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When we think about saving money we tend to think about things like turning the lights off, or buying better windows, but we rarely think of things like using less disposable stuff. It’s been estimated that the average American goes through about two rolls of paper towels a week, which adds up to over $100 a year and looks like this.
This image is a woman named Mary Wallace (no relation) who went to Japan where she discovered that there are no paper towels used anywhere – instead everyone carries hand towels. She started the company PeopleTowels.com. She wrote, “So we thought, if 127 million Japanese can do this, why can’t we?”
I did a little research on the paper towel manufacturing process and came across this video. The resources and energy that go into manufacturing process are significant for something that’s thrown away.
Foregoing paper towels at our house is something we’ve done for a long time. Instead we use cheap washcloths for everything. Some people say “oh yeah, we do that too” but others say “hey, that’s a really good idea!” I’m going to write about it knowing there’s a risk of the more eco-conscious thinking it’s obvious (if so, share it with your friends!), but in our disposable culture I think practices like this have been forgotten.
Confession: I still use paper towels when I’m out and about because I haven’t thought of a good system to do something different. I really like the mission of People Towels though and am inspired to try it out and see what happens. I’m going to make it my personal goal to not use paper towels for anything in the next week and will let you know how I do.
A friend of mine cuts apart old clothing to use as rags, but I’ve never latched onto that. I think it’s because when I go to grab a cloth, I want to know what texture to expect and I want terrycloth. I also don’t sew, so there goes the rag thing.
Our approach has been to buy cheap washcloths and use them for everything – runny noses, dirty faces, messy counters, spills, nosebleeds, pretty much anything. We keep them separate because if they mildew it doesn’t matter and they don’t get the rest of our laundry dirty.
But what about the cost of washcloths? I think that in general anything reusable is an investment. It’s going to be more expensive than its disposable counterpart at the outset, but the key is in the long term. For example, cheap washcloths on Amazon cost about 50 cents a piece.
I went through and counted and we have 150 which we’ve acquired over the years. We started out buying one package, and as we needed more added to our collection.
But even if you started out buying 150, then you’d only be spending around $75 which means you’d break even in less than a year (including the cost of laundry).
They have their own separate hamper nearby where they live once they’re dirty and they get washed about once a week (on hot to get out the germs!). And when they wear out after a pretty long life span, you can recycle them with your old clothing.
I’ve come to really prefer cloth over paper because it’s absorbent, abrasive (for getting caked on food off of faces, for example) and doesn’t rip, tear or cost extra money. Our kids have gotten so acclimated to our system that when we go over to other people’s houses and they spill something they’ll ask our hosts where they keep the washcloths.
But if you can’t quite kick the habit, you can still compost your paper towels!