Green TP is a No-Go

At some point during the night my husband set a roll of Marcal toilet paper on the closed lid of my laptop. I noticed it when I woke up at 6 a.m. I walked past my office, looked left and there is was; his thick &soft, 2-ply, 80% more sheets per roll line in the sand.

I have to say, up until that moment he’d been very supportive, not only of my blog, which he proofreads and says he likes, but also about my one-corner-of-one-room-at-one-time approach to making our lives greener. (I suppose he’s grateful I’m not doing it all at once.) He’s gotten into the habit of saying no to single-use plastic shopping bags, just like I have.  And, we now recycle everything our Waste Management Facility accepts; like IMG_1425plastic film packaging, cardboard-type material, whether its a brown box from Amazon, cereal box,  or TP and paper towel roll, as well as mail and office paper. He’s even made a handy rack for all our recycling bins that we keep in the garage. We now have eight.

But I guess for him at least, when it comes to going green, some things are off limits. That TP on my laptop was a loud and clear message to leave his Charmin alone!

The problem for me is that when I researched to find out whether Bounty was safe for the environment, I learned that Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes it, is doing things that harm our planet; like deforesting woodlands in Canada,  producing more carbon emissions and other harmful bi-products than it needs to, and using bleaching agents and chemicals that pollute our water ways. So, I decided then that if I knew a company was not taking steps to reduce its impact on Mother Earth, I’d avoid buying the stuff it puts out. P&G makes Bounty and Charmin.

So I now have to find a brand of TP that’s eco-friendly, cost friendly, AND soft. Luckily, the National Resource Defense Committee,  has a great list of planet-safe toilet paper brands. Unluckily, in researching some of these brands, I’ll be hard pressed to find one as GirlyGoingAwayPartysoft as Charmin. To make matters worse, I read in the Huffington Post that many brands of recycled toilet paper contain Bisphanal-A, or BPA; a chemical associated with health risks. (Thank you Huffington Post for adding to my parade of worries.)

How did BPA get into recycled toilet paper, you ask. If the reclaimed paper used by paper mills comes from cash register receipts and newspapers it’s likely contaminated with BPA. One BPA-free alternative  bathtissue_EMERALDis to use a TP not made from trees, like Emerald Bath Tissue, made from sugar cain. At almost 30 bucks for 15 rolls with shipping, I’m thinking that’s not the choice for us, however!

I read somewhere that Marcal does not use newspapers in it’s manufacturing. But it also doesn’t say BPA-free on its packaging. Does that mean it’s not BPA-free? I would think if it was, Soundview Paper Company, the manufacturer, would market it that way. But my odds are stacked against avoiding BPA anyway. According to the HP article most public restrooms use TP made from recycled content that is likely not BPA-free. BPA is probably a sealant in the cans of diced tomatoes we use weekly, too. So, does it matter if the toilet paper we use at home contains it? I’m not sure. I just know that I don’t feel right about buying Charmin anymore.

 

Paper Towels Made from 100% Recycled Materials and Cleaning Cloths; Our new normal

I walked through the backdoor of our home feeling so happy. Up until earlier that day, I thought I’d have to order IMG_1145the eco-friendly brand of paper towels I wanted to try on-line, then wait for Amazon to deliver, before getting to see how well they worked. But when I went to Price Chopper that afternoon, my new brand was right there, in the aisle for paper products.

It was as if I’d won a prize!

I arrived home with a pack of eight, removed a full roll of Bounty from the paper towel holder in our kitchen, and replaced it with the new brand, (which is a lot thinner, as it turns out.)

It was around that time when I heard my husband’s office door open.

slow cookerthanksgiving turkey-3

His footsteps echoed up the tile floor in the rear hallway. He turned the corner to the front of the house and came into view, stopping in the laundry room, squinting into the kitchen. Despite the dim lighting where he stood, I could see his face clearly. Judging from the way he eyed the open pack of towels on the counter and then turned to me, I was in trouble. I reached back and hid the towels behind me, then greeted him with a smile.

