Green Week Day 1: Using Less Paper

July 16th

cutest recycler ever

How cute is this wee one, rocking the recycling? This photo is one of several already submitted to the Green Week photo pool, celebrating the best of reducing, reusing and recycling.

Today’s earth-friendly idea is using cloth instead of disposable anything. Such as cloth napkins, towels and of course, diapers. My friend Amanda emailed me a ton of stats on why it is important to use cloth. Did you know it takes 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose? In contrast, it takes just $17 in water during a child’s life to clean cloth diapers. No landfill waste, less diaper rash, and oh — you aren’t contributing to the 1 billion trees cut each year just for diapers. Yikes!

This week I’m sewing cloth napkins to use at home. I’m also whipping up some knit dishcloths. A few other simple paper-saving things I try to do include using junk mail envelopes for note paper, sharing magazines and books with friends, printing with the “selection only” feature to prevent pages of unwanted text when printing off the web, and reusing shipping boxes for mailing.
What can you do to use fewer paper products?


Posted in
Journal, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse
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37 Responses

  1. We recycle all of our catalogs and junk mail. I use cloth napkins. We also reuse shipping boxes to send packages out to other people.

  2. Know what’s more earth friendly than using cloth diapers? Don’t have babies… ok, that sounds a lot meaner than I meant it to be. Interesting facts about the cloth diapers, thanks for sharing that with us. I just started using cloth napkins in my home instead of paper. It’s not making as big a difference as I hoped since I live with two men and they don’t really use napkins. Heh.

  3. Up here in Toronto we do three things, we have a Green Bin program from the city that is turned into compost. There are many things that can go into including diapers, sanitary products, animal waste and litter plus the usual fruit and veggie stuff. This gets picked up weekly. We recycle all cans, papers, magazines etc. and that gets picked up bi weekly. The rest of the garbage is picked up bi weekly and we will be allowed ONE green garbage bad every two weeks starting in October. I personally compost all my organic waste in the summer, not so much in winter since the bin is a bit hard to get to thru all the snow. I usually leave any unnecessary packaging behind at the stores and of course use cloth bags unless I need some plastic bags for garbage….ciao

  4. I tried to post a picture on the flickr site, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Anyway, you can see my crocheted string bags on my blog at Much better than plastic or even paper bags as you can use them over and over and over. They can be pretty, too!


  5. Rositta, you should try vermicomposting. I’m writing about it on my site later today.

    Also, we’ve opted out of junk mail on the New American Dream website (

    We do still get some junk mail, but most of that we shred and feed to the worms (along with newspaper, cardboard, kitchen scraps, etc).

  6. we try to use dishtowels instead of paper towels (i do use them, hubby is not converted yet). also, even though i adore snail mail, there are a lot of really cute free e-cards (saves paper and postage) for all occasions. we also read or watch our news instead of getting a newspaper, and using a digital camera is also a good paper saver because you can pick and choose what to print out instead of having to develop the whole thing.

    wendy, vermicomposting is awesome! i plan to build a worm bin for next years garden. 🙂

  7. Hey Kel,
    My friend Amy deserves a “green week” award. She not only cloth diapers but got her husband to do it and her daycare! She owns now paper anything. Cloth napkins, dish towels, no shopping bags, etc. She has been doing this for years! The diapers are adorable, they have little embroidered turtles and stuff on them! So cute, and earth friendly!
    Hope you are well! We use those new light bulbs, they are great! As well, I am trying to do things with less disposable products, and we just bought a new HE washer/dryer for our new house! can’t wait!

  8. Cloth diapers are great! The ones from diaper services can sometimes be just as environmentally harmful as conventional disposables (because the services often clean them with loads of chlorine bleach), but there are more and more “green” diaper services springing up.

    In my household we opted for wash-them-yourself cloth diapers, and we are really happy with them. In addition to the savings in resources (energy, water, etc.), we’re also saving a ton of money on the diapers themselves. The average child goes through FIVE THOUSAND diapers–at best, they cost about 25 cents each. Cloth diapers have a fairly low up-front cost and end up costing pennies each in the long run. Plus when your child has outgrown cloth diapers, they can be used by another child or even turned into (reusable) household cleaning cloths. Yippee!

  9. I like how you put our brains in motion again, Kelli 🙂

  10. i’ve been loving hankies. they’re perfect for wiping my hands on as well as wiping away sweat and dirt when i’m outside in the hot sun working with horses.

  11. Jennifer July 16, 2007

    Weelll, I’m trying…in my town luckily recycling is easy (city runs recycling and supplies bins, etc) so that’s a no-brainer. I recycle all newspapers (I would love to go paperless but love the newspaper and can’t stand TV or Internet for news), give magazines to coworkers, share books with friends and family (then donate to the local SPCA twice-yearly book sale), use cloth napkins and dishtowels. Still using paper towels for a few things (cleaning icky things like litter boxes), but my use is greatly reduced. I subscribe to Jessica’s solution for avoiding all diapers. 🙂 I don’t have a garden but am interested in the worm compost idea since it sounds like you don’t need a garden for that…Thanks Kelli, for the conversation and inspiration!

