My personal commitment to zero waste week

Filed in Blog by on January 27, 2009 30 Comments
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kitchen rollYou may well ask what a couple of seasoned zero waste enthusiasts can possibly do during zero waste week that is different to any other week of the year.If you read our first post of the week, you’ll remember that we are doing things differently this time ’round. Last time during our own zero waste week, we did lots of planning, spent a good sum of money buying lovely food in Waitrose and allowed the zero waste week to be the focus of our week. By that I mean, lots of time spent in the kitchen preparing feasts.

It was a great week; we enjoyed ourselves and managed to produce no rubbish for a week.

This time things are a little different. Regular readers of the blog will know that we do not set out to achieve complete zero every week, we have a goal of less than 100gms of rubbish per week and have a goal for the year to only put our dustbin out once.

For this week I’m setting myself a challenge. I’m going to ditch the kitchen towel. Now I LOVE my kitchen towel. Not for all the usual reasons, but this is more of a personal challenge. Ya see, I deal with a little OCD in my regular life and kitchen towel is a big part of my comfort zone. OCD involves slightly more hand washing than the ‘usual’ person (ya don’t say 😉 ) and when I’m preparing food for myself, it is NOT ok for me to use a tea towel or hand towel to wipe my hands. No siree, I need kitchen towel; a fresh white piece – untouched by anyone’s hand but my own and disposable afterwards.

Ok, so I can buy recycled kitchen towel and it gets composted or recycled afterwards, but that’s really not the point. As incinerators are moving ever closer in their threat, we have to stop producing so much stuff per se. We need to make wiser choices at source and NOT rely on recycling as the answer to our problems. We need to start providing solutions to the mountains of unwanted recycling and the ever-filling landfill by creating less rubbish. Never has there been a more crucial time to separate our wants from our needs.

All kitchen towel comes wrapped in polythene and yes I can (and do) recycle this, but the wrapping is still made from oil, which is running out and, as some of our readers have pointed out; recycling is not without its environmental hazards.

So, one of my personal commitments to zero waste week is saying no to kitchen towel. I’m going to be honest with you here and say that I have an unopened pack in the house. It’s my safety net and I’m ok with that. My aim is the have that pack still wrapped and unused by the end of the week.

I think I might cut up an old bath towel into little cloths and keep them somewhere just for me. An old tissue box, perhaps. I can use a cloth once and throw it in the washing machine after use. That will help my mindset a little and prevent me going into overwhelm.

The reason I decided to share all of this is that it is so easy to judge people’s choices. What is easy for one may feel virtually impossible for another. I know I am as guilty as the next person for making judgements while not having the full facts. We love to judge and criticise one another because it helps us to feel better about our selves and enables us to justify our actions.

So, it’s easy for me to cook a curry from scratch, whilst reciting some spellings with LMG, feeding the cat and running a bath, but all some others can do is scratch their head in wonder.

It’s easy for me to go to the bother of cooking fresh meat for my cat but other people don’t have the time or the inclination.

It’s easy for me to go and buy fresh vegetables from a local farm shop, but other people might not have transport or a suitable local facility.

You get the picture, right?

I think what I am saying here, is that it’s time for us all to focus on what we CAN do; focus on the things that keep us within our comfort zones and never, never compare ourselves with others. Because when we do that, we can feel so inadequate and judged.

As for me; I’m off to find an old bath towel to cut up. Wish me luck 😉


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (30)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Ditching the paper towels is a very good step. I still have one in the press lying unused for ages. My target is to remove plastic sponges, scrubbers in the kitchen cleaning situation. Hopefully, Ecover has good alternatives.

    All potential throwaways can be removed from home use. As you say, people can choose their own approach. Diversity is a strength in the Zero Waste trend, with all contributors ideas valued.

  2. Ailbhe says:

    With two small kids, we have a Basket of Wipey Cloths in every room in the house, most of the time. The point is that they are single-use (with two small kids, oh HOW they are single use!) and then washed. We use Rob’s old shirts cut up, old terry nappies, and some actual real live baby muslins and facecloths from bumper packs.

  3. Sarah says:

    I have a 10 pack of Ikea flannels for hand wiping, use cloth tea towels and knit my own dishcloths – but I do have a bunch of other washable dishcloths as well. At the end of every day, any not already in the washing machine get put in there and clean ones brought out for the next day. Want me to knit you a dishcloth?

