The Paper Trail in My Kitchen | Seventh Generation
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The Paper Trail in My Kitchen

18 comments
Author: bethina

Light at the end of the paper towel tunnel?When attempting to teach our son, Matthew, about the importance of taking good care of the world in which we live, I'm well aware that I walk a very thin line -- even a hint of preachiness lands me in Charlie Brown's "wah wah wah" adult-speak territory.

Once in a while, a natural opportunity presents itself. For some time now, we've been trying to get our little wastrel to tear paper towels and toilet paper "on the line" after a certain number of squares. When he does it correctly, I lavish him with praise, then explain that paper comes from trees, we have to chop down trees to make paper, we don't want to chop down trees, we love trees. Trees give us our beautiful green leaves and shade in the summer and colorful, crunchy leaves in the fall. (I think I'll wait until he turns 6 next month for the whole greenhouse effect discussion, though I expect a debate.) Not to mention that paper towels and toilet paper cost money, and that Mommy won't have that money for ices at the playground. Eyes on me!

On less successful occasions, the impulsivity monster takes hold. Example: One day last week, Matthew spilled his juice. (I can no longer remember if it was an accident or on purpose, or if he admitted to doing it or blamed it on Baby Dinosaur.) No biggie. I told him to get one paper towel and wipe up it up. After his repeated "You do it!" went unheeded, he lunged for the roll, grabbed the end and gleefully darted off, paper towel holder spinning wildly.

Our kid runs express much of the time, requiring a lightning-quick reaction. I managed to snatch about half the 15 towels back and stopped him in his tracks. (This scenario is a big improvement over the days when he'd make a mad dash for the bathroom, a whole roll streaming behind him; he thought it would be hilarious to "flood the potty" with them.)

After I got my now-compliant cutie to wipe up the juice and join me for my little money-doesn't-grow-on-the-trees-we-love spiel, I got backup from an unexpected source. Lately, Matthew has been pining for plums; he must have had a sweet, juicy one on a play date. (I know my neighbors, and it's a pretty safe bet that plum was organic, too.) I've been promising I'll buy some, and it was as if I were watching a light bulb -- low energy, of course -- go off over our budding environmentalist's head when he pronounced: "Without trees, we wouldn't have plums!"

Now if I could just get him to stop taking fistfuls of tissues to wipe his nose. On the other hand, he isn't using his shirt, which would then have to be washed...