“Why’d you buy paper towels?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” I knew exactly what. “They’re Marcal.”

From his confused expression, this meant nothing.

“I’m blogging about that brand next week. Remember?”

He pointed left, to the closed pantry door opposite our front loaders. “We have sixteen rolls of Bounty in there.”

Now it was my turn to squint.

He paced through the doorway into the sun-lit kitchen, folding his arms across his chest as he approached. “We have to use them up.”

“We will.”

“Not at the rate we’re using paper towels these days.”

“I know! We’re doing great!”

IMG_0863It seemed my celebratory tone only made him more afraid over what would become of those 16 rolls. But it was true! We’d had the same one hanging in51AZcTSL0LL._AC_US160_ our kitchen for over a week and had hardly used it. The reason: I switched to bamboo cleaning cloths for wiping around my counter instead, and we’ve put a system place for what we do with them from start to finish!

THE SYSTEM

IMG_1183I keep my supply of clean cloths in a drawer. From there, I hang a new one on the stove handle every day. The stove is in the center of our kitchen and a convenient place to station IMG_1182a cloth for when I need to wipe around. It’s just as easy to reach there as it is to reach for a paper towel. Then, at the end of the day, or when the cloth gets even the slightest bit yucky, I toss it into a small trash can that I’d repurposed as a  cleaning- IMG_1264cloth  laundry bin.

If the cloth is damp, I’ll hang it on the side of the bin until it dries, to prevent a musty smell.  Whenever I get close to running out of cloths, I wash the contents of the bin in hot water, soap, and bleach, to kill off any bacteria. It can take weeks before we run through our supply, though. When I’d purchased the bamboo cloths I bought three boxes, not realizing that each contained three packs of three.  I now have 27, 7×8 inch cleaning cloths on hand.

My husband and I have also become more aware of it when we reach for a paper towel, and we’ve been finding ways to avoid it. Now that we have a system in place for our main alternative, that’s become much easier!

“Of course, we’ll use them,” I said. “Why wouldn’t we? But you know, Marcal paper towels are less than half the price of Bounty and they’re eco-friendlier.” (Although, I’ll admit, they’re not nearly as soft or absorbent.)

Marcal started using recycled paper to make their products in the 1940’s, way ahead of when being green was a thing. Back then, it made economic sense. Now Marcal is a division of the green Soundview Paper Company.

Studies have shown that paper mills that use recycled material for their products, consume fewer trees and use less water and power, than companies, like Proctor and Gamble, that chop down virgin forests to make stuff. IMG_1103

“You know what else is great?” I said. “Marcal makes napkins and toilet paper, too.”

Whatever the thought was that crossed my husband’s mind at that moment, it came out as a left side chin twitch at first. He leaned back against the counter, covering his face while he groaned, and then said through his hands, “If you decide to change our toilet paper just give me fair warning.”

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Paper Towels and the Degrees of Going Green

I asked my Facebook friends what they thought about going paper towel-less. Not surprising, many already had. They came up with some great alternatives for me to use when wiping around in my kitchen. (Thank you friends!)

THE WEDDING OF-3

 

GREENEST: GOING PAPER TOWEL-LESS

Cloth rags

One of the oldest alternatives to paper towels is what people had used before paper towels were first mass-produced in the 1930’s. They used cloth rags for cleaning! One of my FB friends cuts up old t-shirts and towels for that purpose. She keeps them conveniently located in a drawer in her kitchen. Another friend repurposes old cloth napkins for wiping around.

There are also packs of cleaning cloths available on the Web51AZcTSL0LL._AC_US160_ that can be purchased in different colors; so that bathroom cleaning rags don’t get confused with say, kitchen cleaning rags. e84b3a_727804c360424af381a70a3f2e8f0d8fSomeone also posted this nifty idea to my FB page. They’re cleaning cloths that can fit on a paper towel dispenser! How cool is that! http://www.theunpapertowel.com

But, as another friend pointed out, going with cleaning cloths instead of paper towels might not be as green as one would think. The problem is, those rags have to be washed in hot water and bleach to prevent bacteria from growing on them. If everyone all over the world were to do that, all that water and energy used could counter the benefits of going paper towel-less.

