Plastic-Free Paper Towels

Roll of white paper towels backlit by product shelving.
Photo by Michael Semensohn on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

If you read my article about toilet paper, then you’ll understand that almost all paper towels come from trees and most of its packaging is made of plastic, much like toilet paper. This plastic film is not recyclable and it is mostly unnecessary. Additionally, most paper towels use trees, water, chemicals, and electricity in their production.

Most people use paper towels for a variety of cleaning-related tasks, such as window washing, wiping surfaces, dusting, and cleaning up spills. They also use them to simply dry their hands or as napkins at mealtime. These are used mostly for convenience in our disposable culture. But our overuse of disposable paper items is contributing to climate change and our waste problem.

In America, we spend about $5.7 billion annually on paper towels. Americans “reside in the paper-towel capital of the world…the U.S. spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined…No other nation even comes close.”1 In 2013, we were using more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year, which is equal to wasting 270 million trees!2 But why do we use so many? Is it our desire for convenience, our addiction to disposability, our hyper-awareness of sanitation, or just that we can afford it? Many other nations use rags and cloths for cleaning and wiping.

“About 50,000 trees would need to be planted daily to offset the amount of paper towels thrown away every day.” -Tom Szaky, Terracycle3

Paper towel aisle at a local supermarket
Paper towel aisle at a local supermarket, photo by me.

Paper Towels are Optional

I have not completely eliminated paper towels from our home. There are certain gross things that my family wanted paper towels for, such as pet accidents (waste or vomit). You can use newspapers to clean up stuff like that if you have it around. But you will no longer be able to recycle it, you’ll have to throw it away. (Newspaper is also good for cleaning up dog poop while walking, instead of putting it in little plastic bags.)

We switched to cloth rags, wipes, and washcloths many years ago, eliminating our need for paper towels by about 77% (we went from approximately one roll per week to one per month or so). We buy fewer paper towels, and we now buy ones that are environmentally friendly (see below).

Alternatives to Paper Towels

Cloth towels, or "unpaper towels," substitute for paper towels, colorful fabric on a roll.
Made and photographed by CatEyedKP on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

You do not need to spend a bunch of money on replacements for paper towels! You can use almost any type of cloth:

        • old or second-hand washcloths
        • old or second-hand towels
        • old clothing that isn’t good enough to donate
        • newspaper
        • cloth napkins for meals

I’ve used all of these. I turned stained or torn washcloths into cleaning cloths. I’ve bought old washcloths at yard sales. I’ve cut up old towels of my own or that I bought at the thrift store down to the size I wanted and hemmed the edges. And I’ve used old shirts that weren’t good enough to donate and cut those into cleaning cloths. This is a great way to upcycle old clothing. If you can’t sew or don’t have a sewing machine, don’t fret, you can use them as is. Hemming just prevents the edges from fraying. You can use fabric glues, available at the craft store, but I don’t know what chemicals or toxins those contain.

There are many DIY instructions on how to make cleaning cloths and ‘unpaper towels’ online.

There are also alternatives you can purchase such as reusable Swedish Dishcloths from the Package Free Shop. Their website says that one of these cloths is equal to 17 rolls of paper towels. They are machine washable and backyard compostable. I have not personally tried these so I cannot recommend them, but I think I might! I will, of course, update this article if I do.

You can make or purchase cloth napkins, just try to use or find 100% cotton.  We’ve been using cloth napkins for many years and have saved many trees this way! It does require water and electricity to wash them, but it is less than using new paper products from trees. And cloth napkins are plastic-free!

Silverware set on top of a burgundy cloth napkin.
Image by Alexander Lesnitsky from Pixabay.

Plastic-Free & Forest-Friendly Paper Towels

Two rolls of white paper towels with white background.
Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

If you want to reduce your paper towel usage but still purchase some for icky jobs, buy plastic-free and forest-free paper towels. The company I prefer is called ‘Who Gives A Crap’ and they sell paper towels (and toilet paper) made from renewable sources, they do not package their merchandise in plastic, nor do their products contain inks or dyes.

Their paper towels are made from a blend of bamboo and sugarcane bagasse. As the company’s website explains, “Bagasse is a byproduct of sugarcane processing and is considered to be ‘waste’. Rather than burning or burying the bagasse (which is often the case), we’ve chosen to upcycle it into our paper towels. Upcycling for the win!”4 They are slightly shorter than traditional rolls. They were intentionally designed this way in order to ship more efficiently. 