  12. drip dry???

  13. YEAHHH! Just posted my Using Less Paper post to my blog. I am sooooo glad you started this Kel.

  14. Recycling is important! I do the knitting the dishcloth thing and used cloth diapers when the children were little and of course do the cloth bags at the market! I just heard a good one for stopping the unwanted solicitations of get a magazine free! and catalogs. Write return to sender on the envelope or address page and it stops! Sounds like a deal to me. Think of all the saved trees. Oh, and I’ve made my own napkins for years!

  15. We use rags for cleaning and such as much as possible.
    I still buy paper towels but try to make each roll last a looonnngggg time. We reuse the other side of paper from things we print out, and I try to use cloth napkins as much as possible. We use the library a lot and although we love books, I don’t purchase every book I read anymore. I don’t get any magazine subscriptions either, once in awhile I buy myself one as a little treat.

  16. When I first visited Japan, I couldn’t get over how many cute and/or stylish women’s hankies and terrycloth *facecloths* were sold everywhere. I quickly came to realize why…everyone carries one in her purse, both for wiping hands in a restroom (no papertowels provided there) or for simply patting your sweaty brow on a hot day. Now I always have one tucked in my bag!
    And although paper diapers were becoming popular when my kids were born, we used cloth and I’d do it again, for all the reasons others have already mentioned here.

  17. something i’ve stopped doing in the last year is getting receipts at places like the gas station and the atm. unless you are going to take them home, shred them and recycle them, don’t get one. typically, they just go right in the trash and thousands of people do that daily!! if you need them for accounting, just be more on top of things with your accounts online or start checking your budget weekly so you don’t need all of the receipts to keep track.
    also, just about every service today does online accounting so request to stop receiving paper statements as well.

  18. cute! i did know that about the diapers. i’ve been trying to get my family to do there on research on the subject since we have so many diaper wearing members at the moment. but no one’s listened to me, yet.

  19. did you see this super cute reuse of junk mail at Little Hut?

    too clever and so pretty.
    I wash up instead of use the dishwasher
    I let the yellow mellow and think about how much toilet paper I really need.
    I use rags instead of paper towel and then I wash them to reuse.
    Just the usual. There has got to be more I can do. thanks for the tips. I would also like to see us bring in a blogging “etiquette/tip/idea” if we signed our simple comment posts with “NN2R” no need to reply if you don’t need one it would enable the reciever to reduce there time spent on the computer politely answering comments and therefore reduce electricity use, what does everyone else think? NN2R.. you know what I mean 🙂

  20. disposable diapers are so bad for our planet.
    when purchasing items that i do not need a bag for, i give the bag back. it’s amazing how many bags are used for even the smallest things. i actually feel so bad when this is done.

  21. How about using the comics for gift wrap? It’s so retro! Actually, I have found that gift giving is one of the easiest ways to save paper. Reusing shipping boxes, using recycled brown paper or comics for gift wrap. I always save and reuse gift bags. We reuse cards for art projects in the classroom. Also, old cards make gift tags for new presents. I have also had a ton of luck finding greeting cards at thrift stores.

  22. We use cloth napkins most of the time too, at first my husband thought I was crazy but got use to it after I quit buying napkins and he had to use them…lol.
    I know it makes more wash but I have been buying shaklee’s laundry soap. They don’t use harsh chemicals that polute the land and your body so I guess that’s green too. I’ve never seen a recycle bin like the one in the picture. Is it just for plastics?

  23. Um, I bought a Moon Cup.

  24. I am going to try REALLY really hard to do the cloth diaper thing. It was good enough for my sister and I so it should be good enough for Chick Pea too – right?!? 🙂

  25. Ashley July 17, 2007

    I love what you’re doing here. I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I love your blog. I want to meet you so I can give you a hug!

    Anyway, we use mostly use cloth diapers. We do use some disposables for night time and traveling, but we rock the cloth at all other times. I don’t have any other examples that haven’t been mentioned, but I’m inspired to cut more paper out of our house. I really need to kick my paper towel addiction. Maybe if I make cute cloth napkins it’ll be easier! Oh, and I also try to use as little TP as possible. That counts, right?

  26. On the magazine tip: I take mine to the corner laundromat when I’m done reading them. I leave them in a nice little stack of recent current events mags, older domestic mags, and catalogs. I of course strip these of any personal info (and occasionally I take out an interesting article or two as well), but the pile is always gone when I go back again!

    Also, I buy used books, CDs, etc. whenever I can & try not to be too picky about what I read or listen to — it’s a kind of shopping serendipity that forces me to shop locally more often & rely less on transportation to ship my things around the globe.

    plus, our municipality doesn’t recycle paper or cardboard so i occasionally smuggle a bag of recyclable paper into work with me (where they do recycle paper)!

  27. impossiblejane July 17, 2007

    Call me the pessimist of the group but I don’t think that merely stopping the use of paper towels and recycling junk mail and not using bags from the store will help all that much.

    What about all the plastic you consume at the grocery store that your products come in? What about all the gas you used to get to grocery store?