    With the OCD I’d just make sure there are extra hand wiping cloths and keep them just for you.

  4. Layla says:

    Great ideas for keeping special rewashable cloths in a box or such!!
    I’ve been meaning to do it too, but kept putting it off… (& no, my family members are not aboard this idea yet.. Guess I’d just have to do it and use ’em myself, at least!)
    would love to have better alternatives to kitchen sponges too, yeah..

    Wanted to try a ‘zero waste’ week parallel to yours, but it’s difficult with so much trash ending up in the bin still! (mostly food packagings.. – you’re still soo far ahead of us here in that regard too!!)

    Totally agree about everyone’s path being different!!
    I think part of the fun is in learning from each other and being inspired by each other!!
    /I’m slightly competitive so I may wind up with cloth rags finally too!! :)/

  5. Mrs Jackson says:

    oh Mrs Green good luck. I love kitchen towel too and have just used it to replace some of my cling film usage.

  6. Layla says:

    Just curious, what kind of diswashing cloths do you knit? & made of what? would be nice to see a pic..
    Can’t seem to come up with better alternatives to plastic sponges and sort-of-a-bit-better biodegradable (or so they say) cellulose sponges for tabletops and such..
    an old aunt had just gotton rags and they got terribly greasy and pretty awful, so I guess that’s why there’s a veto on those in our house…?
    Do you wash all dishwashing cloths daily? at 90°C? or..?
    And do you have separate scrubbers, or such?
    (I was told my Grandma just went to the yard and got some sand on her wet cloth, but even I wouldn’t go that far.. After all, our neighbours have cats, & we do live next to a chemical factory.. – so did they but I guess she didn’t mind lol..)

  7. Sarah says:


    I use cheap, plain cotton and I knit squares. Sometimes I’ll find a pattern on Ravelry or somewhere to make them a bit more fun and I’d like some different colours, but the basic knitted squares do the job.

    I don;t wash daily, I tend to wash every other day, at 40deg, with soap nuts and tea tree oil – for the anti-bac properties.

    I think a blog post is in order, with pics… and links…

  8. Kris says:

    Good luck with sticking to this personal goal, you CAN do it 🙂

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Great suggestions there, as usual, lovely people. I like the idea of little once-use cloths around the home, Ailbhe.
    For washing up, we do still use those green and yellow sponge things, but we’re gradually using microfibre cloths more and more. You can’t wear these things out if you try and what’s fabulous about them around the house is they don’t need any chemical product with them. For example when cleaning the floor and work surfaces, I just spray on my favourite essential oil mix and use a microfibre cloth. The house smells yummy and no nasty chemicals.

  10. Look here, how do you expect we, the readers, to keep up with you when you are posting 5 posts in one day!? I thought I was doing well writing every second day or so. . .

    Good information though. Where do you find the time?

  11. Di Hickman says:

    Count me in with the flannel crew! I have a drawer with dish towels, and flannels. I use some for cleaning, and some for handwiping

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Jen from CleanBin: Hey Jen 😀 It’s only for this week; I promise. I’ll be back to once a day or so when this week is over. LOL!
    Regarding time, it doesn’t take me long. This morning’s post about the breakfast took me about 10 minutes. I just write as I think and there it is! I guess it’s fair to say that I love writing 😉

  13. maisie says:

    I do still have some kitchen towel, which is recycled and now I buy fair trade as well; by this I mean it comes from Traidcraft which is a big supporter of the fair trade.We use approx a roll a month/6 weeks.

    For mopping/cleaning we have unbleached cotton knitted dishcloths.These I actually wash in the dishwasher, as I don’t wash at any higher than 40° for laundry.

    For use at the dinner table and for wrapping things in packed lunches I bought some cheapie tea-towels and cut in half then sewed around the edges, and made napkins which can be just washed along with everything else.

  14. Diz says:

    Peers at roll of Christmas kitchen towel, nearing its inner tube… I think I could give it up, apart from when cleaning skin off fish, but my OH wouldn’t. He agrees with RRR, but doesn’t really link it to his actions of throwing everything in the rubbish bin and buying ready meals, with all the plastic and wrapping they include. He won’t eat my cooking, because it might not taste exactly the same as when I made the dish last time.
    I appreciate your comments about knowing which things to work on, and which to leave alone for now. I will have to leave his preferences be, and try to work out what, if any, of the plastic I can recycle. I tried to find details on ZWW link, but couldn’t.
    Last week I put 4kg to the kerb for landfill – today I put 2kg, and have an icky bin full of banana skins, etc, waiting for the delivery of a compost bin. I’ve no clue how to set one up, where to put it, etc, but this is my challenge for ZWW. I’d intended to go out and buy a compost bin, but can’t find one, so have to order it via ZWW site; I just hope it doesn’t take the quoted 28 days for delivery! I’d sort of hoped GCC would have had them for instant purchase.