I’ve been using Who Gives A Crap toilet paper and paper towels for more than 4 years and I’m extremely happy with the company’s products. While they are not quite as absorbent as brands like Bounty, I use old towels for spills anyway. But they are durable and do a good job overall. Even more exciting, you can use their wrappers for Christmas gift wrapping. Read my article about DIY zero-waste Christmas gift wrapping.

Please note: this is an honest review; I do not receive any promotional items or money for writing about them.

Who Gives a Crap paper towel rolls in box.
Who Gives a Crap paper towels in box. Photo by me.

Make The Switch!

Whether you decide to switch to reusable cloths or rags, or switch to bamboo paper towels, you’ll be making a difference on multiple levels. You’ll reduce waste, protects trees, eliminate toxins, and maybe conserve water. Congratulations! Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!
This article does not contain any affiliate links nor do I receive compensation to promote these products.

 

Footnotes:

DIY & Zero Waste Gift Wrapping (for All Occasions!)

Last updated on January 16, 2021.

Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Americans spend an estimated 3 to 7 billion dollars annually on wrapping paper. We buy wrapping paper, something we are intentionally going to throw away. We are paying for stuff that’s going to go into the trash!

Maybe it’s time we reallocated those funds.

Wrapping paper and gift wrap often come wrapped itself in plastic film, which is not recyclable. We use the paper once to wrap gifts and then we throw it away. Some wrapping paper has a plastic coating, making it non-recyclable. On top of that, the plastic tape we use on gifts makes the paper unrecyclable (because of “contamination”) in most municipalities.

What can you do?

There are so many things you can do to make a difference in the amount of waste we produce, and often even save money. Here are just a few ideas:

      • Use the alternative methods in this post for gift wrapping.
      • Reduce the overall number of gifts you give – think minimalism!
      • Gift e-gifts! Think ebooks, e-audiobooks, music: gift subscriptions to Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Spotify, a video game, or any other similar online subscription.
      • Gifts for experiences – tickets to the movies, theater, ballet, climbing gym, museums, or the spa! What would the person you’re gifting really like?
      • See my Black Friday post for additional ideas.

There are so many alternatives! But first things first…

Let’s talk about tape

Stop buying “Scotch” or plastic tape. I know this seems crazy, but if you want to reduce waste and plastic pollution, plastic tape has got to go. I recommend gummed paper tape, which I first learned about from the blog, My Plastic Free Life. The tape is water-activated and is super sticky with just a tiny amount of moisture. I cut out small strips of the paper tape, apply a tiny bit of water with a paintbrush and let it get gummy, and then apply the tape.

Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush
Supplies: Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush.
Cut strips of paper tape
Cut out strips of paper tape.
Paintbrush to brush water on paper tape
Use the paintbrush to brush on a tiny amount of water. You don’t need much to make it adhere.

It’s not the most attractive tape, but if the gift wrap is going to be trashed or recycled after the gift is opened, who cares? People you are giving gifts to probably know you well enough to understand that you’re an eco-warrior. Be proud. And if you are worried about it, you could decorate the tape.

This is the paper tape* I use, but you can find it at local office supply stores and on Amazon. Just steer clear of the types that are “reinforced” because they contain fiberglass filaments, which are plastic fibers. This defeats the purpose of using paper tape to be eco-friendly.

Use up gift wrap that’s already in your house

If you’ve got wrapping paper you’ve already purchased, please use that up and don’t waste it. You can glue small scraps together to make a larger piece in order to waste even less.

Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece. This one used leftover plastic ribbon and a leftover store-bought gift tag. I have used these up and no longer purchase plastic ribbon or gift tags.

Eliminate plastic bows and ribbon

Bows sold at regular stores are usually made of plastic. Even if you reuse them for several years, they eventually must be thrown away. Stop buying these and look for alternatives online or make your own. Cycle out the plastic ribbon in your home as well, switch to a cloth (not polyester, because that’s plastic too) ribbon, or just use pretty string or twine. You can also make some out of fabric or old t-shirts! Ideas abound online!

Silver and blue gift bows.
Plastic bows: pretty but bad for the environment. Photo by DiEtte Henderson on Unsplash

Eliminate store-bought gift tags

Gift tags are often stickers or plastic-coated paper, and sometimes have a plastic band or ribbon to attach it with. You can make your own tags out of regular paper or leftover gift wrap which can be recycled.

You can also write directly on the gift with a marker. This is what I’ve switched to most recently, and it actually saves me time and work. Here’s one I did recently, using leftover wrapping paper and a plastic bow that I’ve been reusing for several years (I haven’t cycled all of those out yet):

Gift with handwriting on the paper in place of a gift tag, with a red bow.

Gift bags

Gift bags are often plastic-coated paper, so I don’t recommend buying these. They are reusable, but they do have an end life and aren’t recyclable. Cycle these out and don’t purchase more.

Switch to uncoated paper gift bags. If they are plain, you can decorate them! In fact, one zero-waster recommended using regular shopping bags and decorating it by placing a used greeting card over the logo but you could glue any pretty picture over it, from an old magazine or calendar. You could also place a photograph over the logo and let that be part of the gift (grandparents would love a photo of their grandchildren, for example).

Alternatives to buying wrapping paper

Furoshiki (Fabric)

Two furoshiki wrapped gifts
Image by Weekend Knitter on Flickr. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Furoshiki, a Japanese tradition of wrapping items in cloth for carrying and gift-giving. Often the fabric is meant to be reused for other purposes. This is an eco-friendly and gorgeous way to wrap gifts and it’s the one I primarily use now. I love pretty fabrics, and even though I’m striving for minimalism, I always have a box or two of fabric in the house. What a beautiful way to give gifts! Here are three I’ve done:

Fabric wrapped gift, pink satin

Fabric wrapped gift, red leopard print

Fabric wrapping is also good for odd-shaped or sized items, such as this one:

Tube shaped gift in fabric, red leopard print

It’s easy to learn but it does take practice. I’ve linked a few other helpful resources below under Additional Resources. You can buy fabric remnants at fabric and craft stores for small pieces. Some companies offer unique innovations related to fabric wrapping. For example, Lush Cosmetics sells Knot-Wraps, their version of Furoshiki but they are meant to be used again as a scarf or tote – so it’s like giving two gifts. They are made of either organic cotton or two recycled plastic bottles, and the wraps are gorgeous!

Homemade wrapping paper

I’ve made wrapping paper from many different things! This takes some time but it’s easy and allows for creativity.

Magazines:

This is one of my favorite ways to upcycle old magazines! I glued random magazine pages together to make large sheets. After wrapping, I let my son decorate the package. Please note, this is also before I switched to the paper tape, so you’ll see Scotch tape on the gift as well as a plastic bow I reused:

I collected a few old art magazines to make wrapping paper. The next two images show one of the large sheets I made, and the images below those show wrapped packages using that paper.

The brown paper tape is hardly noticeable on these packages.

Another publication I used was High Five magazine, a popular children’s magazine. We had several years’ worth so I just grabbed one older edition and tore out the colorful pages. You can see in the following images how I glued individual pages together until I had one large sheet:

Here’s a gift I wrapped:

Child art:

This is another favorite, especially for gifts to family members. You can glue pieces of child art together and make a large sheet, just like you would with magazine pages. It makes this wrapping paper truly one-of-a-kind! Grandparents will be delighted with original pieces of artwork wrapped around the gift you’ve chosen for them.

You can even just use one coloring book page to wrap small gifts. Here’s one I wrapped last Christmas with a single sheet (but with plastic ribbon and a gift tag I still had leftover):

Reclaimed books:

You can use pages from old books to make wrapping paper – children’s books, photography books, or just plain pages of text from books. You can find cheap books at any thrift or second-hand store. Many used bookstores, such as McKay’s here in Tennessee, have a “free” bin of unwanted books. These are items that were not accepted by the store but that people did not want back. I have not personally tried this method but think it would be really cool. What a great way to honor these books and upcycle!

books on table
Photo by Min An from Pexels

Toilet paper wrap:

Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap
Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap

You can use the decorative paper from toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap toilet paperhis eco-friendly company makes recycled and bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of their profits to help build toilets in places where there are none. I’ve been using this toilet paper since writing my post about toilet paper in 2018. The paper wrappers on these rolls can be used as gift wrap and the company even makes a special holiday edition.

This has become a regular method in my home. You can place stickers or pretty pictures over the logo if you want to cover it up. Here are images of the large sheet of wrapping paper I made and the wrapped gift:

Newspapers or Brown paper

Newspapers or Comics:

You can use the old-fashioned method of using newspapers. This is what many of our grandparents did.

Brown paper:

Cut brown paper from grocery store paper bags or leftover builder’s paper into the size you need and wrap away! Once you’re done, you can color it or paint it with your favorite medium. You can ask your child to help too!

Thank you for reading!

I hope this helps you reduce waste year-round! If you have other ideas about DIY wrapping paper or reducing gift wrapping waste, please leave me a comment below – and don’t forget to subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Furoshiki: Japanese Gift Wrapping,” Marie Kondo (KonMari), accessed January 16, 2021.

Article, “How to: Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping),” One Million Women, December 22, 2015.

Article, “Think Outside the (Gift)box: 3 Ways to Wrap Gifts With Fabric,” Craftsy.com, accessed December 23, 2020.

Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki - The Japanese Art of Wrapping book coverBook, Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki – The Japanese Art of Wrapping, by Etsuko Yamada, 2014.

 

 

 

 

All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise credited.
* This is the only affiliate link in this post. Earnings help support the costs of running this blog.

Footnotes:

Recycling: TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box

Last updated on February 1, 2024.

TerraCycle toy waste boxes, 3 sizes, with outset circle showing a rubber duck, legos, toy cars, and other toys.

For Christmas, I asked for a TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. They’re almost $100, so I didn’t expect that I’d actually get one, but I did (and thank you)!

I was super excited because in 2017 I’d signed up for a free broken toy recycling program through TerraCycle, sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. I sent what I had but for the next full year, I saved every broken toy I found. I asked friends to give me their broken toys too. However, Tom’s of Maine stopped sponsoring this program in 2018. I emailed them to ask why, and they responded that they had “decided not to re-run this promotion” with no further details.

I was disappointed. By then I had a huge box of broken toys, and I continued to add to the box, refusing to throw them in a landfill. So I added the TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box to my Christmas list.

Large brown cardboard box of broken toys. I collected and save broken toys for about 20 months.
I collected and saved broken toys for almost 2 years. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Broken toy contents.
Broken toy contents. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Damaged green, plastic baseball bat.
We had tried to extend the life of this plastic baseball bat by duct-taping it. But it was time to let it go. We got this before we understood how acutely broken plastic toys contribute to the waste crisis and ocean pollution. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Receiving my box

The box arrived in a large plastic wrap, which I was able to repurpose as a garbage bag (I stopped buying garbage bags in 2018). This is what the TerraCycle box looks like unassembled:

TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box, flat on a hardwood floor.
TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Since the box is meant to be placed in an area for collection, such as at an office or a daycare center, it is equipped with handles on the sides, perforations at the top to drop items in, and a plastic bag inside.

I removed the plastic bag because it was preventing me from being able to fit everything (and I did repurpose that bag as well). I asked my husband, who is a master at packing, to assist because I was having trouble fitting everything, including that plastic green bat. We were able to fit 95% of it.

My husband helping me pack the box, sitting on the floor with toys and two boxes.
My husband helped me pack the box. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Full TerraCycle box with colorful plastic toys at the top.
We managed to get 95% of it in the box! Photo by Marie Cullis.

The few items that didn’t fit I placed in a bin in my garage, marked “Plastic Recycling.” It contains plastic items that are not normally recyclable. I plan to save up for an All-In-One Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle.

Ready to ship

The whole process was easy, including shipment. The purchase of the box includes the cost of shipping and comes with the label already on it. So I dropped it off at FedEx! It felt good to ship those items off after having collected and saved them for so long.

Thoughts on TerraCycle

I admire this company, its mission, and its founder. I like that they take non-recyclable items and make them into cool, useful, new products. I am grateful that they are creating great, visionary, and intelligent solutions!

While TerraCycle is only a small percentage of recycling options, you can purchase zero-waste boxes on their website. There are many types and sizes available. It is costly, but sometimes we have to pay now or pay environmentally later. Remember, we can all be the change in small ways.

You can also participate in their free programs by signing up through their website. I’ve participated in several of the free programs including contact lens product recycling; Brita filter recycling; and oral care products recycling. I had to save those things up for a long time, but I have a designated shelf in my garage for such items. I label bins with the name of the recycling or donation program. You can make a designated space too!

Image of my designated shelf for recycling items - white metal open shelves with bins and boxes and cans with labels on them.
My designated “transient” shelf in the garage. I collect items I can recycle or donate locally until I have enough to take or ship. In this image, there are a few unlabeled bins but they are all in use now. I’ve added a place for thrift store donations, the used book store, and a couple of TerraCycle programs. Photo by Marie Cullis.

But recycling is not the answer

It helps, sure, but Refusing certain products made of plastic and/or sold in plastic packaging is the key. We all must refuse these items, reduce the use of what we cannot refuse, and then recycle. So recycling should be the third option.

Only 9% of our plastics are actually recycled! That means 91% of our plastics are NOT recycled.

I love TerraCycle because it is a step in the right direction. However, using their programs does not discourage consumers from buying plastic products. In turn, it does not send the message to the corporations that they need to alter their plastic production and packaging.

So keep trying to REFUSE. Use TerraCycle and similar programs when you can’t refuse.

Landscape with rolling hills and mountains, a pond, green grass, and blue sky with white clouds. Wild flowers in foreground.
Earth is beautiful. Let’s keep it that way, image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

I hope this was informative and I would love to hear about your experiences with TerraCycle recycling, or how you’ve stopped buying certain plastic items. Thanks for reading!