photo: Tom Rugg

18
Comments

smorton9 picture
smorton9
07/10/09
I went to cloth years ago, long before "Eco" was cool, back when it was just weird. I use cloth dish rags in the kitchen, purchased in bulk at an outlet store once a year and changed out every other day or as needed. When kitchen rags are replaced they become scrubbing/cleaning rags as do worn out towels, face cloths, tee shirts,ect. I use large rag towels to dry wet dogs, wet kids, wet floors. it is much easier to clean up a spilled drink with one big cloth towel than half a roll of paper. I also lay the big rag towels on the floor just inside the back door as they do a great job of picking up the sand and dirt from dog paws and other feet. I keep a "rag basket" in my laundry room. Damp rags are hung on the side to dry, others are just tossed in. As long as they are dry when they go in they won't mold or develop that sour oder. I wash my rag basket when it is full, about every 8 - 10 days, with eco detergent in warm water and I put vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. They are dried on the line year round. The only rags I buy new are my dish rags. As I stated above a lot of my rag collection has come from recycling old stuff from my own home. I also pick up big towels at yard sales and Goodwill stores. With all that said I do keep a roll of paper towels under the sink, hidden in the back. I use them to drain grease and clean up body fluids. I use about a roll a year. It relay is not hard to make the switch nor does it take much extra work. Yea, your friends will think your a little odd but they, like you, will adjust quickly.
snow.angel22 picture
snow.angel22
07/09/09
Try using vinegar when you wash the cloth towels. It helps keep them from getting so moldy/mildewy. Also, rinse in hot water and vinegar after use. As for paper towels, why don't y'all just try switching to recycled ones? You can still use paper towels, and you'll be helping keep recycling alive. If no one bought recycled products there would be no point in making them. We want recycling to stay, right? There is no point for companies to recycle if no one buys their products.
mrsncook picture
mrsncook
07/01/09
"Do you have problems with the grease not washing out?" Nope. I've never had that problem. I use Method laundry products, and I've used Seventh Generation. I wash towels together, not with clothes. I'm very anal about towels with towels only. lol If they're really bad, I throw them in for a second run. But normally I just toss them in and wash them up. I've washed my bar towels to pieces, but they've always come out clean.
knitchick605 picture
knitchick605
06/30/09
I don't know if you have already but I think you would LOVE "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/156512605X?ie=UTF8&tag=seventgenera-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=156512605X" target="_blank">Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder</a>" by Richard Louv. It discusses the importance of nature to children, how kids aren't going outside anymore, and ways to get them back outside. I'm halfway through it right now and nearly every page is marked with green highlighter and notes! I can already say that it's one of my favorite books.
davidfroeschner picture
davidfroeschner
06/30/09
stimeystimpkins - You bring up some very good points and I will take them into consideration before my next post. I was not attempting to attack anyone, simply bring up an issue that I see prevalent. I am not greener than anyone, like most of us I still choose my battles. I apologize to the author for not remembering that before I climbed on top of my high horse. mrsncook - Do you have problems with the grease not washing out? One of the battles I have chosen is the dumping of foreign chemicals down my drain. For this I have been experimenting with a few different brands of eco-friendly laundry soaps. I have found that these soaps do not do a very good job at getting grease and other tougher things out of my clothes. This makes me skeptical of putting bacon grease in the washer only to have it speared all over everything. Any tips are appreciated.
MD2009 picture
MD2009
06/25/09
If you are really worried, take the rag and put it in the microwave for about 5 - 10 seconds. It kills just about anything until you can wash the rag. Vinegar & water always work well too, of course, but if you don't want to smell like a vinegar bottle, microwaving the rag for a few seconds seems to be the next best solution.
stimeystimpkins picture
stimeystimpkins
06/25/09
Michelleology, I have the same problem, even with doing laundry more frequently. You could try soaking them in vinegar & water, or diluted detergent, in between washings. I have a bowl that sits on my dryer that I soak stained items in; when I get a few rags I toss them in and soak them for a day or two before washing. I also find it necessary to use hot water once in a while (with 2 small kids I ALWAYS have grimy laundry to fill up a hot load!), and every so often I have to use a bit of bleach (I know, bad, but peroxide does not kill the mold/mildew). Hope that helps!
stimeystimpkins picture
stimeystimpkins
06/25/09
It's really disheartening to read a lovely blog post such as this and then scroll down to see judgey comments. I was smiling along with the author, since my son is the same age and we have the same issues; teaching him not to be wasteful is a constant task. That was her whole point, and yet several readers scolded her for even HAVING paper towels in her house. Perhaps the author has an immune-suppressed family member and sterility is an issue. Perhaps she keeps paper towels on hand for babysitters or visitors, and her son is fascinated with the "forbidden" towels. Perhaps her husband is not interested in saving the earth and just wants to use a disposable hand-wiper (this is me!). Perhaps she grows her own food, uses cloth diapers, hangs her laundry to line-dry, and splits the difference by using recycled paper products. There are a multitude of reasons why people choose to use paper towels, and this one-upmanship of "I'm greener than you are, I don't do X or Y, you should do the same," is not furthering the cause. Yes, having to teach our kids not to be wasteful is probably unique to the Western middle- and upper-classes. But for those of us in those socioeconomic groups, it is what it is, and either we teach our children to conserve or we allow them to continue the grand Western tradition of destroying the earth. I for one would love to read more posts like this, for the feeling of comradery (hard to come by when my friends and neighbors see no problem with using tons of paper plates and juice boxes and think recycling is "too hard"), and to maybe glean a tip or two that might actually work in my family. The negative comments over potentially helpful posts are why I rarely read the 7th Gen newsletter anymore.
michelleology picture
michelleology
06/25/09
One problem I have when using cloth towels to wipe up spills is that they usually develop a sour or mildew smell before I have enough laundry to do a wash. I rinse them out and hang them up to dry, but they still get mildew-smelling. I'm a single person so I only do laundry once a week. Any suggestions?
mrsncook picture
mrsncook
06/25/09
