Reduce Trash and Use Less Paper Products

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“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.

(If you do not see the video click here to view)

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 rags, microfiber 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.

How to reduce trash

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!


photo credit

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. liz says

    hi – thanks so much for re-inspiring me to go back to the basics – i loose track of life every so often with all the demands put on you and take the easy way out and slip into old habits of buy and easy disposal – i am now back into having my rag bags – one for dusting/wiping – one for the toilet – one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen – they dont take up much room and it is a whole lot easier than running around wondering what cloth/chemical to use. Am going the hanky way – will have a grossness to overcome coz me and phlegm dont see eye to eye but a soaking bucket and separate wash will help. As for no paper kitchen towels – thats going to be a continual challenge especially with my husband. Have used home knitted dishcloths for ages – love them. Make my own furniture polish from and 1860’s recipe and its wonderful. I just love this kind of lifestyle and going to fully embrace it once again and try not to get distracted – once again – thanks for waking me up

    • Krysta says

      Try Gerber diaper flats for unpaper towels. They work really well, suck as diapers but a great replacement for paper towels. There is also a lady who makes unpaper towels on etsy that snap together so they come off of the roll just like paper towels. I prefer to fold or stick them in a hanging bag (like the ones used for grocery bags).

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Liz – so glad you were re-inspired! I definitely know how challenging it can be to stick to your guns on some of these habits when life gets busy! Sounds like you’re on the right track and working hard to make changes. 🙂

      • liz says

        whats gerber diaper flats???? i live in new zealand and have never heard of them – in my day you used cloth nappies and a nappy soaking bucket to place and soak the cleaned nappy in before washing in pure soap flakes

        • Krysta says

          Ever heard of Gerber baby food? Same company. I dont know what is available over there. They are usually sold in stores with other baby items but they are horrable for diapers. Im in the US. You should look up modern cloth diapers, soooooo many more options and not anymore time consuming than disposables. Save tons of money. They have more of an early learning curve but the benifits really outweigh that. They also are stored in a dry bag (called a wet-bag) or dry trash can till wash day (every 1-4 days up to 7 in dry areas)
          You can look it up online ( or are great places to start.). Their is also mama cloth (reusable pads) and all kinds of other stuff that tend to be available from those retailers.

  2. Krystal says

    Ok, my one place i feel i have to use paper towel is when i am cleaning my toilets. They are gross and germy and i don’t think i should reuse anything i put on them, even after washing. Am i being ridiculous? Any suggestions?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I spray my cleaner on and allow it to sit and do its job for a while, so that the germs are taken care of before I start wiping the toilets. Then I use a toilet brush to clean and a microfiber rag to dry.
      I have two distinct sets of cleaning rags. One for cleaning normal things like kitchen, windows, spills, etc. The other set is for the really gross jobs…toilets, bathroom floors, etc. I wash these on the hottest setting and always keep them separate from other rags…even though I’m pretty sure the washer does the job of killing all the germs. You’re not ridiculous at all! It took me years to get comfortable with the system I have now. 🙂

  3. Alicia says

    I am very selective about what I print and also try to save ink by the following. After selecting ‘print’, I click “quality and media’ from the print menu and then “grayscale printing’ from the drop down menu. This is on a Mac. don’t know if PCs are the same. I also save discarded sheets of printer paper and mail, tear in half and staple together for note pads. I always think “what would grandma do?’ She lived through the depression and always maintained her frugal ways. I reuse everything I can and donate unneeded items. I know granny approves and I feel like I am honoring a worthwhile tradition.