Reducing Deforestation and Climate Change – One paper product at a time


By: Lise Nielsen Blackburn

 I would like to say that my family has gone “cold turkey” on paper products, but we haven’t. I really love using paper towels. I love that they  will soak up so much liquid (the good towels anyway) and in the garbage they go.  Using paper napkins at the dinner table means less slimy clothes, furniture, and clean faces with no added laundry.  Anyone with a couple of preschoolers in the house will agree with me on that!  The problem is that one primary source of all the great paper products is our forests and we can’t afford to loose any more of them if we want to reduce the effects of climate change on the planet.

Now, I don’t go around hugging trees, but I do value them as well as our existing climate system.  If we continue to deforest the earth, then the climate will continue to change.  The answer to slowing down these changes lies with our trees.  The Virginia Cooperative Extension lists the major services trees provide under three categories- Ecological, Social, and Aesthetic.  Trees filter the air we breathe, soak up rainfall, and reduce flooding.  They regulate air temperature and are part of the water cycle through evapotranspiration.  Trees provide food and shelter, as well as shade and noise barriers for all of us.  Trees provide recreational opportunities, help strengthen community ties, and individual spiritual renewal.

I have got to admit that our love affair with paper products at home contributes to biodiversity loss and climate change.  Bummer-  we have to change.  Our kids are way past pre-school, so my excuse for using paper towels and napkins is really running thin.  Well, actually he’s running cross-country and she is running around a college campus!

My family’s addiction to paper products will not go away easily though.  We can’t do it cold turkey, we have to ease into it and I have to plan to get us through it.  So, we are going to take things one week at a time.  Overall, I am going to replace paper with reusable cloth in different forms and only buy new paper products that are made from post-consumer, recycled paper, or bamboo; once our existing supply runs out.

Last week, for the kitchen I got small washcloths made from bamboo and stationed them on the kitchen counter in front of the paper towel rack.  The clean towels in one small metal bin, the used ones wait for the next load of laundry in another bin.   We use microwave covers that replace paper towel usage in the microwave and I got a stack of sponges from Costco that are anti-microbial and can be placed in the dishwasher for intensive cleaning.  After a week I can report that I used only a few towels and am going to have to remove the paper towels from the counter.  (They are so easy to grab!)

As for the rest of the house, I have bought bright yellow microfiber rags for general use around the house and I am breaking out all those cloth napkins that I have accumulated, but only use on “special” occasions.   The microfiber rags work really well and pick up lots of dust and clean nicely in the washer. The cloth napkins do look nicer and, since my laundry room is near the kitchen, it’s not really a hard transition to using cloth napkins.  We all have a special napkin ring so we can reuse the napkins until they need to be cleaned.  It’s hard to break the paper product habit, but with a little bit of thought I know we can do it.  Hopefully my family’s retreat from using paper products will keep a few more trees standing, while reducing our expenses and waste stream.  Will you break your paper habit too?

Post-script: For all of you out there thinking about the paper tissue boxes scattered through out my house and the fact that I did not mention them-  I am sorry to say I forgot about them until now!  We will be switching to more forest friendly tissues and will work on using cloth hankies when we are not sick.

Click here, to read Lise’s original blog.


Virginia Cooperative Education, Virginia Tech. “Value, Benefits and Costs of Urban Trees”. Site accessed 11/6/13.

National Geographic. “Deforestation” Site accessed 11/7/13.

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