like having the hankies for many purposes. If I fill it up, I’ll throw it right in the laundry basket (hot water wash, of course).
      🙂 Katie

  14. I just recently found your blog. I have 3 kids ages 4, 3, & 1 and have been trying to teach myself to cook. I cloth diaper, use mama cloth, cloth napkins, family cloth (the rest of the fam won’t do it so far), real dishes, and even real cloth towels instead of paper towels. That last one I am still working on with hubby about he makes me sick to my stomach when he unrolls !3! towels just to dry his hands off.
    My family tends to think me a little crazy but hey this is my choice! Cheaper and better, I don’t see it as a hard decision!
    Looking forward to your posts & searching through old ones ^_^
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..Finally, a haircut…. why? =-.

    1. Candice,
      I am amazed that you can keep up with all that and your kiddos…how lucky they are to have a mama who cares about them enough to leave the world a safer place for them. 🙂 I’m so glad to have you around and look forward to learning from each other!
      🙂 Katie

  15. In Jan I will “celebrate” my one year anniversary of using the instead softcup. It’s a disposable menstrual cup, but they do make reusable ones (like the moon cup). I’ve been on a forum with women who use cloth sanitary pads & even cloth tampons. Those aren’t so much for me, but I do love my Instead. It’s worn similarly to a diaphram (but doesn’t protect against pregnancy). I find it much more comfortable than a tampon & you can wear it for 12 hours. In that respect, it does cut down on waste since tampons are 8 hours max.

    You can find free tutorials for making mam cloth online. for the basics, minimal sewing skills are needed. the hardest part is acquiring the PUL, the waterproof/resistant fabric.

    I’ve also heard about people using “family cloth”, cloth in place of TP. Again, too far for me.
    .-= tonya´s last blog ..rcwant2be: Today is one two two one =-.

  16. Tidy Brown Wren

    For several years now I have been using my mother’s and grandmother’s old hankies. At first people looked at me funny but now they are intrigued. The hankies are beautiful, colorful, soft, and sentimental. My grandma used to tuck her hanky in the band of her watch or under her bra strap beneath her blouse. I think I’ll just keep mine handy in my purse or pocket!

  17. Hi! Just wanted to second your recommendation for cloth hankies & napkins. We started this about a year ago, and as I do laundry daily (not very green, but hey, there are 8 people in my family, lol) they end up getting washed every day, anyway. We all like them, and now my 2 eldest daughters are gaining a bit of domestic experience by ironing the ones that are washed each day. Completely not necessary, but the three of us really like ironing flat things! Much more fun than collared shirts, yuck! Anyway, I bought a bunch of napkins at yard sales, so they don’t match, but they are fine for everyday use. Hankies are great when made out of flannel, so soft and absorbent; but we have found, too, that Meijer has inexpensive white hankies in the men’s dept., and Dollar General has some “girlie” ones with flowers embroidered in the corner that the ladies in the house prefer to use.

  18. I’m loving the decreasing disposables theme! My husband and I were just recently talking about switching to cloth napkins and trying to figure out what we could use for them. 🙂 We have also recently (approx. 2mos ago) switched to cloth diapers for our little one and are trying to find other ways to get rid of disposables. A friend recently mentioned she was considering using cloth toilet paper, but I don’t know if I could do that.. Anyhow, way to go Katie with your tree-hugging ways! 🙂

  19. Loved your blog as we do many of these things as well. I wanted to throw in another idea. I love the concept of the Swifter mop. But the pads are expensive and a waste of paper. This is where my rag bag comes into play. Every shirt, old towel, holey socks, underwear, etc. that is not usable anymore, goes into the bag. It is quite large with six of us. Every so often, I sit down and cut out a bunch of rags to fit my Swifter mop. This way I have the ease of clean up and I do not have to deal with the “gross” stuff it picks up. I also have a squirt bottle with my own cleaner. I just squirt an area and mop.

    I, also, use those rags for cleaning the bathroom. When I am done, I toss them in the garbage. It is a way to use old rags up. I could wash them, but I have not been able to bring myself to that level yet! They are way to gross!

    I know most people would avoid this subject, but have you or anyone else given a thought to how to cut down the use of female paper products. With four girls close in age and one of them alreadying using these products, I often wonder how my grandmother and others before her tackled this situation. I am amazed with two of us how expensive it is. I can not imagine what it will be like as more join the ranks. We do use Seventh Generation products since they contain no dioxin.

    1. Amy, I just recently switch to using a menstrual cup and it is wonderful! They are reusable and less toxic! This is just one brand but there are others.

      1. Sonia,
        Thanks for adding to the conversation! I’m with you on cloth toilet paper…some things are just a benefit of living in the 21st century and I’ll be thankful for that! 😉 Katie

    2. there are tons of ‘mama cloth’ options on etsy!! buy them ready made or a pattern to make your own. Not that I’ve done it but I have the best intentions.

    3. Amy,

      My friend Megan at Sorta Crunchy covered this. Here is a link to her mama cloth posts

      Hope this helps!

    4. Amy,
      Yesssss! I am down to my last two Swiffer cloths, which I don’t use often but like to have esp. for the corners of my ceiling and top of doorframes. This is a perfect solution! Thank you!

      I have a pile of holey socks that are about to become my toilet cleaning rags, too. I couldn’t figure out what to do with them!

