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Jan. 13, 2009
Breaking the Paper Towel Addiction
Karen's back with another nugget...this time, she's filling us in on a New Year's Resolution.

I had the opportunity to spend some extended time at home for the holidays with kids out of school, offices and daycare closed. In the spirit of the New Year, we had a chance to talk about some positive changes our family is planning to make in 2009. Coming off the heels of investing in a new high efficiency washing machine and discussing the benefits to our household finances and to the planet, we started brainstorming on other ways we could reduce waste and simply use less. A big one hit the radar right away.

We are a family addicted to paper towels. We go through giant 24-roll packages ridiculously fast. Sure, we do have lots of spills, wipe downs, house cleaning, mealtime napkins, etc. We’re a messy household. But, I started noticing that we were grabbing a towel for everything: covering the plates in the microwave, wiping up a few drops of water, making a cracker snack, drying clean hands, making ghost trucks (that was my 3 year old).

I did some back-of-the-envelope math and estimated that we spent approx $900 on paper towels last year. That’s unbelievable. Not to mention the cost of trees to support this habit, the fuel to transport these bundles, the plastic to wrap them, and the time and energy to dispose of the sometimes barely used wads. I decided that the madness had to stop.

We invested in 48 beautiful white cloth napkins with a collection of cool napkin rings, washable place mats and tablecloths. My 8-year-old daughter is now officially in charge of designing the table and putting the napkins in coordinating rings for meal times. We also bought a nice supply of kitchen towels and re-purposed flour sack clothes for those frequent clean ups. I feel we are armed to break the addiction of grab, wipe, and toss. It’s true; we are adding to the laundry monster, but hey, I have that new machine that uses 75% less water & energy. Plus, I really like the lesson it teaches my kids.

It has opened our eyes to many other items we take for granted in our house: Ziploc bags, paper plates, plastic cups, on and on. Yes, we are a very busy family but it’s clear that we have some habit breaking to do. In a time when we need to make our dollars stretch even farther, I believe these are small changes we can make that will net big rewards. Keep us in your thoughts as we work to get back to a time when everything didn’t have to be disposable.
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