Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Even More Trash Talk (just can't get enough!)

In my house we eat with cloth napkins every night. In fact, we eat with cloth napkins for breakfast and lunch too. It’s not that we have a formal dining habit (far from it), it’s just that I can’t stand the waste of paper napkins. Huge pet peeve of mine. I can’t bear to use a small piece of a tree to wipe my mouth one time and then throw it in the trash. Such waste. No, it’s too painful for me. So long ago, I gave up the paper napkin habit.

Not only is using cloth napkins more responsible ecologically, they look better and make every meal feel more important. I’ve been using some of the same napkins for well over 10 years. Some were made by my mother for me when I got my first apartment. Some I collected from sale bins at linen stores and gift shops. Some were Christmas presents. I keep them folded in a big basket sitting on the piano in the corner of my kitchen. My kids don’t know any other kind of napkin. I could go on, but that’s more than enough about cloth napkins! I know there are some of you out there who are mumbling about the water and energy wasted when I wash my beloved napkins. Here’s the thing – with the exception of my six year old, most of my family can use the same napkin for multiple meals. Truly. They don’t get that dirty. We just shake out the crumbs and hang them on the back of the chair at the end of our meal. Then they’re ready for the next one.

My mother-in-law called to tell me she had given up her paper towel habit. She knows about my fetish with the napkins, so she was sure I’d be impressed with her new paper towel replacements – and I was! She decided that she had way too many old cotton t-shirts, but instead of tossing them, she cut them in to small paper towel size pieces. She rolled them up neatly and arranged them in a basket on her counter. Now, when she has a job that calls for a paper towel, she grabs a t-shirt piece and it does the trick. Then she can wash them or toss them if the job is too gross.

Here’s another idea for old t-shirts. I’m a runner, so I have a huge collection of t-shirts (they give them out at every race). Compost them! Yes, I mean it. If they’re 100% cotton, they’re 100% compostable (is that a word?). When my kids’ shirts get too stained to pass down or pass on, or my collection gets too unwieldy for the closet shelf, I cut them up, keep a few pieces for cleaning rags and then toss the rest in my long-term compost pile. They do take some time to break down, so they probably won’t be feeding our tomatoes anytime soon. If you’ve got a leaf/yard leftovers pile going somewhere, that’s the perfect place for your t-shirts.

I’m still considering the t-shirts-as-paper towels alternative, but meanwhile I have some real paper towels on my counter. I buy the kind with no dyes or perfumes and I compost them. They break down quickly and along with egg cartons, add some “brown” to the “green” in my compost. (Note: that’s a little teaser for Friday’s post. I know, you can’t wait!)

Ten more ways to reduce your trash:
1. Buy biodegradable cat litter. I toss mine in a particularly prickly area of the edge of our woods. Cat litter is not compostable (cats eat meat), but it will break down and return to the earth on it’s own rather than take up space inside a plastic bag that will not break down in the landfill.
2. Save your not-meat scraps. We feed ours to the chickens, but neighborhood ducks and birds would love your leftover bread crusts and cereal too. I know it’s a small thing, but imagine if everyone did it? (We’d have some fat ducks)
3. Donate your old running shoes. There are lots of organizations that collect these shoes and either turn them in to rubber mulch or donate them to people who can still use them.
For a list of places that will take your running shoes, check our and search for recycling. They’ve got a list of programs all over the world. And speaking of shoes, Crocs also has a recycling program.
4. Break up your cardboard boxes and recycle them. I know it’s a pain to break them down. I toss them in our yard shed until the pile accumulates so high the kids can’t retrieve their bikes and then we break them all down at once and take them to the recycling dumpster at the township.
5. Cut down on paper mail – go paperless with any company that you receive bills from. Almost all companies do this now (it saves them money, there’s the motive).
6. You can cut out your junk mail for just a buck by registering your mail preference service at
7. Sick of getting all those catalogs? I know I am. You can request that companies stop sending you catalogs at
8. Do you have stuff to unload but it’s too big/bulky/unwanted to take to Goodwill? Check out You’d be amazed what kinds of things people will take off your hands. Just be careful you don’t sign up and start collecting more stuff for yourself.
9. There are several swap services out there for exchanging your unwanted books, DVDs, and CDs for someone else’s. Just do a search and you’ll find them. I haven’t used one, so I can’t recommend one yet. I just signed up for swaptree. Future post, I’m sure.
10. My friend Susan responded to Monday’s post and mentioned she has been “repurposing” some of her things instead of tossing them or allowing them to collect dust. She repurposed some souvenirs from England in to a toothbrush holder and soap dish. What a great idea! I pulled out some old china tea cups that I’ve kept forever just because I can’t bear to get rid of them. They’re really just collecting dust, so I’m going to fill them with some of the thyme plants I’m growing for my kids teachers and give them as gifts at the end of the school year. Now I’m eyeing all my underutilized belongings and wondering what else they could do for me.

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