Paper Products: Tips for Reusing, Reducing, and Saving Money

—by Nicole Infinity

In this article, I highlight three specific items that we no longer buy in disposable product form and some things we have learned throughout the integration process. We have switched because the disposable products tend to be harder on the environment, us, and our bank account. All of these products use more resources, are typically made with harsh chemicals, and create extra waste.

Paper towels

There are many facts and figures about how many paper towels are used and thrown away each year by folks in the United States. Let’s just say it is in the many billions of pounds. Much, if not most, of this waste does not come from recycled material and is thrown away.

We stopped buying them and use towels for all of our messes instead. To ensure cleanliness of our towels, we have three hooks in our kitchen for towels and separate them by use. One is labeled “For Clean Hands.” Another says “For Clean Dishes.” The third has a note that reads “For Filth.” Whenever they become too soiled (every week or so), we replace the towels with fresh ones. The soiled towels are placed into a specific hamper in the hallway closet. If any towels are wet, we let them dry before putting them in the hamper. If any are particularly gross, we throw them in the next load of laundry. We wash what is in this hamper about once every month. This system has been working for us quite well.

I have been made aware that paper towels are very useful for cleaning up and cooking meat products and for cleaning up after pets. We do not have either of these in our household. However, we do clean up after children with cloth instead of paper, and our house is certainly not free from grease in cooking.

Remember, even cutting back will save you money and reduce resource use and waste production. If you do buy paper towels, make sure they are from recycled sources and harsh chemical-free, such as those sold at the co-op. You can also purchase cheap towels to reuse at places like Savers and Goodwill. 

Disposable menstrual pads

Both my lady friend and I switched to cloth pads a little over a year ago and we are never going back. Not only do they not leak for us, but they are more comfortable and have already saved us money. The pads are machine washable and dryable with your clothes. We sometimes wash them out by hand and almost always line-dry. They also fold up and button for easy changing in any bathroom if you are away from home.

Cloth pads have the ability to save thousands of dollars and reduce waste considerably. Thirteen billion pads and tampons are thrown away in the United States alone. Even if you are a tampon user, I would suggest giving the pads a try. They are sold at the co-op and you can usually get your first one for cheap online through special offers. 


Between allergies and the inevitable Minnesota cold season, many families go through a considerable number of tissues. The cost and waste associated with them is likely obvious.

We have been using only hankies for around three years now. We find that we never end up with red, chapped noses any more. We each always have one in our back pocket and one for the nephew. We have made all of ours out of the sides of old boxers, flannel, or other soft fabric by cutting a square and hemming the edges.

If you are not sewing inclined, you can purchase hankies from Etsy and some high-end clothing stores, or you could ask a friend to make some for you. 

Some folks are concerned about germs spreading via hankies, but you can wash your hands after each use (as some folks would with tissues) and wash the hankies as often as you need to. On really bad days, I may go through two or three. Sometimes I only need one for a few days. The hankies also double as napkins and work for small clean-ups as well. We just unfold them and throw them in the
wash with our dirty clothes.


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[Nicole Infinity works in public education, makes art, and enjoys community living with her lady friend.]