Reduce Trash and Use Less Paper Products

“Wait a minute… where did the forest go?”

This was the question I posed to Matt as we viewed large breaks in the forest during our recent fall color tour in the upper peninsula of Michigan. His explanation about logging (and the bare spots in the landscape) reminded me that living without dependence on paper products is a more sustainable way of life… and easier than you might think! Check out my rant on the side of the road as I considered this thought.

I bought my last roll of paper towel about three years ago after a challenge from Matt to stop using them. It wasn’t an instant transition to washable ragsmicrofiber cloths, and sponges. In fact, I kept hidden rolls of paper towel around the house for a few months because I didn’t think it was possible to go completely without this clean, white, easily disposable companion! The ban on paper towels was just the beginning for us, leading to a host of other reusable products making their way into our lives.

Alternatives to paper products

Paper towel

In the kitchen we use dish towels, microfiber cloths, sponges, and hand-knitted washrags (learn how to make your own here). For cleaning and other dirty jobs around the house we use microfiber cloths, cellulose sponge cloths, old t-shirts cut into rags, socks that are beyond repair, and washcloths that are no longer making the cut in the bathroom. These all end up getting laundered and reused.

It feels very fancy and fun to use cloth napkins at every meal! We had a drawer full of cloth napkins that were only being used a few times a year until we stopped buying paper napkins. Cloth napkins last a long time, are more absorbent than their paper counterpart, and won’t shred when you’re wiping that red spaghetti sauce off your face. Hint: Many times you are only blotting your face or wiping crumbs from your fingers, so you don’t have to wash them after every single use. We keep our napkins at our respective spots at the table and family members are responsible for throwing napkins into the laundry when they need a fresh one. Guests always get a fresh one. :)


When Matt started using handkerchiefs I thought it was disgusting! However, I became a believer after one extremely drippy-nosed cold. They won’t leave your nose raw, and they hardly take up any space in the laundry. We still keep tissues out for guests, but haven’t purchased any in over a year.

Paper plates

I’m irritated at the price of paper plates and would rather spend a few minutes washing real dishes or loading the dishwasher than throwing money away buying these.

Coffee filters

Reusable coffee filters can be purchased for most coffee makers. We found one a few years ago and no longer need room in our cupboards, our grocery budget, or our trash for disposable filters.

Brown paper bags

Instead of “brown bagging” my lunch, I opt for a sturdy, cute, reusable lunch bag/tote. These can last for a few years if taken care of, protect your PB&J better than the brown bag, and usually keep things at a more desirable temperature.

Paperless and happy

Not only are we saving TONS of money in our grocery budget by using these paperless alternatives, we’re also loving that we no longer rely on products once viewed as necessities. After making the switch, we could never go back to the throw-away mindset we used to have.

Now when I stumble upon one of my leftover stashes of paper towel from three years ago, it’s like seeing an estranged friend. We had a good time while it lasted, but the relationship has definitely run its course.

Are there any paper products from my list you could live without? Challenge yourself and see the difference it makes in your budget, your beliefs about consumerism, and the amount of trash you have at the end of the week!

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