Single-Use Society

{The Greening Of Westford} Single-use society


Paper towels, napkins, paper plates, wipes.  How many single use items do you use in a day?  

Reduce Footprints issued this challenge:

For the next two weeks refuse to use (or buy) paper towels. Yep, 14 days … no paper towels. And … to make things just a bit more interesting … let’s include paper plates and single-use utensils, cups, etc.
Or …

If you never use paper towels or single-use utensils, please share how you avoid them. We’d like to know how you handle “messy” messes (like pet “accidents”, cooking oil splatters & spills, etc.) … and what you use instead of single-use products for picnics, entertaining, etc. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with tips and ideas to help us all live without these products and reduce waste.

 
We are more in the second half of this challenge.  I haven’t bought paper napkins in years.  Our paper towel use is much less. I still buy them, but we rarely use them.  Same for paper plates, although currently I am on vacation and we are using them a lot :(.
 
How did we do it?
 
Several years ago, I started reducing our use of paper towels and napkins.  Luckily for me, my children were young and didn’t notice.  My husband is very supportive and a “go with the flow” kind of guy.  I think the key is to make sure the reusable ones are as convenient as possible.
 
Paper napkins  It was surprisingly easy to ditch these!  I first started out by placing a basket with the paper napkins on our kitchen table.  Instead of setting a napkin at each place automatically, if you needed a napkin you took one from the basket.  More often than not, not ALL of us needed a napkin at every meal.  So, for now we were at least reducing our use!
 
Next I replaced the paper napkins with cloth ones.  I dug out a few cloth napkins we had received as a wedding present.  My mom found  some old ones that belonged to my grandmother.  I found a few more at a yard sale.  The kids just naturally reach for the cloth ones.  It is funny to see their friends looking for a napkin.  They sort of hesitate when my children hand them the cloth napkin.  
 
I have since built our supply through sales, yard sales and cutting up old tie dye T-shirts. My children think the T-shirts are hysterical.  “Mom, you always say don’t use your shirt as a napkin, but this shirt IS a napkin!”   I cut these a little smaller and they are great for tossing in their school lunch bags.
 
Paper Towels
 
A little more difficult, but we reduced a lot.  I still have a roll on the counter, but we go through it very slowly.  I just made sure to make reaching for the reusable ones convenient.
 
I cut up several old T-shirts and towels to use for wiping up tables and counters. I LOVE the towels!  They are nice an thick.  These came from very old towels that really could not be used as bath towels by anyone anymore.   I bought a towel rack that hangs on the cabinet door below the sink so I can hang this cloth there.  It gets replaced daily.
 
For the most part, my children see me using the cloths and they reach for them too.  It is great to be getting them into this habit now.  
 
Paper plates, plastic utensils
 
I still use paper plates on occasion for kids’ birthdays and such.  Like I mentioned above, we are on vacation right now.  Who wants to do dishes for 9 at every meal on vacation?!  not me.  So we are using paper quite a bit.  But we have progressed.  No plastic utensils.
 
It’s a process. 
 
 
It seems that more and more products are coming in single-use “convenience” packs.  Sunscreen, bug spray, bottles of water.  I remember listening to a morning talk show about 8 years ago talking about new trends.  That year’s trend – single use items.  “You will be seeing more and more single use items.”  That stuck in my mind.  “Why would manufacturers be doing this?”  The “green” movement was gaining momentum, why weren’t they on board with that.  We are a fast paced society, convenience and speed are king.  I get that to a point.  Manufacturers are out to make money.  If these products weren’t selling, they wouldn’t be making them.  
 
I also notice that single-use items are ingrained in our society.  They are everywhere – the individual ketchup packets and snack bags, Styrofoam trays used for school lunches, plastic grocery bags.  I don’t get the looks at the grocery store when I bring my reusable bags, but every once in a while I get a surprised look at other stores.  Or when I refuse a bag for ONE item, I get the “Are you sure?”  There is almost a status symbol associated with single use items.  How do we do this for reusables?
 
Personally, I know there is a cost to this convenience and I can’t go back.  Of course, I think I also started from a different place.  My mom rarely had paper towels around when we were growing up (she still doesn’t), or plastic sandwich bags and other single use items.  I can only hope that I can do the same for my children and hopefully a few others who read this blog.
 
[Top photo used under Creative Commons license, by John Ott/flickr]

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6 Responses to Single-Use Society

  1. Christina July 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    We ditched paper products years ago and love it! I cut up old towels and we use those for any messes. I keep them in an easily accessible basket in the kitchen. For outside kitchen uses I keep another basket in our cleaning supplies. I am big fan of thrift stores, you will always be able to find lots of cloth napkins. As long as you don’t mind them not matching! We keep a small basket of cloth napkins on the table. Also when the cloth napkins get holes or too worn out they move to the cleaning clothes basket. It’s really easy to make the switch and it saves so much money!

  2. Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) July 11, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Yes it does save money Christina! Thanks for adding the thrift store tip. They are great for so many things. I find loads of great glass storage containers at ours. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. crunchyfarmbaby July 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    Have you read Plastic Free by Beth Terry? HIGHLY recommend it!

  4. Savannah Cooper-Hughes July 16, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    I’ve been really conscious about single use items ever since I read an article about it 4 years ago. The funny thing is that I was in school learning Chinese and the article I read was from China 😛 The word for “single use item” was on my vocabulary test. I’ve never forgotten it since then! I think it’s just something good to keep in the back of your mind as you go about your daily life.

  5. Emily July 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    My weakness is paper towels. We don’t use paper plates, napkins, etc. but I can’t seem to break myself of the towel habit. I am working on it, bit by bit.

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