Sponges

The kitchen sponge is a staple in my household and a good alternative for wiping around counters. 41G-vidWzGL._AC_US160_These days, there are quite a few eco-friendly choices there, too.  Also, sponges can be sanitized in a dishwasher or microwave; both eco-friendlier options compared to washing machines.

 

GREEN: USING ECO-FRIENDLY PAPER TOWELS

There are many brands of paper towels that come from manufacturers that have committed to using post-consumer recycled materials. (An example of post-consumer recyclables is the mail and office paper my husband brings to the Dump each week, which eventually gets sent to paper mills and repulped to make other products.) There are quite a few brands that the non-profit National Resource Defense Counsel had rated highly, like Marcal, Seventh Generation, and Good Earth. But the NRDC gavetowel_family_2-6-15 their highest rating to the New Jersey based company Marcal, because it uses 100% post-consumer recycled materials and eco-friendly bleach to whiten their products.

GREENER: USING A COMBINATION OF ECO-FRIENDLY PAPER TOWELS, SPONGES, AND CLOTH RAGS

This should have appeared in between the GREENEST and GREEN, but I put it last, because this middle option, where we use a combination of green alternatives to Bounty paper towels, feels like a good fit. I purchased cleaning cloths and sponges for wiping around in the kitchen. But we’ll likely continue to use paper towels for some things, like yucky cat and dog mishaps. After we use up the Bounty we have in stock, (which could take a while, because we’ll be using less,) we’ll switch to a brand of greener paper towels, like Marcal.

Even if this does result in an extra load of laundry each week, the way I see it, we’ll still be a lot greener than we were before. First of all, a paper mill that relies on recycled raw material for manufacturing, like Soundview Paper Company, which makes Marcal, uses less water and energy than ones, like Proctor and Gamble, makers of Bounty and Charmin. Plus, we’ll be sending fewer used paper towels to the landfill!

IMG_1103

I’ll let you know about how I make it work next week, but for now, here’s something to think about: Which one of the degrees of going green could be a good fit for you?

It’s Not Easy Going Green

Over the weekend we had fun with neighbors and friends at our annual 4th of July party. To add to the awesomeness of fireworks and barbecue, my family came up.  My husband and I love hosting, which is a good thing, because we live in the middle of nowhere. That means when folks come to visit, they generally stay a spell.

So we’re geared up with plenty of beds, sheets and towels. That way, even when we have a full house, like we did this past weekend, everyone is comfortable. It just takes a little planning for meals and such. Then we all pitch in and things go smoothly. I should have planned for keeping my greener corners green too, though. Somewhere between grilling hot dogs and all those lively games of Scrabble my husband and I had a lapse in eco-friendly practices.

I heard once that it can take six weeks for newly forming habits to become part of someone’s lifestyle. I suppose then, if we’d set out to reduce our paper-towel usage back in say, April, instead of just a few days ago we wouldn’t have gone through an entire roll in a weekend. I tried to resist reaching for a sheet each time there were spills, but with meal preparation and clean up a near constant, a lot of times I’d forget. At least once, I threw out a cleaning cloth that I’d intended to wash and reuse.

On the other hand, we managed well enough with our recyclables. We just had more bottles, cans, paper, and plastic to carry up to the garage and sort into the bins my husband had set up. To make that easier, once my family understood what we were doing and how we were doing it, they all helped.

To me that says we wouldn’t have used as many paper towels if we’d had alternatives in place and a plan for what to do with them. Also, as a friend had suggested, it would have been better if our paper towel roll wasn’t hanging ready and willing next to the kitchen sink.  To be honest, though, the thought of moving it somewhere out of sight has me a bit uneasy. I know my husband won’t like it, either. Not yet anyway.

