Paper towels. Paper napkins. Toilet paper. Tissues. Baby wipes. Disinfecting wipes. Coffee filters.
That's a lot of paper that we're not even writing on! As a result, there are a lot of trees needing to be cut down. Thankfully, there are Greener alternatives that are largely Cheaper and, in some cases, Healthier and Easier to help reduce the need for tree usage. Here are some of the ones I've used.
Paper Towels: For small spills, use dish towels. Just ones you already have around the house. If you don't have enough, you can always buy some for pretty cheap. I don't have any made out of organic material or anything; just the fact that they're reusable makes them Greener. You can also buy unpaper towels at various online stores, some of which even snap together to roll out like paper towels do. I haven't used these, so I can't vouch for their Easier factor. For catching grease, I've started using paper sacks that I've gotten while out shopping. If they're too big, I either cut or tear them to make them the right size. For really large messes (which happen often enough with a preschooler around the house), it depends on what the mess is. If it's just spilled water, I just grab a lot of towels, perhaps bath ones instead. If it's something really icky...then, ok, admittedly, I still grab for paper towels. But these other substitutions do cut waaaay back on usage. I've had the same roll of paper towels on my holder for a couple of months now.
Paper Napkins: I only use paper napkins if I need them for a function elsewhere or if I'm entertaining more people than I have cloth napkins. If you shop sales right and have coupons, you can actually get cloth napkins very cheap. I found 4 July 4th-themed cloth napkins at Kohl's this summer (right before the 4th) and paid less than $1 TOTAL. For all 4. 53 cents, if I recall correctly. They were 50% off, and I had a coupon on top of that. They have easily paid for themselves since then, making them way Cheaper than paper. Who cares that my dining room is perpetually adorned in stars and stripes? :) Once I find another good deal and coupon, I may add to my small pile.
CAUTION: Next item gets a little personal.
Toilet Paper: Wait, you might be thinking, there's an alternative to toilet paper? Yes, to an extent. I have cut most of Dot's baby washcloths in half and stuck them in an old wipes tub, and now I use them for wiping after #1. (She still has washcloths of her own, don't worry.) It's called "family cloth."
You can buy items online marked specifically as family cloth, and I believe one place even offers it snapped together on a roll much like unpaper towels, only they're meant to fit on your toilet-paper holder. But to be Cheaper, and because it was Easier, I used what we already had. I discard them in a small stainless-steel trash can with lid that we had left over from Dot's days in diapers, lined with a wetbag. I wash the contents of the wetbag every 3-5 days, which is about as long as my supply lasts.
(Simple Human 4.5 Liter Mini-Round Step Can, lined with a medium wetbag--can't remember what kind. I also have a Wet Happened? wetbag.)
So that I'm not wasting water and energy, I wash and dry them with whatever other dirty towels we have. I do still use toilet paper to cover...um, other activities on the toilet, if you get my drift. I do have my limits! And if the dog has a poop accident in the house, I do still grab TP to clean it up. I haven't taught Dot yet this technique as I want her to get the hang of using TP because she'll use it other places.
Tissues: When we're at home, we wipe our noses on old washcloths that have just been sitting around unused. If there's a nosebleed (fairly common with Dot), we use washcloths if the bleeding isn't severe, tissues if it is. Tissues are usually reserved for when we're out and about. Washcloths get washed with family cloth (pretreated if bloody, of course).
Baby Wipes: Disposable ones are only used away from home, and then used sparingly to wipe her face and hands as needed. Around the house, I used to use disposable wipes on Dot up until around her 2nd birthday, at which point I switched to cloth ones (Thirsties Fab Wipes if you're curious). Now we just use these as her bath time washcloths since I've cut up all her other ones! :) If we have another baby, I would like to build a bigger stash of these, as they are so soft. All you really need to clean a baby's bottom is a wet washcloth or two (or three, sometimes). Buying cloth wipes like these isn't really necessary; cheap baby washcloths would do the trick as well. So once you get past the initial investment, these would pay for themselves and then become a Cheaper alternative. We used to wash them with cloth diapers; now that Dot is potty-trained, they get washed with other towels. These are Healthier in the sense that you know exactly what is in the washcloth, as opposed to guessing what chemicals are used.
Disinfecting Wipes: I do still sometimes use these for quick disinfecting jobs around the house. Used some tonight to clean my cell phone and case, in fact, as well as phones and remotes. For more detailed cleaning jobs, though, vinegar and water on an old rag does the trick. Definitely Cheaper, and Healthier in the respect that you don't have to wonder with what chemicals you're cleaning. I've seen Green Works wipes but have not closely examined them to see how much Greener they are than conventional wipes. This method is Easier in the respect that most people already have vinegar, water, and old rags. If you have an unused spray bottle, then you're set and don't have to buy anything else special.
Coffee Filters: I haven't actually tried using this yet as I'm not a coffee or tea drinker, but I bought a Mr. Natural's Coffee Filter a few months back. It's a washable, reusable filter made of hemp. It would take a while for it to pay for itself, but use it often enough, and it will. Once Huz uses it (he's been gone for several months), I will post a follow-up.
Following these tips will reduce your expenses on paper goods, your exposure to unknown chemicals, and your amount of garbage being sent to a landfill.
Hopefully next up, I'll propose some alternatives to household plastics.