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor was I paid to review TerraCycle products.

Product Review: Osom Brand Socks made from Recycled Textiles

Last updated on January 3, 2024.

Array of Osom socks with packaging, blue hues.

What if I told you that you could buy upcycled socks, made from recycled textiles? Osom brand sells socks and other apparel that is made of up to 95% upcycled textiles. The company uses “high quality, upcycled yarns from discarded garments, reducing textile waste from going to landfill and the need for virgin fibers.” They use zero water or dyes in the process of making their yarns.1

By making high-quality upcycled clothing we are closing the loop in the fashion industry, the second largest polluting industry on the planet. -Osom Brand2

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review this product, nor does this post contain any affiliate links.

Good socks

I first heard about these when Osom Brand launched its Kickstarter in January 2017. By late 2018, they had an online store. I asked for these as a Christmas gift, and I was thrilled to receive them!

Images of Osom Cetus socks. Photo by me.
I love the subtitle, “Wear the Change.” Photo by Marie Cullis.
My Osom socks with whales design. Photo by me.
My Osom socks with whale design. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Overall, I am very pleased with these and I plan to order more. I’ll review the different aspects of these socks in a moment. But first, check out this video about the founder and company’s process:

Comfort

These are quite comfortable and they do not slip down as some socks do. I’ve seen one or two complaints about the elasticity of these socks since they are one size fits all (in a size range). Indeed they are not very stretchy compared to other socks. For me, once they are on, this is not an issue.

Price point

These socks cost between $16.00 and $18.00 per pair. While that cost is average, it may seem high compared to other socks made from new materials. But the cost to the environment is low.

Environmental impact

The company asserts that its process is waterless. It takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce a conventional cotton t-shirt, and that does not include the water it takes to grow the cotton. That’s enough water for one human to drink for 2 and a half years!3

Osom Brand does not use dyes or harsh chemicals, which prevents water pollution because there is no toxic waste being poured into drains or pumped into rivers. This process also reduces the use of pesticides, which harm the environment and pollute our waters.

Buying recycled textile products reduces textile waste. I’ll explain more about this below.

Materials

The materials are not 100% plastic-free. They are up to 95% upcycled textiles combined with small percentages of spandex and nylon (spandex and nylon are both plastic fabrics). The trademarked name of their fiber blended yarn is OSOMTEX and it changes based on consumer demand and textile availability.

However, the company is not claiming their yarns to be plastic or polyester-free. Their goals are to promote a circular economy in the textile industry. “At OSOMTEX®, we repurpose millions of pounds of discarded post-consumer and post-industrial textile waste directly from brands and supply chain waste streams to create high-quality upcycled yarns and fabrics.”4 Repurposing is a great way to support environmental and human health.

Packaging

The socks arrived almost plastic-free, except for the little black plastic holder at the top. I plan to write an email to the company to request they stop using the plastic holder.

Plastic hold from the socks. Photo by me.
Plastic holder from the socks. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Why is this a big deal?

We. Waste. Clothes.

In the United States, we throw millions of pounds of textiles into landfills per year – about 81 pounds per person! That does not include the heaps of clothing we donate, consign, or give away to friends and family.

In the United States “fast fashion” refers to our quick cycle of fashion trends changing. So we want cheap clothing. In turn, this means it is usually made cheaply and quickly. That same clothing wears out fast from wear and the harsh chemicals from fabric softeners and laundry detergents. Then we discard last season’s items as quickly as we can to “keep up” with the current styles. This cycle allows us to consume and shop more.

Clothing rack. Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.
Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.

We can do better!

What if we decided to buy less clothing that is higher quality? Or buy most of our clothing second-hand? Clothing that is more timeless or classic, instead of keeping up with fashion trends? This is an area where we all have great power to generate great change.

It takes a ton of energy and insane amounts of water to generate all of that new fashion.

Why buy recycled textiles?

I know some will say that only 100% natural, organic textiles are the answer, and I don’t disagree. There are problems with plastic microfibers reaching our oceans from just washing those fabrics in the washing machine. But with all that we waste, why not support visionary concepts like this?

There are many things we can do to make a difference.

I think that there is never just one answer or one solution to any environmental or social problem. Let’s all do what we can to be the change. We can buy less brand new clothing. Or purchase less clothing in general and snub “fast fashion.” We can buy clothing secondhand, or buy upcycled products like Osom socks. We can switch to a capsule wardrobe like Project 333.

Whatever you choose to do, just by starting today, will make a difference. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

Footnotes: