Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going Greener - What About Cloth Napkins?

My grandma and I were talking about napkins tonight. She has decided that she'd like to start making her own from leftover fabric or possibly even old sheets. What a great idea! This got me thinking about lots of things. Imagine the amount of money and the amount of space in your rubbish bin that you could save by adopting this method. You don't have to make your own napkins like my grandma unless you want to make them. I bought mine. As long as you take care of them, they should last many years. I think I've had mine for about 4 years now. It's really no different than how you take care of your clothes. They get dirty, and you wash them. People have different reasons for wanting to go paper towel-less. I do it because it's an easy thing for me to do to reduce my consumption of resources. I also do it because it saves money. Some people choose instead to buy paper towels made with mostly recycled material. That's cool too, but I'd still rather save money by using the cloth ones, which I purchase WAY less often than paper towels.

Also, anything recycled is using additional resources to collect, break down, and recreate. Don't get me wrong here; I support recycling, but my thinking regarding recycling is that I'd rather change the way we are making things so that they can be "re-purposed" instead of recycled (Check out Cradle to Cradle - Re-Making the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart). Not many things come with that capability yet, so I do what I can to try to find some sort of balance in philosophies. I think my grandma's idea of using extra material is great. I also like the idea of using old sheets because instead of recycling (which costs), she is "re-purposing," which doesn't cost. :o)

Okay, I'm not going to go into a total breakdown of resource input versus output with all of these decisions, so let's just focus on something simple: money and number of paper towels rolls used.

I was doing some calculations tonight to see how much money a person could spend on paper towels over time. I compared prices from Costco and Wal-mart. Here is what I found out (rough estimates, but it gives you an idea):

**Let me know if you see any obvious errors in my math...I may have been typing too fast and messed up something. Also, it's sort of late, and my brain is shutting down. :o)

For a 15ct package from Costco:

  • Using 1 roll every 2 weeks you spend about $48/year or about 30 rolls
    • Over 5 years = $240 or 150 rolls
    • 15 years = $720 or 450 rolls
    • 40 years = $1,920 or 1,200 rolls
  • Using 1 roll per week you spend about $96/year or about 60 rolls per year
    • Over 5 years = $480 or 300 rolls
    • 15 years = $1,440 or 900 rolls
    • 40 years = $3,840 or 2,400 rolls

  For a 12ct package from Wal-Mart (same brand):

  • Using 1 roll every 2 weeks you spend about $50/year or 36 rolls per year (Let's assume here that you are using more rolls because, hey, you have them available since you will need to buy more packages per year with only 12 rolls in each.)
    • 5 years = $250 or 180 rolls
    • 15 years = 750 or 540 rolls
    • 40 years = $2,000 or 1,440 rolls
  • Using 1 roll every week you spend about $82/year or 60 rolls per year
    • 5 years = $410
    • 15 years = $1,230
    • 40 years = $3,280

For a 6ct package at Wal-Mart:

  • Using 1 roll every two weeks you spend about $55/year or 30 rolls per year
    • 5 years = $275
    • 15 years = $825
    • 40 years = $2200

It's funny how some of the numbers compare differently depending on how much you use, isn't it? I only looked at this from a financial and consumption of rolls point of view. If you want more information about how paper towels are made, eco-effects, or global stats about consumption of paper towels, check out the Growing a Green Family Blog post: Wait paper towels really come from trees? She does a great job of gathering and summing up information!


  1. I use a napkin for pretty much everything. How many of these reuseable napkins do you have?

    1. I have 8-10 I think, because it's just Steve and I. I know lots of people that use paper towels for everything as well. I make sure to keep hand towels everywhere and wash them regularly. I have 3 hand towels around my kitchen for convenience: one hanging on the refrigerator, one on the oven door, and one by the sink. I've also learned to designate some hand towels or wash cloths specifically for the messy stuff, because those are the ones that will be stained. :o)

  2. We need to start using reusable napkins at our place! We use tons of paper towels just now and honestly I don't think the ones we're using are that absorbent anyways (maybe since we've been using more budget-friendly brands since we left TX).

    1. I saw a website when I was researching that showed a girl testing how efficient paper towels actually are at absorbing messes and how many you have to use to clean it up. Instead of using all of those sheets, you could just use a hand towel, rinse and wring it out, then repeat. Just make sure you only choose a few to use for that or all of your hand towels will be covered in stains! You probably don't want a stained up towel hanging from your oven for all your guests to see.. hehe.

  3. I'll admit it, I have a paper towel habit. There are some jobs that are so gross that I dislike using a rag for them....grease out of the cast iron, kitty puke off the floor....

  4. Who uses a roll of paper towels every two weeks? That is a lot of paper towel!
    I like using cloth, but do not like the stains that get on them and I am not a fan of ironing. But still, thanks for the reminder. I think I will go back to using them!!

  5. Families with kids, especially if you use them in the bathroom for drying your hands, will use a lot of paper towels. I don't like the stains either, but I figure as long as Steve and I are the only ones staring at them.. who cares? I save some that I don't use for clean-up for when we have visitors. :)


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