Green Paper Products: Eco-Friendly Paper Towels, Napkins, and More

Household paper products are problematic for environmentalists. While convenient and disposable, nothing about them is compatible with conservation. They just create waste. Even more eco-friendly and “green” paper products still use energy and resources in their manufacturing and most eventually end up in a landfill.

Green Paper Products
CC flickr photo courtesy of NatalieMaynor

If this is something that concerns you, you’re not alone. Here’s our quick guide to making sound decisions for our planet, while not having to break out the fine china for a barbecue or your child’s birthday party. In a nutshell:

  • Use reusable products for everyday use
  • Choose eco-friendly disposable products for the occasional large group

Paper Towels

Paper towels have some good reusable alternatives. For spills, try any sponges or cloth kitchen towels. Sponge mops are also handy for larger spills. Also, if you have a squeegee, you could “sweep” your spill into a dustpan and pour it down the drain. This method will only work for flat, non-porous surfaces. Recycled paper towels are a better disposable option, but like we mentioned previously, you do have to throw them away. Here’s a good review of recycled paper towels from Grist.org.

Napkins

A good store of cloth napkins that can be reused will work wonders. Buy them at a second-hand shop for even more eco-friendliness. You do have to wash them, but the slight inconvenience to you is great for our planet. Launder in cold water to avoid setting protein stains. The second-best option is recycled paper napkins and, again, Grist.org has a good review of the various brands. Check out Reuseit.com for lots of great reusable options for napkins, paper towels and more — you can sort products by the disposable item you are trying to replace.

Toilet Paper

Reusable toilet paper is not as soft as the non-recycled kind, but it’s not bad. And yes, our friends at Grist.org, have reviewed them, too. Recycled toilet paper is cool to use, but maybe, just maybe you’d consider a bidet. A bidet is widely-used in France and other European countries, and it cuts down significantly on toilet paper use. There are now bidet attachments that can be added to your existing toilet.

Paper Plates and Cups

For everyday home use, reusable (ceramic, glass, metal) plates and cups are the way to go. Doing the dishes after a big party can be a hassle, but one unbelievably simple solution is asking your guests to help. Friends are usually glad to help — after all, they just enjoyed a great meal. If you don’t have enough reusable dinnerware, try recycled or compostable plates and cups. But be wary of the “compostable” label though, as definitions vary. The Biodegradable Products Institute certifies compostable products, but for municipal composting, not in the backyard. Check out FindaComposter.com to see if there is a composting facility near you.

We also want to say that using reusable materials only beats out disposable recycled products when the reusables are used frequently. This is because you have to look at the total lifecycle of each product. There is significant energy and resources used in the manufacture of reusable goods and the only way that these are outweighed is through frequent and long-term use. So don’t go and buy a set of china just for a party you host once a year. In that situation, recycled disposables are the way to go.

Happy entertaining, everyone.