Green tip for week #37 — Week of January 11, 2009

Use cloth as an alternative to paper for cleaning

Most of us have learned to depend on paper towels for their convenience, versatility, low cost, and easy access.  We will often reach for a paper towel to wipe up a spill, to substitute for a napkin, to clean around the kitchen, or bathroom, etc.  Have you ever paused to consider what we did before paper towels were around?

That’s right, we all got by without paper towels in years past, and we could do it again if we had to.  In the meantime, because of the consumerism mentality of Americans, we tend not to think of the waste or environmental impact of manufacturing, packaging, transporting, and selling these convenient paper goods.  Even worse, paper towels wind up in a landfill after we swipe them across a half-inch blob of milk, to clean the counter.

What’s the alternative?  The name “paper towel” basically gives away the solution.  What about an actual towel?  A small discloth, rag, worn-out t-shirt, or other cloth for nearly every job a paper towel is used for.  More importantly, you can often rinse and reuse a towel for several jobs, then throw a large bunch of them in the wash to have them good as new for the next chore.

For some cleaning, microfiber cloths are terrific.  I recognize that buying a cloth made from nylon and polyester isn’t exactly free of environmental impact, but microfiber tends to be incredibly practical, durable, reusable, and utilitarian.  It’s great for dusting and cleaning glass and electronics.  Since a good microfiber will actually “trap” dust and dirt, it often is more effective than a cotton cloth for cleaning or dusting its way through multiple chores without needing to be immediately washed.

Next time you look at your paper towel dispenser, consider replacing it (or at least supplementing it) with a box or drawer filled with small sections of your favorite cleaning cloth, and consider the benefits of reusing the cloth rather than throwing the paper towel.

If your worst damage to the environment is your use of paper towels, you are probably doing better than most of us, yet this seemingly small impact is something that can be easily reduced.  Like most of the tips, if we could all try to incorporate this idea, we could have a big impact on reducing some of the damage done to our environment.


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