In this post series, I am highlighting One Small Thing you can change in your daily life to decrease your consumption and waste production, and move towards a more environmentally friendly, low waste lifestyle.
These changes are focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the small switches that will not break the bank or add hours to your daily or weekly routine.
These are largely changes that used to be considered ‘the way of life’ just a few short decades ago.
Today we are talking about Cloth Napkins & Hand Towels.
I know the title looks like two things, since I mention both napkins and hand towels.
But let me explain why they are the same: they are the same.
A cloth, rather than paper, to wipe your hands with. That’s it.
The only real difference being that we call it a hand towel when it is in the bathroom and used to dry your hands after you wash them, and it is called a napkin when it is used at the dinner table or in the kitchen to wipe your face and hands.
Because we generally don’t use napkins with dinner anyways (I know, we’re animals… no we just aren’t that messy I guess) I haven’t felt the need to invest in a set of cotton dinner napkins.
But I feel that coming on someday soon, as I do love hosting dinner parties and would be more than willing to host family holidays now that we have our own home.
You can re-use cloth over and over for years before they finally break down. And once they become too stained/ripped to use with company, they can become heavy duty cleaning rags for cars, floors, bathrooms, and more.
And the best part is, once they are beyond even that functionality, 100% cotton cloths can even be composted, to totally complete the cycle and close the loop.
Let’s say that your family of 4 uses 2 napkins each per day. I assume lunch outside the house. That equals 56 napkins per week, and a total of 2912 napkins per year.
Now let’s also just pick a random number and say you can get 100 paper napkins for $1 at the dollar store. That still means you are spending a minimum of about $29 per year on paper, which is then thrown away.
That is not taking into account if you buy napkins somewhere more expensive, or in fancy colors or patterns for the holidays, or host family or friends often.
If instead you invested that $29 into a set of nice, restaurant grade cotton cloth napkins, you would most likely never have to buy napkins, ever again! You could probably save yourself over $1000 easily throughout your life, and just imagine how many trees.
We used to be die-hard lovers of paper towels.
I mean, what could be easier when you spill some sauce on the counter than grabbing a sheet or two off the roll, wiping it up, and tossing the paper towel in the trash?
There was a roll in the kitchen, on the dining table, on the coffee table, in the bedroom. You never know when you might have to deal with an errant drip of coffee, or a smushed bug, or a dog would cough up something you do not want to touch.
But this convenience comes at a cost, as we would order cases of paper towels every 3-6 months. Not to mention the cost to the environment of all that paper production, transportation, and the greenhouse gasses caused by paper products rotting in landfills.
I figure, we probably spent about $25 on paper towels every 3 months. You can buy 24 cloth hand towels for $16, and they last far longer than 3 months.
That’s a savings of $75, per year!
What I do have oodles of now is cloth hand towels.
If you take a tour of my bathrooms, you will notice towel hooks and a different color towel hanging off each one. Sometimes I even put a second backup towel folded on the counter as well.
Many of these are now several years old at this point, as they were purchased on sale throughout college or gifted to me for various birthdays and holidays.
They have cleaned up spills, flour, counter tops, tables, floors, mud, grease, soap, and much more. They have likely been through the wash at least a few dozen times by now.
And all are still perfectly sanitary, and perfectly functional. I have a minimum of one towel hanging off the stove at all times, for cleaning random spills and drying hands or dishes after washing.
When they get dirty, wet, or stained, they just go into the laundry hamper. I wash them with our weekly loads of clothing and bath towels, and have never had a problem.
Though I’m sure there is some small number of pennies spent on laundry soap, water, electricity, and time, these towels have paid for themselves many times over, and will continue to do so for years.
To summarize, why should you consider cloth napkins and hand towels?
- They are infinitely cheaper over time
- You only need to buy them once every few decades, if that
- They take far less energy to create than hundreds of paper towels
- They do not contribute to landfills every week
- You will love the soft feel of the fabric versus paper
- They are far more absorbent, for large messes
- They come in tons of colors and patterns
- You can use them to clean up after babies and animals
- They may be able to be composted at the very end of their life
What you do think, did I miss any good reasons? Do you use cloth napkins and/or towels, and why or why not?