We've made the effort to go paperless as much as possible in our household. Not only does this mean we're using fewer resources, and therefore being more environmentally friendly, but we're saving in our budget too. Here are a few places we've started:
1. Paper towel-less. We try really hard not to use paper towels to clean up messes, cover food in the microwave, etc. We use rags for messes, and have a microwave cover for the microwave (you could also use a plate you turned upside down too). I've been known to use brown grocery bags cut down to cook bacon in the microwave, or to drain meat instead of paper towels. (We then compost these; we've never had any trouble with the minimal amount of grease affecting our compost or drawing unwanted pests.)
2. Tissue-less. We use handkerchiefs instead of tissues in our house, and have for a long time. We use them for a few days at a time and then wash them in warm water with towels or sheets, so we don't have any bacteria issues to worry about. If we're sick, we sometimes do use tissues because they're easier on the nose, but we generally compost them too (as long as your compost gets hot enough for long enough, bacteria shouldn't be a problem).
3. No disposable dishes. There are a few times a year we break this policy (for parties mostly), but even then, we try to choose items that can be composted or washed and reused. We always use dishes that can go in the dishwasher, so clean up is a breeze for weeknight dinners.
4. No paper napkins. Cloth napkins have been the standard in our house since we got married. They're nicer for guests, and easy to wash with the weekly load of towels or sheets. We try to use patterns that hide stains, such as plaid or darker colors, so we don't have to use a lot of stain remover.
5. Cloth diapers, not disposable. For the first year of little man's life, we had him in cloth diapers exclusively. Now we use one disposable at night, because he sleeps through the night that way. We also use disposable for travel, but we plan to potty train next month over spring break, so hopefully we'll be done with diapers all together soon.
6. Cloth wipes (or "family cloth"). We use cloth wipes for our little one, and also use them some for ourselves to cut down on our toilet paper usage. This actually ends up being really good for those of us with sensitive skin, because it means that we're not exposing our skin to all the bleach and other chemicals that are used in commercial toilet paper. We just wash the wipes with the cloth diapers, so it's pretty easy. The wipes that we use are just cut from a few old t-shirts, so there's next to no work involved. For some people, this would be over the line, but for us, it works. We still have TP around for times when we need it and for guests.
7. Less packaging. Buying in bulk saves a ton of paper and plastic packaging. Buying used saves packaging all together (think Craigslist, thrift shops,etc.). What packaging we do get, we try to deal with responsibly (recycle, reuse cereal-type boxes for projects, composting unwaxed cardboard, etc.). By using whole foods (whole produce, baking from scratch,etc.) and cooking from scratch, we save a ton of packaging.
8. Reuse containers. We wash and reuse plastic ziplock bags that didn't contain meat. Saving produce bags and bread bags from our CSA subscription gives us enough bags to handle our homemade bread for a year, usually. Repurposing plastic containers (sour cream containers, large yogurt containers, etc.) gives us a ton of storage containers for small toy items, craft supplies, etc. We can also use these for starting seeds early for the garden. This is a huge help with our herbs and lettuces. You can also do some cute kids crafts with paper milk cartons. Some of these containers make fun bath toys too.
9. Use both sides. When cleaning, I use both sides of a rag. When we print something, we try to use both sides, or at least use the back for a to do list or something else. When I use cotton balls or pads to clean my face, remove makeup, etc., I use both sides.
10. Reduce magazine subscriptions and bill mailings. We're trying out an online subscription to a magazine this year and so far it's working out. By paying most of our bills online, we save on paper and on stamps. The company saves on resources too, which hopefully would trickle down to us. Our church recently went to online giving, so this has saved us paper in the form of checks each month too.
These things have become so much a part of our lives that we rarely consider that they might not be the cultural norm. It's only when we go to someone else's house and see something like *shock* paper towels or the lack of a compost container that we realize how much we have reduced the amount of disposable resources in our lives. (It also registers when we consider that we only have to take one kitchen trash bag out about every two weeks, and that's with someone who rents our upstairs space contributing.)
What have you done to reduce your resource consumption? Did I leave anything off my list? How are you living and saving green this week? I'd love to hear from you!