so it’s been about 5 weeks or so since we stopped using paper towels in my house. it has not been difficult at all! we bought a few more dish towels for cleaning, as well as cloth napkins for eating. i’ve also donated a few old t-shirts to the rag pile. it took a few days of reminding cindy not to use paper towels, but very quickly we moved on to our new routine. the only time we broke down was when our dog peed in the kitchen (his first accident in 6 years). aside from that, the roll of paper towels has sat untouched for 5 weeks. it’s pretty cool to see how much less you use when you make the effort.
taking a cue from my recent posts about banning plastic grocery bags, our next step is…not using plastic grocery bags! i’m going to pick up some reusable totes – we also have a humongous reusable plastic bag that we bought from ikea for $0.50 (it’s too big, though, so we’ll only fill it halfway). we’ll use our reusable bags for our weekly grocery shopping trips and save on the nuisance of disposable plastic bags – they’re petroleum products, they take roughly 1000 yrs to break down in a landfill, and more often than not they’re seen littering parks, streets, and waterways. we’ve never thrown away our plastic grocery bags after shopping, either – we typically use them for carrying lunch. we’ll continue to use them for that purpose or put a bunch of them out w/ the plastic recycling.
[UPDATE:] i talked w/ Cindy last night about our ‘milestone’, and she replied that looking back, she didn’t think we ever used paper towels all that often. i reminded her about how often we used to switch out paper towel rolls – probably once a week or so (using the paper towels to clean, as napkins, as covers for food in the microwave…). now we are practically paper towel free. had the dog not had an accident the other day, we’d still be on the same paper towel roll for over 5 weeks. it’s a matter of perception, and it just goes to show how easy it is to do without the things you think are necessary when there are perfectly viable alternatives.
as i mentioned in my last post on the topic, it’s only a matter of time before other cities jump on the plastic bag banning bandwagon now that San Francisco has become the first US city to do so. a few weeks ago, Austin City Council announced that they are starting a 60 day study period before deciding whether or not to ban plastic grocery bags. i hope they do so – plastic bags are petroleum products; are typically single use; usually end up either in landfills or littering streets, parks, and rivers/lakes/oceans.
i’ve read comments online by people stating that using paper is just as bad as using plastic b/c of the energy required to recycle. perhaps not just as bad, but it’s true that paper is not the answer – reusable bags are. if everyone would simply bring their own reusable canvas or plastic bags to and from the grocery store, this would all be moot. it’s not like it’s so difficult – they fold up really easily and can be left in your car trunk when not in use. our local HEB grocery has already responded to the anticipated ban by selling reusable canvas bags at the checkout line and touting their environmental benefits. it would be nice if they’d drop the price from $3.50 to something like $2.00 considering that the bags aren’t that large, but it’s still good to see them actively promoting better behavior.
i think i read a while back about ireland going ahead w/ this, and i’m sure other places in europe, being way more progressive environmentally than the US, have instituted this already. San Francisco has just become the first city in the US to ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. Wonderful! Finally! plastic grocery bags are such a ridiculous nuisance, such a waste of resources, such a source of trash and pollution. they litter streets, nobody recycles them (sure, bring them back to the grocery store – nobody remembers to do that, or it’s too much of a ‘hassle’). instead, bring your own reusable bag. they’ve been doing it the world over for thousands of years – the ‘market’ that we americans love to patronize as tourists b/c it’s so quaint and filled w/ history – how do you think they brought those fruits, veggies, and meats home?
this is a move that will surely be followed by other cities, though it will likely take some time for those dominoes to fall. the more we realize how dependent our society is on petroleum products, and the more we try to cut back on its frivolous use, the more we’ll see things change toward (hopefully, as long as desireable alternates exist or arise to fill the gap) a more sustainable lifestyle.
so my decision to go ‘low-impact’ last week has resulted in my first step: no more paper towels. i bought a bunch of cloth napkins and dish towels (we already had a few, but we definitely need more now) and now use only those when eating and cleaning up around the kitchen/house. i also discussed this w/ my wife, and how it would impact her as well, and she was surprisingly supportive. she always is about these things, knowing that it’s very important to me and also understanding that it’s really everyone’s responsibility to try to make these types of changes. the key is to make it so that it isn’t too inconvenient. paper towels and only having one car in the family isn’t too drastic – there will surely be more difficult changes in the future.
i just read a few posts from a new blog titled No Impact Man. it’s a truly admirable endeavor – No Impact Man is attempting to be the human equivalent of a net zero energy home. it’s a one year experiment taking place within NYC, making it particularly challenging. being a self-professed enviro-hippie, i’m generally the one within my group of friends leading the more environmentally friendly lifestyle. i ride my bike and the bus, try to buy organic, have switched most of our lights to CFLs, recycle (with 3 bins every week, the most on our block), and have started a compost. those are nice baby steps, but i still drive our car (there’s really no way not to in austin), still have some incandescent bulbs burning, leave electronic components on too long, and use paper towels way too much.
despite the fact that i’ll be graduating this may with a masters in architecture specializing in sustainable design, and knowing full well the lengths to which i can go to decrease the size of my ecological footprint, i’ve held back from making any type of large scale commitment to changing my way of life. i’ve generally felt that technology will take care of the majority of society’s environmental ills since technology is what created them (this sentence could very well produce loads of comments decrying my naivete, but at some point in the future i’ll post in depth on my view – it’s not as naive as it sounds and is much more generalist). it’s been my belief that new methods of energy production and product development will come around and create a more cradle-to-cradle approach to life cycle costing. i also have felt that any real change requires active participation and change from the ground up, meaning that we, the everyday joes, have to re-evaluate many of the conveniences of our modern lifestyles. the only problem for me is that i’ve kind of plateaued with the items i’ve listed above. so now it’s time for me to take it to the next level and really commit to some serious change. it will definitely be slow, but i’m looking to make many of these changes life-long.
as this is going to be a huge endeavor (one that i have yet to discuss w/ my wife, as it will surely affect her), i have created a new section of my blog dedicated to tracking this change. unfortunately, wordpress.com doesn’t allow posting in additional pages, so that page will merely link to all posts tagged low-impact. hopefully some of my family, friends, or random visitors will take this initiative to heart as well and also change some of their habits.