    I used to work at the dump and half of what people thought was able to be recycled was not.

    Saving the planet is going to require strong sacrifice and the majority of the people in this world just won’t. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people tell me I am crazy and ridicilous for hanging my clothes outside in the dead of winter, “I’m just too lazy” or “They won’t dry” is what I hear all the time. Yes, they will dry and that proves my point that people don’t want to sacrifice their comforts to save the environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I can’t use the bus because [insert valid excuse].

    Here’s a challenge for green week. Give up your car.

    A thought about the plastic bags…if you live in an area that incinerates garbage and turns it into electricity rather than landfilling it the plastic bags create more energy than paper bags.

    So unless people are ready to give up their cell phones, computers and gadgets, televisions, air conditioners, cars, toilet paper, shopping at the mall, washing machines and dryers and start living in areas where they can access public transportation (or demand better public transportation) not much will be done.

  28. You’re right, impossiblejane: giving up cars would make a big difference.*

    Unfortunately, it’s not a viable option for many people–especially those who don’t live in major metropolitan areas with extensive public-transportation systems.

    Outside of big cities, most people in this country live in decentralized settings. Grocery stores, libraries, schools, places of worship, workplaces, etc., usually aren’t within walking distance of peoples’ homes. Sure, sometimes you can cobble together three or four bus routes to get where you’re going, but a one-way trip of ten miles could take two hours, and time has value, too. And in some places (where I live, for example) using public transportation can cost significantly more than owning a modest car that’s infrequently used.

    Sure, people who don’t really need cars to get around (like a crazy friend of mine who insisted on owning–and paying to park!–a car while he was living in MANHATTAN!) should give serious thought to getting rid of them if they can. For those who are car-dependent, however, there are lots of other things they can do: choose smaller, fuel-efficient cars; consolidate trips; don’t use the air conditioner; use fuel-efficient driving techniques; share rides with others; etc. Yes, they are small things. But small things–that are meaningful–DO make a difference.

    *It’s interesting to note that small-combustion engines (particularly home lawnmowers) generate far more greenhouse gases than automobiles. Manual reel push-mowers for everyone!

  29. Well, deja vu to you. I, too, am knitting up some cotton dishcloths at this very moment. I got “in the mood” after spying a big ball of cotton on clearance at Wally World. Not so pretty, really, but will make up nicely for the kitchen. Would you like to have a few?

  30. Impossible Jane, do you seriously not use toilet paper? That’s hardcore!

    And I’m sure that not using plastic bags is better than letting the dump burn them; I doubt they could possibly produce as much energy as it requires to produce them in the first place.

    Glad to know that some dumps are doing that, though, for everybody that does use the plastic bags.

  31. Okay, it’s July, but for years, at Christmas, we’ve wrapped our gifts to each other in my fabric. I always have plenty, and it doesn’t have to be Christmas fabric–any kind looks cool under the tree. I bought a big bag of multiple-sized safety pins, and for trim, we use whatever buttons, tiny ornaments, scraps of lace, ribbon, etc.

    Tags are cut up Christmas cards, and we just put them back in the tin box, because “the elves” always bring presents, Santa visits, and Mom give gifts to J-man and the daughter, etc.

    Two years ago, I took it one step further. As my husband has only the use of one hand, I’ve started making Christmas bags with drawstrings or some other closure for him to receive his gifts, or wrap for us. Each year, I add more sewn bags. We’ve never given fabric-wrapped gifts outside the family, but I’m thinking we may start using simple fabric bags for that purpose as soon as I get enough made up. Maybe that will encourage our friends and family to start doing the same, and save the trees cut for wrapping paper.

  32. Someone should figure out how much paper is wasted on advertising sent through the mail. I’m sure it would cost $50.00 to send a letter without it but it might save a forest or two.

    I use rags and dishclothes….paper is expensive in Ukraine. I don’t want to waste money on paper towels.

  33. impossiblejane July 18, 2007

    Hi Wendy,

    I do use toilet paper. Perhaps the fact that I have an environmental studies degree has made me a cynic and bitter about saving the environment. I respect what everyone does in their own houses to feel like they are helping the environment but those little things don’t allow me to sleep at night. I do bring my cloth shopping bags to the store, I do recycle (if it actually gets recycled is another story), I do shut off lights, I hang my clothes outside all year long, I haggle litterers and then pick up their trash, etc, etc. But I am an environmental cynic.

    The problems are big business, the government, and consumer demand. It is my opinion that large scale environmental changes will not happen without the government and big businesses stepping in to take action. And with our current president nothing will be done. Hello, Kyoto Protocol? Our current smoking ban laws are proving to show that people are becoming less and less tolerant of smoking and that fewer people are starting to smoke.

  34. My favorite idea came from taking yourself off junk mail lists under their “Make a difference in 15 minutes” section.

  35. i snagged a ton of one-side-printed paper from work to use for printing… also have been using cloth dishcloths to clean around the kitchen for years and they rock!!

  36. Great advice, Clearly explained and easy to follow. Thank you