Update on Change the World Wednesday challenge – giving up disposable paper kitchen towel

Beautiful washable cloths from moocowmomma's Etsy shop

Beautiful washable cloths from moocowmomma's Etsy shop

I joined in with last week’s Change the world Wednesday challenge which was to give up disposable paper kitchen towel.

You might remember me saying how difficult this would be. I know it’s much better for the environment and my bank balance, but sometimes that doesn’t matter does it? You just want the convenience of a regularly used product on hand to clear away life’s little messes.

The thing that was so annoying was that I did this once before! I totally gave up disposable paper kitchen towel for a few months and I was frustrated because I allowed my bad habit to return.

How did I get on?

On day two of the experiment the very thing happened that I keep kitchen towel in the house for! Our elderly cat, who is now incontinent left me a puddle on the floor. Ack!

I reached for the kitchen towel, but thought of my challenge and I grabbed some old cloths instead. She had peed right next to the washing machine, which was thankfully empty. So I dealt with the pee and put the cloths straight into the machine. I have to say I felt very proud of myself!

I realised throughout the week just how many kitchen towels I had been using again. But I use them for stupid things. I found myself putting one on the work surface to peel potatoes over! Say what? I went into observation mode and saw myself peeling them, then picking up the whole lot and putting it in the compost caddy. Convenient, right?

Why couldn’t I just take the lid off the caddy and peel the potatoes over it? Well I have done from that moment onwards. And if I have a lot of stuff to prepare I can put newspaper down first and put that into the compost caddy.

I found myself reaching for disposable kitchen towel on a couple of occasions after washing my hands too and I decided I could have a cloth that is just mine, but I didn’t know where to put it so I could ensure other people wouldn’t use it.

I have now thought of a place – on the inside of a cupboard that only I use in the kitchen.

I found myself reaching for disposable kitchen towel to buff the hob after cleaning, but resisted and used a dry microfiber cloth instead (the effect was just as good)

So it was an interesting and useful experiment. The secret is to observe yourself without judgment and then look at how you could change that habit. Is there something else you could use? Could you change the way you do things slightly?

I don’t think I would ever go without disposable paper kitchen towel completely but I figure that I’m good at recycling, so I need to close the loop by purchasing more recycled products. So where possible I will commit to only buying recycled kitchen towel in future. At the moment I buy FSC approved, but adding recycled content to my basket would make things better.

There is a handy guide to forest-friendly toilet paper, kitchen towels and tissues on the Green Peace site  with Marks and Spencer and Sainsburys top of the league table

I think I can reduce my usage dramatically and the key to this for me is out of sight, out of mind. If I am dealing with something and the disposable roll isn’t handy then I can usually come up with creative solution. But what I’d really love to do is dust off my sewing machine and make a pile of these gorgeous looking washable cloths from a seller on Etsy. They are truly beautiful and who could resist using one? I might even treat myself and buy some!

What about you? How did you get on with giving up kitchen towel – did you find it easy or more challenging than you anticipated?


  1. Neil on September 22, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    True about the overuse of paper towels, but we are not going to give them up completely.

    When the cat has cacked up on the stairs, the paper towel is the ideal and hygienic way of disposal. As we have no washing machine(we worked out more eco and cheaper to go to the washeteria), washing out old cloth with cack in it is not pleasant.

    What about the energy of your washing machine, does it balance out with a couple of sheets of paper towel.

    Using them wisely is the best option, and remember to recycle them in the compost. Lock up that carbon in the paper where it belongs, in the soil!

  2. Mrs Green on September 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    @Neil: Hi Neil, Ahhh, I can understand how you need to use something disposable if you don’t have a washing machine – I would too!
    I would say the energy of washing a couple of cloths is definitely better for the environment than buying paper kitchen towel. I would be doing a load anyway, so to throw a couple more cloths in uses no more resources.

    Great point about composting; that’s what we do most of the time, but it’s good to be reminded.

  3. Layla on September 24, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    WOW!! You managed to give up the paper towel!! 🙂

    So awesome, and I totally commend you!! (= read: bow in admiration!!)

    I haven’t managed to crack Mum and Sis and the others in the house on this one yet!
    I use cloth hankies, but Dad asked for a paper towel the other day instead!! aagh!

    Maybe if there were pretty clothies like these in the kitchen, hmm??
    (We don’t have a cat, can be just too lazy to get the floor cloth from the bathroom, and it’s usually wetter/dirtier(?) than the spilt water on floor or such..)

    I learnt to peel potatoes or put lettuce refuse etc into a bowl, and then empty it into the compost little bin (which usually smells bad, so I prefer to not use it directly) or take outside directly (for a nice stroll in the sun and a bit of exercise!).
    The others used newspaper on table before, I’m not too happy with potentially iffy newspaper chemicals on the compost though.
    It may be better ergonomically to have the bowl on one’s knees if you’re sitting by the table (especially if mushrooms &/or long hours are involved!).

    Neil, we don’t have public washerettes where we live, and laundry needs to be done anyway, so I’m guessing the napkins wouldn’t take so much more.. Probably better to be washed with ‘more of the like’ together.. (We’ve had separate loads for ‘doggie cloths’ or eh toilet carpets or such before, so Mrs G’s special towel might be in that category.. Though for pet ‘accidents’ a paper towel might truly be best.. For minor spills of juice or such, a cloth towel can simply be washed with other kitchen towels etc.)

  4. Mrs Green on September 28, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    @Layla: Hi Layla, well I DID but that is past tense – I don’t know how I let it slip back in really; just sheer laziness and convenience kicking in.

    I must get back on track.