How to Cut Back Your Use of Napkins and Paper Towels

Napkins and paper towels are some of the most useful household items. Each time you spill something or need to wipe your face, a napkin is always there for you. Unfortunately, we tend to use more napkins than we need to. Wasting napkins not only costs you more money, but it also causes the environment to suffer. Studies have found that in the United States alone, more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year. 544,000 trees could be saved each year if each US household used just one less roll of paper towels. As though that isn't enough, 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted to make just one ton of paper towels. Are you convinced yet that you should stop using paper towels?

Unfortunately, it is hard to get by without napkins and paper towels on hand. Each time guests come over to eat or you spill something on your kitchen counter, it is probably a habit to grab a handful of paper towels. So what can you use as an alternative? You are wanting to save money and reduce landfill waste, there are many creative alternatives for napkins. In this article, I'll go over these alternatives so that you can start using fewer paper towels. Let's get started.

How to Use Fewer Napkins

1. Use Linen Napkins

Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant that gave you linen napkins instead of regular paper napkins? There is a point to using cloth napkins instead of paper ones. First, linen napkins obviously help the environment. The average U.S. consumer uses three paper napkins per meal, but only one linen napkin per meal. Second, you'll save a lot of money by switching to linen napkins. Even though linen napkins are more expensive, you can reuse them. You can easily wash linen napkins so that they can be reused many times. Linen napkins also look nicer than paper napkins, making them a great addition to your table.

2. Save Takeout Meal Napkins

The next time you get a takeout meal, remember to save the napkins that they give. You can use these napkins for when guests come over. Even though these napkins will still be wasted, there may be a time when you really need to use them. Try not to use these napkins too often, but instead, only when it is necessary.

3. Shake Your Hands After Washing Them

Many people grab two or three paper towels each time they rinse their hands. While this method gets your hands dry, it also wastes a lot of paper towels. The next time you wash your hands, try shaking them instead. You'll be amazed by how much water comes off your hands by simply shaking them. If your hands are still wet, use a towel to get any other drops of water off your hands.

4. Make Your Own Linen Napkins

If store-bought linen napkins are too expensive, you may want to make your own. Making your own linen napkins is easier than you may think. One way to make linen napkins is to use a sewing machine to sew linen together. You can also knit or crochet washcloths to use for wiping down your kitchen counters. If you are wanting to recycle materials such as old T-shirts or bath towels, you can easily cut these materials up and sew them to create linen napkins. Be creative when making your own linen napkins. Remember that these homemade towels don't need to look fancy. All they need to be is durable enough for wiping down your kitchen.

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5. Only Keep One Roll of Paper Towels in the House

Instead of buying a pack of paper towels, only keep on roll of paper towels in the house. Don't plan on using these paper towels unless you need to. If you save takeout meal napkins, you may not even need to have a roll of paper towels in the house. While you may think it is alright to keep a pack of paper towels stored, you may find yourself tempted to use them. However, when no paper towels are in the house, you won't be able to use any, which will help reduce the number of paper towels ending up in the landfill.

6. When You Need a Napkin, Only Grab One

It is easy to grab a stack of napkins when you only need one. Whether you are at a restaurant or in your kitchen, make it a habit to only grab one napkin when you need a napkin. If you think you may be tempted to grab more, consider buying a napkin dispenser that only allows one napkin to come out.

7. Use Reusable Beeswax Wrap for Wrapping Vegetables and Fruit

Many people use paper towels for wrapping fruits and vegetables before putting them in the refrigerator. If you are one of those people, consider switching to reusable beeswax wrap. This wrap is great for storing fruits and veggies, and they are reusable. Another option for storing fruits and vegetables is to use small plastic tubs. These tubs can be reused multiple times and are great for storing foods.

8. Use Sponges for Washing Pans and Countertops

The next time you need to wipe down your kitchen countertop or need to wash pans, try using sponges. Sponges are great for cleaning up messes and they can be reused. They last for a long time, so they are a much cheaper alternative too.

9. Water Is Your New Best Friend

When it comes to cutting back on using napkins, you'll want to use plenty of water when washing countertops or even rinsing your hands. After washing your hands, be sure to use a towel or washcloth to dry your hands.

10. Use Hand Dryers More Often

When you use public restrooms, you may notice that there are hand dryers. Hand dryers are designed to replace paper towels and dry your hands by blowing air on them. While hand dryers have their pros and cons, they can definitely help reduce the amount of paper towel waste. The next time you use a public restroom, try using the hand dryer instead of paper towels.

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Can I Recycle Paper Towels?

For those times when you do use paper towels or napkins, you may be wondering if you can recycle them. While recycling them may seem like a good idea, it can actually do more harm than good. Because they usually come in contact with food wastes and greases, they are not able to be "cleaned" during the recycling process and should not be with other "clean" paper waste like magazines and copy paper.

Another issue with recycling paper towels is that many of these products were actually created from recycled paper, so they've already been through the recycling process several times. During each cycle, the fibers in the paper get shorter. By the time the paper's been reincarnated as a napkin or tissue, the fibers are too short to be used again.

That doesn't mean that you have to throw your paper towels in the trash though. One great way to reuse paper towels is to add them to your compost pile. A compost pile is great for gardening as it is rich in nutrients, and it promotes soil microbes that aid plant growth. If you have a garden, you will definitely want to add paper towels into your compost bin. Here's how to do it.

How to Add Paper Towels to Your Compost

If you don't already have a compost bin, begin by finding a bin and drilling 8 to 10 holes in it. Put old leaves or newspaper at the bottom of the bin to create a barrier. Put soil on top of the leaves or newspaper. Fill the bin with soil until it is halfway full. Next, add old food scraps on top of the dirt in your bin. Apple cores, eggshells, and banana peels are all great options. Once your compost bin is created, you can start adding your paper towels into it. You can also use other paper products to make compost.

Once you are done adding items into your compost bin, stir the mixture so that soil covers it. Spray your mixture with lukewarm water so that it becomes moist. Keep in mind that you don't want it soaking wet, because it can smell when it is wet. Drill 8-10 more holes on the lid of the bin and close it up. Put the bin somewhere cool and shady so the compost doesn’t dry out.

Within a few months to a year, you can start using your compost in the garden. Not only is this a great way to recycle paper products, but it also allows your plants to get the nutrients they need. Have fun experimenting with different items in your compost bin. Try adding tea bags, grass clippings, and even old lint from the dryer. Your plants will thrive on these materials and you'll reduce the amount of waste in the landfill.

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Final Thoughts

Napkins and paper towels are some of the most wasted items. Even when you think you only need one paper towel to dry your hands, somehow we usually end up using a whole stack of paper towels. In this article, I went over the 10 best alternatives for napkins so that you can cut back on your use of them. I hope this article has given you some ideas for not using as many paper towels.

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Mariann Foster
 

Mariann lives with her daughter, Maria, managing Big Horn Mountain Alpacas in Wyoming. She enjoys living simple and making a small footprint. She loves running everyday and being outdoors when she isn't writing. Mariann hopes to inspire others to live a low maintenance life and to take care of the environment and all the creatures living on earth.

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