  15. Layla says:

    Diz, I sympathize.. One would kinda expect to have these things locally available.. If you have a garden you guys could just DIY a compost heap or ‘bin’ made of planks or so.. If you only have a flat & no garden/alottment area, it may be better to go with a bought item..

    Sarah, Maisie and all, thanks for the tips!
    Sarah – Yeah, I would love to see blog posts with pics & tips! Also am curious about washing with the soap nuts, we have them but Mum was not too impressed.. we decided they might be best for ‘not-too-dirty’ grey-ish or brown-ish things, & we don’t have so many of those…

    What do you wash with the soap nuts – everything? (even things at 90°C? or the monthly feminine cloth pads and such?) & How much of tea tree oil do you add?

    And when you wash dishwashing cloths, what other things do you put in the laundry also? (like ordinary clothes or..?)
    We usually did the laundry on weekends, not sure if doing laundry every other day would ‘stick’ here.. Would it be too long to wash the dishwashing cloths on weekends? (would they smell etc?)
    Sorry if they are potentially silly questions, this is kinda a new concept!! 🙂

    We do have some microfiber cloths for dusting or windows etc, never thought to actually do dishes with them..?
    Also, it kinda troubled me that I’m not sure if they can be recycled & what to do with them at the end of cycle..? Of course they do last very long.. Still, would prefer a more biodegradable/recyclable option..
    And does essential oil mix do well with all wooden surfaces or could it cause blemishes/deterioration? What kind of lacquer/finish do you have on the floor & other surfaces? (I’d loove to find an alternative for the terrible-smelling chemicals my sis kinda insists on!)

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie: You always amaze me with your organisation of things, Maisie. Everything is accounted for and I imagine your home to run like clockwork 🙂

    @Diz: Hey Diz; I think it is such an important point that we all work within our comfort zone. Setting up a compost bin is a brilliant idea. The best compost is made with equal VOLUMES (not weights) of ‘browns’ – shredded cardboard, paper and sticky, twiggy things from the garden and ‘greens’ – veg and fruit peelings and grass clippings. Just layer it up in your compost bin, mix it up a few times and leave nature to do its work.
    best of luck with this and I hope you get your bin soon.
    Site your new bin on bare soil or grass so that the microorganisms can find it and get to work. Put it somewhere where it will get the sun too. The contents should be as moist as a well wrung sponge………

    @Layla: Layla, our wooden floors look better with age and all I’ve ever used has been essential oils. We never varnished them – just thinking about varnish gives me a headache! We used Danish oil. It doesn’t sit on the wood and seal it like varnish, it feeds the wood and you have to keep reapplying it (which is why people choose varnish I guess – less hassle).

  17. Mrs Jackson says:

    Hi Mrs Green how is your self-set challenge going so far? I confess that I have put kitchen towel in my bin this week (but that’s all) as what was on it I wanted rid of asap (not sure if it was compostable but just binned it). Good luck with this ernomous challenge you’ve set yourself – well done.

    We aim to carry on now and not just do it this week and see if we can start small by only putting our bins out on recycling fortnight. Just wanted you to realise what YOU have done (being our inspiration and guiding light). Thank you.

  18. Good challenge! We ditched ours about a year ago and use mainly Ikea washcloths for both dinner napkins and cleanups. We have about 30. I periodically soak them in an oxygen cleaner but they don’t look as bright as when new!

  19. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Mrs J – I’m doing really well thanks (even though I say so myself!) Kitchen towel is compostable, for future reference ;). It’s great that you are going to carry on with this; it’s a very important message that this is the beginning of a journey, not just a one-off.

    TW – I’m not worried about whiter whites; I use Ecover 😀 You have to let that go as soon as you switch to an eco friendly brand. Glad you have found an alternative that works for you.

  20. Mrs Jackson says:

    Hi Mrs Green

    Glad you are doing well. Yes I compost my kitchen towel it was what was on it that wasn’t able to go in.

