So we don’t know when it will happen or the specific tree and we’re not chaining ourselves to it, but four years ago my family made a decision that will eventually save a tree.
A few years ago, it bothered me that our family of four made a big impact on the environment—in a bad way. We produced a lot of unnecessary trash. I needed to change our habits at home to help the environment, teach our kids responsibility for the Earth and its life, and surprisingly cut costs.
What we did is nothing you haven’t heard of, but the outcome surprised me, the transition was easy, and we’ve never looked back.
1. Switch to cloth napkins. In one day during meals and snacks alone, we were using about 20 paper napkins. That’s 140 napkins a week, 560 a month, and 6,720 a year. Sometimes the napkins were barely used, it’s just that no one could remember who wiped their mouth on the corner.
Instead of sets, I use a mix of napkins I made in different fabrics so each child will remember their napkin for the day. (This was important when the kids were younger.) I used fabric remnants to put them together. I don’t have tons of extra laundry to do. The napkins don’t stain. And I buy maybe two packs of paper napkins a year instead of one a month.
These cloth napkins have held up to lots of gooey hands and messy mouths during four years of use.
The National Resources Defense Council says, “If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins (250 count) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.” Imagine if more people started using cloth napkins or replaced more than one package.
2. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels. To dry produce or clean up spills and messes, I use bar towels. I probably use eight rolls of paper towels a year, reserving them only for meat juices and really icky stuff. This switch to cloth doesn’t really add to my laundry pile either.
3. Use reusable water bottles. I almost never used bottled water, but I think it’s important to say this. Those plastic water bottles do so much damage to the environment. They harm animals. They fill up landfills. Your great-great-grandchildren will probably be around when those bottles are still sitting in landfills, leaching chemicals. We use reusable stainless steel water bottles and refill them with tap water.
4. Reuse your shopping bags. One of the best purchases I have made is reusable shopping bags. They hold an unbelievable amount of stuff and I can still lift it all. Plastic grocery bags kill marine animals that think they are food, and those bags won’t degrade in your lifetime.
5. Keep recyclables for crafting.I keep a designated bin for recyclables and non-recyclables in my kids’ craft area. Imagination can transform cardboard, caps, lids, mesh produce bags, Styrofoam trays, and greeting cards into a treehouse for toy people, robots, sculpture, or whatever else my kids and I think up. Give trash a new life.
Who says you can't make something cute out of junk?
6. Pack a trash-free lunch. We pack lunches and snacks in reusable BPA-free containers instead of plastic baggies. (I sometimes still use these bags for freezing meat, but I buy and use a lot less than I used to.) Washing dishes is better on the environment than throwing away trash.
I think about how much trash we save in a year and how much we have saved since we started this: more than 26,000 napkins in four years. That doesn’t take into account the plastic baggies we haven’t used, paper towels, or all of the paper we have been recycling.
Though it’s impossible to know just how many napkins can be made from one tree because of the use of wood pulp and recycled content, I know we’re making an impact and we’re going to save that tree. And I know we can make a dent in the landfills however small.
You learn something new every day: