3 easy ways to reduce the amount of paper we use every day – terra20
3 easy ways to reduce the amount of paper we use every day

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By Andrea Tomkins

Everyone knows the three R’s by now, right? We know it’s smart to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle but sometimes it seems that more attention is given to the last two R’s. One could argue that the first R – to reduce – is the most important one. We talk a lot about reducing plastic, which is understandable considering its environmental impact, but I propose that reducing the amount of paper we use every day is just as important. Wood pulp may be a renewable resource but it takes a lot of other resources – water, hydro, chemicals – to make paper, especially in the amounts we use it.

To that effect, I am proposing three ways to reduce the amount of paper we use at home every day!

Be mindful of a paper towel use

Although this article in Atlantic Magazine quotes US stats about skyrocketing paper towel use, one can assume that Canadians share similar habits. It’s worth noting that  “...global spending on paper towels for use at home (but not in office or public bathrooms) added up to about $12 billion in 2017, and Americans accounted for about $5.7 billion of that total. In other words, the U.S. spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined.”

A few years ago we did away with paper towels and never looked back. We started by (a) moving the paper towel holder from the kitchen counter to the basement and (b) putting a bunch of old rags and cleaning cloths under the kitchen sink. Suddenly, we were no longer able to grab a length of paper towel to wipe up kitchen spills but had to reach for a dishcloth or sponge instead. The habit was broken in no time flat.

The paper towel roll in the basement is reserved for summer camping trips and serious emergencies (which are almost entirely dog-related) but we quickly found out that everything else can easily be cleaned up with rags, sponges, mops, or cleaning cloths. After all, it’s what grandma did! Our dishcloths are run through the dishwasher between laundry cycles and sponges are used until they fall apart.  

One of the best items in my arsenal for cleaning mirrors and glass is the e-cloth Window Cleaning Cloth. I also have one for granite countertops and it the only thing it leaves behind is a streak-free shine. There are cleaning cloths available for every task.

Our family probably uses one roll of paper towels a year. I’d call that a win. Think of all the money we’ve saved over the years!

Swap paper napkins for cloth

Many moons ago I was on a crafty streak and dug out a hand-me-down sewing machine to make cloth napkins. (Sadly, this is the extent of my sewing skills to this day.) I bought a couple of metres of pretty fabric and made a dozen or so mix n’ match napkins to go with our tablecloths.

Well, that passion – and patience – for crafts has since left me and so I picked up some new cloth napkins at terra20 instead. We use them for all of our meals and when they get dirty I wash them with a load of whatever laundry I happen to be doing. It’s really not that hard or time consuming, and it’s something I feel good about. That being said, my family uses paper napkins if we’re eating something sticky or saucy, like BBQ ribs, and when we’re done with them they go into the compost bin.

Related to this, I know there are people out there who use handkerchiefs on a regular basis, but I am honestly not quite there yet. It is interesting to note that disposable, single-use tissues weren’t originally intended for nose blowing. The material we now recognize as facial tissue was originally used in gas masks during World War I. In 1924, when there was a stockpile of the stuff that no one knew what to do with, someone had the idea to market it as a way to remove makeup. At some point someone wiped a runny nose with it, and the rest is history.  

I may still use tissues when I have the sniffles, but I no longer clean my glasses with them. It’s a small thing, but it makes me very happy that my Eye Glasses Cloth works even better than tissue ever did.

Think before you print

The WWF has some helpful advice as it pertains to paper use in the office (and at home, for that matter)! What it all boils down to is: Think before you print. Do you really need to print that handout before the meeting? Can the team review that Powerpoint deck on screen instead of stacks of paper? Double-sided printing should be the norm, and any one-sided documents can be fed back into the printer for internal use. One of my colleagues brings home tabloid-sized office paper from the recycle bin for her kids to colour on, which I think is super smart.  

Reducing paper at home and the office  is easier than you think. Saving paper isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for our wallets too!

We’d love to hear how you save paper at home. Let us know in the comments.


  • Posted On January 24, 2019 by Julie

    Great ideas! I too switched to cloth napkins. I am a sewer and have seen people make rolls of cloth towels Instead of paper towels~my next Project :) I agree 100%-the first ‘R’ is the most critical one!

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