July 9, 2011

How I overcame addiction.

photo: Ev0luti0nary

I hate to admit it, but…

I was once a paper towel junkie. I blame it on genetics. My mom’s side of the family. A kitchen without paper towels? Impossible! And the paper towel holder? A must-have appliance… for who could live without the ability to unwind just the right number of squares with one hand while stirring the pot with the other? And the instant gratification of a spill—here one second, soaked up and tossed with ease into the garbage the next, as if it never even happened?

Photo: Jeffrey Scott

As I grew older and wiser, I became more and more conscious of my impact on the environment. It didn’t take an intervention to get me off of paper towels, just the knowledge that ancient and endangered forests are being destroyed to make paper towels (not to mention tissue paper, napkins and other disposable paper products). Plus this statistic from the National Resources Defense Council:

If every household in the US replaced just one roll of virgin fiber paper towels (70 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 544,000 trees.

But how does one live without paper towels, you may wonder. It’s a challenge. Especially if you grew up, like I did, with an endless supply of paper towels and just as many uses for them. But, with a little support, it can be done.

Here’s how I did it.

I started to keep a couple of rags under the sink to clean up floor spills; another rag (in a different color) for counter messes. While in transition, I still had a regular sponge, but added microfiber cloths for windows, mirrors, and our stainless steel appliances. I also love PeopleTowels for a splash of fun—they’re reusable, washable and similar to paper towels in absorbency. There were a few training issues when it came time for my husband to make the leap and, yes, I dabbled in paper towels here and there, just to get rid of the supply. But once I dropped that last paper towel into the garbage, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment. I retired the paper towel holder to a spot under the kitchen sink… way in the back. I thought about donating this stylish contraption, but wouldn’t that make me an enabler?

It was a little strained the first time my mom––a paper towel addict in denial––came over and my son spilled some ketchup on the floor. She began searching high and low, becoming more and more desperate––out of breath as she flung open the last few cabinet doors. “Are you out of paper towels?!” she demanded, sweat forming on her upper lip.

That’s when my son blurted out, “We don’t use paper towels, Grandma! They kill trees!”

Stunned silence. My mom caught my dad’s eye with raised eyebrow. Then she looked at me. It was the same look she gave me when I was in my microwaving-could-be-dangerous phase (I do limit my microwaving–a tough habit to break). But I had hard facts this time. Hard facts from a reputable source. It was my decision and I stood my ground. No more paper towels.

Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town. ~ George Carlin

All of us may need a paper towel now and then. Especially all of you moms and pet owners out there. But to eliminate them from every day use is a giant, admirable step in the right direction. An easy way to count for the earth.

*** Originally posted on the I Count for myEARTH blog.

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