Right now, I have a cleaning cloth hanging off the handle of our stove, which I use instead of paper towels for wiping around my kitchen counter. But I learned just yesterday that my husband uses paper towels to cover food when he microwaves to prevent splatter. So we need to talk about how we each use paper towels and what we can and are willing to do differently.

I also have to figure out how many times I can use the same cloth for wiping around. I don’t want to spread bacteria across my counters.  YUCK! Right now, when a cloth seems soiled or it feels like it’s been in use a while, I toss it into the washing machine, so it can be washed the next time we do a load. But I think they need to be sanitized in hot water and bleach. The problem is, I never accumulate enough of them to justify a separate load.

I need a better plan.

I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas and they really came through. Now I just have to decide which would be a good fit for us. (I’ll blog more about that next week.) Once we have a system for how to function in the kitchen with less paper towels,  I’m sure it will be easy to keep. Then, hopefully, by the time my family comes up next, even cooking, cleaning, and heated Wii bowling matches won’t sidetrack us from staying green!

 

 

A Pox upon my Paper Towels

Here’s the bad news. With the way I use paper towels, I may be single-handedly deforesting our planet. I’m serious, those 3 trillion trees don’t stand a chance with me around. The amount of paper towels and napkins I toss every week must make up like 1/3 of our household garbage, too.IMG_1102 To make matters worse, when I went on the website for Bounty, the brand of paper towels my husband and I use, to find out how bad that actually was, I nearly cried.

I’ll give them credit for being transparent about the fact that Unknownthey use virgin wood pulp to make their products.  That means the raw material they use comes from harvesting lots of trees from old forests. The problem with that is that those mature forests also have well-established eco-systems; plants and animals that live in balance with each other that are being destroyed by deforestation. Those old trees play an essential part in our global eco-system, too. Without them, the methane and other gasses that classic + quick + easyplants and animals produce just by living and dying could poison our atmosphere. People don’t make it easy for them to do their jobs either. With our cars and factories, we need those trees to work overtime. Instead, companies like Procter & Gamble keep chopping them down.

I’ve been thinking hard on this. (My husband would say ‘obsessing’ is a better word.) For one thing, it’s discouraging that I’m here trying to save the planet and a big company, like Proctor and Gamble, is cutting down forests. But now that I realize that’s happening, I have to do things differently. If, as Susan Kinsella, Executive Director, Conservatree says, it takes about 24 trees to make 1 ton of paper products, like paper towels; and a roll of Bounty weighs around 11 ounces (I know this because I weighed one on our food scale,) then it would take around 24 trees to make 2,909 rolls of Bounty.

Well, my husband and I use about 3 rolls of paper towels per slow cookerthanksgiving turkey-2month. So, if we continue in that way, and we live to be eighty (God willing), having used towels every day from say, the time we were twenty, we’d consume enough Bounty to equal 24 trees.

So maybe I exaggerated about single-handedly deforesting the planet. But I live in North America, home of more paper towel users than anywhere in the world. Between me and my 565,265,000 neighbors, even if only half of them use the same amount of paper towels as I do, we could take a bite out of the planet’s 3 trillion trees. Plus, I’d guess businesses use a lot more paper products than the average household. So, there’s that.

With that jarring insight, here I am, at my first significant hurdle in making my life greener. Sure, I now choose to put all plastic-film packaging in a recycle bin rather than the trash, and I bring reusable shopping bags into stores. I also signed up with a registry to stop my junk mail, and am going paperless with most of my bank statements and bills, too. Those were easy changes, though. Changing my paper towel brand, somehow feels like a bigger deal.

But I am committed to going green; one corner of one room at one time, but I’m getting it done. And, for this corner, where my husband and I are no longer loyal customers of Bounty, the time to roll up my sleeves and find greener alternatives is now!

(I just have to break the news to my husband.)