How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen
How to Have a Paperless Kitchen
Looking to create a paperless kitchen? I don’t blame you: The cost of napkins and paper towels truly add up. Plus, think about how much waste you’re creating! There’s the obvious waste (the actual paper towel or napkin itself), but also the not so obvious waste to take into account. For example, the resources needed to make a paper towel or napkin, including energy, water, and trees (which need water to grow). And, to make matters worse, paper items always tend to come wrapped in plastic. As if it weren’t bad enough on its own, right? But it doesn’t have to be this way – you can save money and help the environment at the same time by switching to reusable cloth towels and napkins. We have to re-train our brains to realize we don’t need to waste a piece of paper to wipe a spill or our faces. I know it may seem daunting to stop using paper towels, but it’s really quite easy once you get the hang of it. Going paperless doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, our grandparents and great grandparents didn’t have access to disposable options like we do, and they were masters at pinching pennies and saving resources! They never used paper towels – rather dish cloths, hand towels and kitchen cloths. Lets talk about why it’s important to have a paperless kitchen, and ways we can achieve it hassle free.  
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How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

Why should I have a paperless kitchen?

There are several benefits to having a paperless kitchen. One of them is – you save money.
Think about all the money you dish out to buy paper towels and napkins each week. One 4 pack of Bounty paper towels can cost around $10. Napkins can cost around $8 to $10, give or take.
If you’re buying new packs every week, that adds up to around $20 a week, $80~ a month, $960 a year. Yikes! Not sure about you, but I could think of so many better things to put that money towards!
Aside from saving money, you’ll also be doing the planet a kindness by switching over to a paperless kitchen. When you swap out your disposables for reusables, you’re saving trees, water and energy.

In America alone, we use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year. That doesn’t even count paper napkins: If just 50 percent of America used 3 paper napkins a day, that would total in 450,000,000 napkins for one day. Can we not?!

As far as the resources go, as many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels discarded every day. And, to make paper napkins, 0.07 gallons of water is required to produce just one 0.08 ounce paper napkin. That would mean it would take 31,500,000 gallons of water just to make the paper napkins used on a daily basis! That’s atrocious.

This is why when people say, ‘but don’t you waste more water washing reusable cloths?’ – the answer is clearly no. You can just add reusable napkins and towels to your laundry and wash them with all the other clothes you were planning on washing anyway. Besides, the water wasted to actually make disposable towels and napkins far outweighs the water you’d need to wash reusable counterparts.

Also, it’s important to realize having a paper free kitchen is nothing new, and not so odd after all. Our grandparents and great grandparents (think WWII era) used to do it all the time. It’s a very vintage idea. Being wasteful during war time was extremely frowned upon. We can afford to learn a lot from them!

But what about really gross messes and greasy foods?

I will admit there’s a bit of a learning curve here. We’ve been super conditioned to think we need a paper towel to wipe up nasty spills or put under greasy foods. But the truth is, cleaning using cloth napkins works just as well.

For wiping spills that are really gross, I recommend using a rag that’s on its last leg, or just soak the unpaper towel in hot water and vinegar for a bit after use before putting it in the wash. Your family won’t die because of it, I promise.

For greasy foods, take a splatter screen and just put the food on there for a bit with a plate on it. Or, place them on a used paper bag you saved from the grocery store. Most of the grease will drain off.

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

How can I have a paperless kitchen?

Thinking about having a paper free kitchen now? Good! It’s not as hard as you might think. Here’s how to get started.

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

Get your hands on some cloths, or make your own

Personally, I love using these organic unbleached cotton unpaper towels as napkins – they’re the perfect size! Plus, at the end of their life when they get all raggedy and have holes, I know I can just compost them. They come in plastic-free packaging too, made from reclaimed paper and paper tape! Check them out here.

I’ve also got some cute printed reusable unpaper towels that are bigger in size and have really adorable prints on them. I personally have farmers market prints on mine, some avocado, and some in solid colors. They’re 100% cotton flannel and incredibly soft on your hands! And they arrived completely plastic-free. Check them out here.

To live comfortably, I recommend getting at least two sets each of these unpaper towels. Each set comes with six unpaper towels, so I have 24 unpaper towels altogether, not including the dish towels I already had at home. We’re three people sharing one apartment, so this is enough for us throughout the week. We do laundry once a week so we always have enough on hand.

Obviously, you don’t have to purchase exactly these products to have a paper free kitchen – I’m just sharing what I love and use. The products I bought are also from a small woman owned business, Tiny Yellow Bungalow, so it’s a lot better than supporting a huge corporation like Amazon.