      There is a solution to disposable feminine products. It’s called the Diva Cup: I know someone in real life who uses one and loves it, and she’s not even totally “crunchy”. So. Someday I’ll get up the nerve to ask them for a product review and giveaway, but for now my excuse is extended breastfeeding amenorhea (or however that’s spelled).
      Great addition to this post!
      🙂 Katie

  20. No shredded tissue in the dryer?! I’m in! Even with checking pockets regularly, I still usually end up with at least one rogue Kleenex in the dryer. Not fun! Now to find some receiving blankets! 🙂

  21. 3rd thing…sorry…

    since you mentioned the duggars. i hope they aren’t using totally disposables for every meal! don’t they have a commercial kitchen (thus a commercial dishwasher) in their home now?
    .-= tonya´s last blog ..rcwant2be: RT @FluGov: USDA Study Confirms Pork from Pigs Exposed to #H1N1 Virus Safe to Eat. =-.

    1. Tonya,
      That was totally tongue in cheek – the Duggars have plenty of dishwashers, both automatic and human.

  22. I wanted to add this morning (but it was difficult on my bb) that there are companies producing compostable disposables made from soy, corn, paper, etc. food service at my office uses fully compostable disposables! very cool to compost everything left behind from a take-out lunch & recycle the reciept. also cool to compost “plastic” (actually soy or corn) silverware & cups.
    .-= tonya´s last blog ..rcwant2be: RT @FluGov: USDA Study Confirms Pork from Pigs Exposed to #H1N1 Virus Safe to Eat. =-.

  23. i agree that using cloth napkins can be really simple–it was my first “green” thing to do after i got married, but not because i was trying to be green-conscious or even frugal–i just hate having a wad of twisted paper in my lap, and all my life said that i would use cloth napkins when i had my own house. and we love using them! and my 3-year-old also asks about why others don’t–and i never know exactly how to respond!

  24. As a lurker from England who reads your blog from time to time, I’m completely baffled by this post. Is it actually normal to use paper or otherwise disposable plates or cutlery in the US? Because I can’t imagine such a thing in the UK. There was a move once at church to use disposable cups for the after-service coffee, but everyone was in uproar so we switched back to china.

    Cloth hankies are another matter – I know I’m in the minority of my generation in using them exclusively (three reasons: they’re prettier, they don’t tear my nose up, and as you say, they don’t disintegrate in the washing machine). I managed to convert my husband to cloth hankies when we got married, too (but we still have a box of paper ones for guests).

    I hope lots of people take you up on these great ideas!

    .-= Jo´s last blog ..Simple Woman’s Daybook for 21st December 2009 =-.

    1. Jo,
      Oh, sadly, the disposable plate industry is HUGE here in the U.S. Churches almost always use styrofoam cups for coffee and donuts, and it is absolutely the norm when hosting a party to use paper, or worse. People act funny when I put out regular plates for birthday cake, and cloth napkins make them really uncomfortable!

      It’s good to know that there are other countries doing better than we are – that gives me hope, Jo, thank you so much for popping in with a comment.
      🙂 Katie

      1. I am from Ireland and using paper plates is unheard of, unless at the odd childrens party. But people would be offended. Yet my american in laws think nothing of using styrofoam plates all the time and plastic cups (thrown away after one use) . And did I mention they have a perfectly good dishwasher! Anyway, will be trying to wean my husband off paper towels and try to move to cloth napkins. Great website!!!!

  25. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Well, if nothing else, I reuse bibs for a few meals . . . unless one involved syrup. Then it usually goes in the wash right away. :>) We actually don’t use napkins much because we’re mostly neat eaters, though I think a couple of cloth ones on the table would be a good (easy!) idea.

    I was pretty icked out at the thought of using hankies instead of disposable tissues until I read that Trent at The Simple Dollar has bought a huge stack (thrifted, I think), and just throws them in the wash after one use. That was a “well duh!” moment for me. Of course, I haven’t bought any yet, but we’ve been pretty healthy this year (knock on wood).

    Great tips, Katie!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Holy Amazon Sales! =-.

  26. switching to cloth napkins is easier than you think! Check out the holiday clearance at Target or Kohls if you’d like new. Target had organic cotton napkins clearanced for $4. We have a rotation of 12 for a family of 4.

    Now to tackle the hankies because we go through millions of kleenex.

  27. I work at a pizza restaurant and employees get free drinks while on shift or immediately after clocking out. Most people will take one of those 20oz Styrofoam cups to go. Last Friday, we ran out of those cups for customers to get drinks to go and I overheard the mgr ranting about “employees taking those cups”. I never take the cups, I just enjoy a glass of tea while chatting with my friends before I leave. It kills me to take one of those cups!

    We’ve used cloth napkins for years. In fact, it’s about time to get some new napkins because the ones I have are starting to shred and getting wear holes in the middle.

    My son and I use cloth hankies. My other son refuses to blow his nose, so it’s not an issue for him (rolling eyes). I also refuse to use paper plates for holiday dinners. It’s just so wasteful and IMO eating off of a white Styrofoam plate does not show the importance of Christmas dinner with my family.
    .-= Paula´s last blog ..4th Sunday of Advent =-.

    1. Paula,
      Yes, the styrofoam is probably the worst. I’m updating the page to include that w/ the plastic rant of my own! Have a Merry paper and cloth Christmas! 😉 Katie

  28. I can’t imagine eating dinner at someones home on plastic plates. I occasionally use paper plates and more regularly use paper towels and paper napkins. However they go in my municipal food/yard waste bin for compost. Curious if you’ve considered composting or blogged about it.

    1. Tonya,
      I do compost, but I stink at it so won’t post on “how to” explicitly. In the first weeks of the blog there was some chatter on that as we tried to reduce food waste in particular.

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