I used to prefer to put some newspaper tucked neatly on the plate, then a paper towel on top so the newspaper won't touch the bacon. Now I just use cloth and wash it with everything else. And did you know that packing paper, the brown stuff some companies use in yards and yards, is perfect for washing windows? I can't use newspaper, because I'm allergic to the ink. I didn't have a rag when I desperately needed to clean a window, but I did have some of that paper. Works wonderfully! The biodegradable packing noodles are better. They melt in water. You can lick the end, or stick in in water as I prefer, and stick the cornstarch noodle to stuff. My children have great fun with them!
mrsncook picture
mrsncook
06/25/09
Before my switch, we were just like you, using dozens at a time. I use cloth now, and it has saved a lot of headache. They are more absorbent, and obviously you can reuse them. There are wonderful organic cotton choices, too. We love to personalize them with ribbons, fabric paint, buttons, etc. We have a huge stack of dish towels and wash cloths so we only have to wash them once a week. We use one washcloth for the dishes per day, rinsing well and hanging up in between meals. In the morning, I throw the now dry one in the laundry and get a fresh one for the day. The same with dish cloth. If it's just used to wipe water off of a dish, I hang it up to clean a spill and get a fresh one later if I need to wipe a dish again. If it cleans a spill, it gets rinsed and hung up until it's dry and ready to go in the laundry. I often get bar towels and dish cloths on sale. I have a stack of ugly orange and black ones from Halloween, some of which I cut for fun cloths. I simply cut a fish or duck from the orange one, using the scrap edges for waves so I didn't waste any of it, and sewed them onto a white cloth on one half. I folded the white dish cloth in half and sewed two sides so it made a fun wash mitt for my girls to scrub dishes. So when do we use paper towels? Well, we use them for things we really don't want to wash towels after. I use paper towels for the car, like if my husband checks the oil or gets gunk on his hands. We use paper towels when we're out, like if we have a picnic with friends. We also use them for birthday parties. I like the convenience of paper towels from time to time, so I grab some recycled ones as a compromise. For the most part, though, I'm almost always grabbing a rag. I use only 1-2 rolls of paper towel a year now. The only down side is that I've become addicted to organic cloth towels on sale. ;) lol They do make great gifts, though, in a basket with some natural home cleaning products!
davidfroeschner picture
davidfroeschner
06/25/09
I tend to be a bit blunt, but here goes. I have a few issues with this article about the use of the term "green". Using less paper towels than before is still waist full, no matter which way you slice it. If you are concerned with our Earth and her tress, then there are VERY few reasons to use paper towels. The only reason I haven't been able to mitigate is for cooking bacon, anyone with ideas let me know. Most of my guests don't even notice that I don't have a paper towel roll and if they do I simply tell them that this is my house and my rules. This might sound harsh, but cutting down tress and turning them into disposable paper towels just for someones comfort is very harsh to me. People like to argue that washing cloth towels uses extra water. How much water does it take to produce paper towels in the first run? "...and it was as if I were watching a light bulb -- low energy, of course -- go off over..." are you trying to decrease waist because you are generally concerned with the catastrophic situation we have put our self in, or because its all the rage. I have issues when people proclaim they are "green" when really they are just being popular. If the change that we are striving for is a fad, then it will die like a fad. If it becomes a way of life then it will get passed down through the generations. Bethina, I don't mean to attack you personally. I am just making a note to some of the common trends that I see going on. I appreciate your article and the fact that you are reaching out to your community, furthering the progress of this movement. I also greatly appreciate the fact that your are sticking to your guns with waist reduction even with a small child in the house. I know some people that have grand ideas that get stalemated when there are little people running havoc all over the house.
mirgatory picture
mirgatory
06/25/09
i wholeheartedly agree with Kayote. There haven't been paper towels in my house for over a year and i promise my guests don't mind. i have even gotten in the habit of using cloth hankerchiefs instead of tissues. it may sound gross, but if our grandparents could do it, so can we.
kayote picture
kayote
06/24/09
Even better than just one is no paper towels. m We've switched away from paper towels. Added benefit--no way to grab one rag and run away with all of them. At worst they could be dumped, but it's easy to pick them up. Yes, I use water to wash them, but making paper towels uses water also. Using cloth towels is cheaper and more green (especially since I just cut up torn up clothing to make mine). Also healthier since I now use those for dishrags, getting one out when I need it. No more wet bacteria haven hanging in my kitchen and running all over the counters. There's a basket on the counter with clean cloths, and a laundry basket in the corner of dirty ones. I've had no complaints from guests and people pick up on it easily. It's easier to teach the use of one cloth towel than one paper towel since they aren't attached, and it's a better, greener habit anyway.
narayanpavgi picture
narayanpavgi
06/24/09
Growing up in a third-world country, where food and resources are less abundant, the general trend is for not squandering anything - without even tagging it as "being green". When I shifted to the US, I noticed these simple habits were being "taught" to the American public. I formed the opinion that everything about "being green" is rooted in the ecomonics of availability and comfort.
cebinaz picture
cebinaz
06/24/09
Try buying hand towels with his favorite character for him to use in the kitchen. Yes, you have to wash them, and they won't match your kitchen decor, but it's a good habit to start.
AJ Jacobs picture
AJ Jacobs
06/18/09
I loved it -- and agree with it 100 percent. I gave my five year old son the whole recycling talk. Now he tries to recycle water -- like he saves the water he spits out when he brushes his teeth and then tries to reuse it the next day. It's kind of disgusting. I tell him there are some things that should not be recycled. But he's quite the zealot
Bettina picture
Bettina
06/17/09
I remember when my kids were first put into a high chair. My daighter never met a meal she didn't like to wear. Food was in the high chair, on the floor, in her hair and on her cloths. Some of it even made it in her mouth. I soon found out that if I used paper towels that I would be broke within weeks. At first I would wash them out ,reuse then toss. After about a week of that I went into the linen closet and got every single thin wash cloth I had and put them in the drawer with the bibs. I used one per meal for her, the high chair and then the floor in that order. No more paper towels for that. To this day I keep a stack of dish rags and wash cloths in the kitchen for spills and wiping up. Sadly the spills and messes continue. But at 16 , she doesn't first reach for the paper towels (I still use them infrequently) but for a rag she can use, rinse and ultimately wash. there is hope.