Friday in Focus: Disposable paper products

Like most people, I suppose, who are on this journey, I started by looking for ways to buy my way to a greener life. If I could just find the right product that is ethically made and recyclable and non-toxic and is local, I could continue to live the life I already had and still be sustainable, right? It took me awhile to realize that, while there are "better" choices, the best choice is often to just stop.

I've never been a big consumer of paper products. I mean, I had no qualms about using paper tissues and paper napkins, but I used them rarely. I never used paper towels...I grew up in household that viewed them as an extravagance. "Why would you pay for paper towels every week when you can just use a regular towel and then wash it?" As I lived with a host of other people during my college years, I was always shocked by how quickly the bathroom trash can would fill to overflowing with such products, so I knew that I was already on the conservative end of such things. At first, I thought that if I just switched brands of the paper products that I was using, all would be well.

I had no need for paper towels and I had a ton of leftover paper napkins on hand, so I was really just looking for toilet paper and facial tissues. I wanted something that had 100% recycled content, wasn't bleached with chlorine, and would come packaged without any plastic. I did find some good options. I first checked the NRDC's shopping guide. They have a handy-dandy list that ranks products based on the criteria that I thought was important. I went through the list to find a good option that wouldn't break the bank. I also checked reviews online about softness. While I don't need to wipe with the equivalent of a down comforter, I also didn't want something that would be uncomfortable to use. I started by buying a case of Marcal toilet paper. The price was right, it got good reviews, and it was all recycled...but I didn't realize until it showed up at my doorstep that although each individual roll is wrapped in paper, the whole lot is shrink wrapped in plastic. Hmmm. The toilet paper itself worked just fine and was really no different than what we had been using before, but when it finally ran out (just shy of a year later) I knew I had to find something else. Because of Beth Terry's research over at Fake Plastic Fish, I knew that Seventh Generation toilet paper came plastic free, so that's what I ordered next and what we're currently using. I went through a similar process with facial tissue.

A helpful sidenote about this process: Amazon.com has instituted two things that have made this whole thing a lot easier. The first is their Subscribe and Save program. If you commit to having eligible products automatically billed and shipped to you in predetermined increments of time (every 3 months, 6 months, etc.) you save 15% off the price plus you get free shipping. This really put me over the edge for making this switch. With the added discount and the free shipping, my toilet paper and tissues ended up being cheaper than what I would pay for them in the store. The second is Frustration Free Packaging, which is relatively new and I think is very exciting. Essentially, Amazon works directly with the manufacturer to ensure that the products you buy have as little packaging as possible. It's one way to know that you're not getting unnecessary and unwanted plastic without doing all the legwork yourself.

Okay, now back to my original point. While this journey was really good for me to educate myself about the products I use, the fact remained that I was still using single-use products. Even if I wasn't using very many of them, I was still using a tissue once and then throwing it away. So, I did what I should have done in the first place (and saved myself a bunch of time and hassle) and just switched to cloth. I still use towels to clean up messes and spills, as I had been doing before. I filled a basket with a stack of cloth napkins (all thrifted or gifts from relative's basements), and I removed the paper facial tissues from my bathroom and only use cloth handkerchiefs. Toilet paper is the only single-use paper product that we use now. I've contemplated using family cloths, but Steve would never ever go for it and I would still feel compelled to keep toilet paper on hand for use by guests.

So, how is this change working out for me? Wonderfully! Not only do I feel better because I'm using fewer resources and producing less trash, I'm also saving money. But, in all honesty, even if I wasn't getting all those benefits, I think I'd still prefer cloth. It's just so much softer and gentler on my skin. Plus I get to use all these wonderful vintage linens that would just sit in a drawer otherwise. My goals for the future are to continue doing what I'm doing, but to give family cloths a try, even if I'm the only one using them.

How about you? Have you ditched disposable paper products? How's it working out?

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