If you’d like to save some money, I suggest trying to make your own. You can cut up some old soft cotton t-shirts, or even cut up some old bath towels that are starting to rip.

If you’re good at sewing you can also try to sew your own cloth napkins and unpaper towels too. Personally, I’m not but I’d love to make a project out of that one day for the fun of it. My mom is better at sewing than me, and I think it’d be fun to try and make really pretty cloth napkins together.

Set a timeline for going paperless

You don’t have to go paperless overnight – nor should you. You likely already have paper towels and napkins on hand anyway. I suggest using them as you purchase your paper-free replacements. This way, it will feel less cold turkey.

Use the time when the products are running out to transition. You can start slow too – lets say you get your hands on some paper-free napkins – begin by just using those for dinner. Introduce yourself, and your family, to this idea so you have time to adjust and get used to it.

My family was already used to using dish towels to wipe wet dishes. And we had some rags and hand towels around. So I knew that me buying the unpaper towels and napkins would be a good choice and nothing too out of their comfort zone. Sometimes a slow transition is key to success.

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

Find a convenient place for them in your kitchen

My mom and I cleared out a drawer for the unpaper towels and napkins to live in when not in use. We like to keep a few out though: One on the fridge door handle for drying dishes, and two on the stove door handle for wiping our hands.

Keeping a few unpaper towels out is a good idea so that way you can easily reach for it when your hands are wet or you need to clean something up. Another spot to keep them is under the kitchen sink if you have room there (that’s where I keep a lot of my other cleaning supplies).

Or, you can keep them all out in plain sight if you like – you could set them up in a little basket if you have enough counter space (we don’t). But it would make it even easier to reach for!

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

Keep a laundry bin or basket nearby

We like to use our unpaper towels and napkins as long as we can but when they get too soiled or funky, we toss them in the laundry bin. We keep ours fairly close by, it’s just a little walk around the corner of the kitchen.

You can keep a little basket for dirty and soiled unpaper towels on the floor or counter near your kitchen. I definitely recommend somewhere close by so it will be easier for you. I know someone who bought glass cookie jars she keeps on the counter for soiled unpaper towels – that works too!

As long as you have a place to put the dirty unpaper towels and napkins, your life will be a lot easier.  When the bin or basket fills up, it’s time to add them to the wash!

We throw them in the washing machine with everything else. Just add them with the regular laundry. This makes things easier and also doesn’t waste any extra water washing them separately.

Put disposable products away

This one we’ve yet to master completely, but it’s true that when something is within reach, you’re more likely to use it. By putting disposable products away, you’ll be much less tempted to use them.

For me, I don’t need to do this to avoid paper towels or napkins. I’m pretty good about it. And honestly, as much as I feel my folks would benefit from me putting the disposables away, I don’t think they’d go for it. They’d likely get angry at me for removing it, so I won’t tread there.

For me, just having the reusable option out there for them to reach for, is enough. And I have seen them use it! My dad loves the reusable napkins I purchased – he always uses it over the disposable napkins. And even he admits it’s saving them money which is great.

But if you feel your family will benefit from it, definitely put the disposable products away. Also, don’t fret if you have to use them every once and a while – sometimes really REALLY bad accidents do call for them. But that’s no reason to reach for one while wiping your hands!

Better yet, challenge yourself to not buy any paper products from here on out (once you have enough cloth unpaper towels and napkins of course).

How to Have a Paperless Kitchen

Ready for a paperless kitchen?

So, now that you know what I do, are you ready to create a paperless kitchen of your own?

To conclude, here are the steps I advise you to take:

  • Purchase some unpaper towels or make your own (What I use: These [for napkins] and these [paper towels])
  • Find a place for them in your kitchen, like a drawer or a basket you can keep on the counter
  • Keep a laundry bin or basket nearby you can add soiled unpaper towels to it
  • Put your disposable napkins and paper towels away so you won’t be tempted to use them (out of sight out of mind)
Trust me when I say there will be a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to unpaper towels. Your innate response will be ‘this doesn’t feel right’ or ‘I don’t want to get these dirty – they’re too pretty!’ But you have to fight that.
Trust me when I say, even a stained unpaper towel still works great. After a while, your towels will start to look a lot less pristine – but that’s A-okay! That just shows you’re using them.
How to Have a Paperless Kitchen
Will you make the switch to a paperless kitchen?
For more tips on having a waste free kitchen, check out my top 10 zero waste kitchen swaps.

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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