  21. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    My first visit to Entrading, Glasgow, was successful. A totally refillable 5 litre container of Ecover Washing-up liquid was purchased, 1 less plastic bottle to recycle, in this example fortnightly.

    The knowledgable sales woman also showed me some chemical- free unpackaged soap, made locally. This aspect may be worth developing in other toiletries.

    PET 1 bottles for shampoo were another feature. Refillable may be a choice here as well.

    I also bought a sponge scourer replacement. It will be a waste item eventually but it will be worth checking its performance.

  22. Mrs Green says:

    Ah, I see Mrs J – sorry about the misunderstanding.

    John, that sounds like a very positive visit. I just took a look at their website; it looks like a great place.

  23. Kris says:

    I was a bit indulgent when I first saw this thread as I buy kitchen roll about once every two or three years – we only use it for one or two things.

    Then I went to do jacket potatoes on a week day teatime and thought ‘Ah.’ as this was one of them – I wrap the spuds in a sheet of roll, after pricking, and ‘wave them till softened before finishing off in the oven (much quicker).

    But it turns out it works just as well with a clean teatowel 😀

  24. John Costigane says:

    I get the impression that EnTrade is part of a community of green enthusiasts. The same way we are all enthusiastic about Zero Waste.

    There is a good overlap with their recyclable materials use, including refillables. Regular contacts will give me a clearer picture of the opportunities available. As with Ecover down South, both trends can benefit from cooperation.

  25. Mrs Green says:

    Kitchen roll every two or three years – that’s amazing, Kris! Isn’t it weird how one person’s ‘can’t do without’ is something others don’t think of using.
    I’m not entirely sure what you mean about the potatoes – my mind boggles LOL!

    It’s great to find a store like that in a local area, john. We felt a similar way when we went to Taurus crafts and found all sorts of well-packaged goods.

  26. Compostwoman says:

    I have lots of cotton squares, some posseting cloths from when Compostgirl was small, a few old nappies, some old flannels, some knitted cotton dishcloths, some boughten cloths…and I use those liberally, then dry pail them with a few drops of lavender until I am ready to do a wash…..

    just like I did with nappies, in fact! ( but without the poo….)

    BUT its all about doing the best we can, isn’t it? NOT beating ourselves up over what we CAN’T do……

    Btw, I find cutting microfibre cloths in half ( or with big ones, quarter) saves on wear…they are often huge things and I find cutting them down very effective…..

    The thing I would say in favour of kitchen towels though is, we DO need to actually purchase recycled goods, to make it worth while recycling the raw material in the first place….if everyone gave up buying recycled kitchen roll…there would be no demand for recycled material to make it…….

  27. Mrs Green says:

    @Compostwoman: Compostwoman, I’d never thought to cup up microfibre cloths. Do they fray? The majority of the ones we have are small (they’re from Lidls, so I guess you get what you pay for!), but we were just given one and I haven’t even opened it up yet. Perhaps I’m in for a pleasant surprise!

    And I understand the idea of buying recycled products to keep up the demand. I will still be having kitchen towel in the house – there is one job that I cannot and will not attempt without it and that is cat accidents from either end 😀 That is when carrier bags come out too, to tie everything in afterwards. Thankfully this hasn’t happened for a loooooooong time.

  28. Compostwoman says:

    Morning Mrs Green!

    I don’t find they fray, no….the ones which are very
    “papery ” feeling might, but I am talking about the more open weave fabric ones, magic cloth types?

    I have some which must be ( thinks…) 5 years old? and they are fine…

    Cat accidents…hmm yes kitchen towel there for me, too I think!! but I put the poo down the loo, not in a bag…

    We have a kitchen roll, use about 1 roll a month? it IS useful stuff….and to my mind its no worse a product than loo roll, after alll I can remeber cutting up squares of newspaper and hanging them on a loop of string.

    (and no, not going back to that!…)

    have you had much snow? chickens think it is some kind of feed….daft things!

  29. Kris says:

    When we had a cat poo problem in the garden I was given some biodegradable nappy bags. Perhaps that would be a viable alternative to carrier bags for cat accidents?

  30. Mrs Green says:

    @Compostwoman: Hey, thanks for the confidence boost on cutting up microfibre! We had about an inch or two of snow by tea time; it was beautiful. The cat is not impressed though 😉 The neighbours chickens sounded very sorry for themselves 😀

    @Kris: Ah, that might be an idea Kris., I don’t mind as long as they are not scented. I can’t bear scented products.

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