• cathy king

The Tested Strategy for Eliminating Single Use Paper Products

Updated: Sep 20


Growing up I can remember finding “hankies” (AKA handkerchiefs) in every purse, pocket, and couch at our home, and could not understand why my mother had so many. Now, thanks to my journey to become more sustainable at home, it all makes sense. Ubiquitous hankies happen as a result of eliminating paper tissues. This year I am on a mission to reduce single-use paper products in my home and let me tell you, it’s hard to change habits that you have had for more than 50 years. In fact, eliminating single-use paper from my household has been tougher than eliminating plastic sandwich bags and plastic wrap.


Discontinuing the purchasing of paper towels was where my endeavor began. In order to make this possible, I had to have a new way to clean up spills, etc.

Copper vegetable baskets storing reusable cotton towels to replace single use paper towels.
Reusable Cotton Towels in Copper Baskets

Luckily, I found a bunch of kitchen/flour sack towels on clearance and put them in a readily accessible bin in the kitchen.

Additionally, I pulled together every extra “old” kitchen towel we had. My goal was to create a new habit of using cloth towels and rags in place of paper towels before the last roll of paper towels was used up. Guess what? It worked! We are now a paper towel-free household. Full disclosure, there are times when a mess is so bad that we decide the rag has to be sacrificed to the garbage, as it just is not washable.


With paper towels in the rearview mirror, I then worked on a solution for napkins. Luckily, cotton cloth napkins are easy to source and easy to replace on the table.

Cotton napkins displayed on brass display tower
Cotton Napkins

The secret is to ensure the napkins are cotton based and that you have plenty on hand to allow a bunch to be in the laundry, but still leave enough for meals. Our remaining paper napkins will cease to exist shortly. That being said, with the impending holidays, there is a chance that I will have some paper napkins for parties and gatherings.


Let’s move on to tissues. This is going to be a tricky one to change in my home and will take a bit longer to execute. I have purchased new “hankies” for myself and now understand why you need so many. I keep one handy in every area that I work and live–one in my office, one where I read, one in my handbag, one in my work bag–you get the point.

Basket display of rolled cotton hankies for a grab and go necessity
Collection of Handkerchiefs

This is a necessity because I generally do not wear clothes that have pockets on them, and as someone who consistently has seasonal allergies, there is a need for hankies everywhere! While I think I personally will get away from tissues, it will be a long process to reduce tissues for my entire household.


My goal is not perfection in my pursuit of the elimination of single-use paper, but rather to do better and use less. The secret is to create new habits using the replacement items before the complete elimination of the paper items. You do not need to turn your life upside down to be better in the single-use world.

Here are some considerations to help you think through the process:

1. How often do you use items such as paper towels?
2. What are they used for and what is a reasonable replacement?
3. How much do you need?
4. What is the downstream work as a result of the change? In other words, does it mean more laundry, separate laundry–and how often?
5. How will you get your household members to buy into the change or train for the change? Hint: You must know the WHY it is necessary before you can convince them.

There are funny stories and challenges to moving your household through the process to reduce and eliminate single-use paper. Yes, it is sometimes hard, but our world needs each of us to change our habits, in order to create less waste and improve our environmental footprint. I am more than happy to answer any questions you have, as well as assist you on your quest to do better.

Shall we discuss the elephant in the room–Toilet Paper? Nah, that story is yet to be written.



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