Remember when grocery stores only had brown paper bags? And then they switched to plastic? I remember the question “Paper or plastic?” and the environmental argument that paper used trees but at least it was biodegradable, while plastic bags had to be recycled. Finally, finally it became trendy a few years ago to use cloth bags, or even sturdy bags of recycled materials. I am actually a little surprised the cloth over paper has not taken over the paper towel and napkin aisles as well.
I have a bunch, as in well over a dozen, cloth shopping bags in the back of my car. Granted, they do not get washed as often as they should for bags that carry meat, dairy and eggs home weekly, however I usually remember to grab them out of the back of the car and carry them into the store. It’s actually a little comical, as I also carry a large pink binder of coupons under one arm and the bunch of bags under the other arm as I walk into HEB 🙂 They are sturdier than the flimsy plastic bags, items stack better in them and they are easier to carry. Oh yeah, and they are environmentally friendly. I bought a dozen of mine from Walgreens at a whopping 3 for $1 a couple of years ago. Almost every store carries these with their logo on them for around $1-2 each, or they can be made of sturdy fabric. I’ve been meaning to look up how to make these from old jeans…
We also have a stack of cloth napkins on our table. I received quite a few when we got married, but did not use them for the longest time! Finally, I started using them at the table instead of paper napkins on a regular basis. This was around the time I started experimenting with yeast bread making, so they doubled as damp tea towels to cover dough with, as I do not have any “tea towels”. Cloth napkins are also great for wrapping warm bread in for keeping warm till serving time, or wrapping damp around pita breads or steamed tortillas to keep them soft. I wash mine in hot with bleach with all my other kitchen cloths and towels, so mine have taken a laundry beating and still look decent. Of course, these can also be made with cotton or linen squares of fabric with a hemmed or serger finished edge, if you prefer to make your own. (Mine are still holding on, but if I decide to make some in the future, I will be sure to link the post back to this one)
Lastly, I think the largest budget and sanity saver is using cloth towels and rags over paper towels. I still buy paper towels, and we have a roll under our sink. But, when I have a mess or need to clean, I reach for my stack of wash rags in the towel drawer in my kitchen. I was using some old baby washcloths until this past weekend. I found cheap washcloths on clearance at Walgreens for $0.50 for a 4-pack. They are thin, kinda rough, 100% cotton and will probably hold up to bleaching, so perfect for cleaning kitchen counters, or grubby faces and hands after dinner. Since obviously I am not using the same cloth for counters as I do for little faces, I go through several of these a day. The key is to rinse them well and hang them to dry before tossing them in a basket until wash day, or you will have a basket of smelly, stained mildewy rags. I also find old burp cloths and washrags superior to sponges for cleaning sinks, counters and bathrooms. Again, I rinse them well after use, hang them to dry and wash them in hot water with bleach, so they are nice and clean and sanitary to re-use the next week to clean again, as opposed to a germy sponge.
I could go on about the environmental benefits of saving trees, space in landfills or recycling resources by using cloth, but I find I am more motivated by the fact that using cloth means less I have to buy on a regular basis. Plus, I do not find the cloth items that we wash increases our wash load by much. I still only wash one weekly load of towels, the same as I did before I switched to cloth napkins, rags and towels. But, I no longer have to buy large volumes of paper towels, or paper napkins at all, so am highly motivated by the monetary benefits of using cloth.