It seems as though everyone's talking about how we throw our money away, almost literally, by buying this or that; too much food, disposable diapers, or plastic utensils. Let's shift gears from this view to a simple question: would I rather deal with this problem myself, or pay someone else to do it for me? Lots of people hire a neighbor kid to mow their lawn, but relatively few people send their clothes to a fluff'n'fold service.
Paper products pose exactly that question. Would you rather pay a company monthly to supply you with dishes you don't have to wash, towels you don't have to keep, and food containers you can throw away? Or would you rather spend a little more up front to buy permanent versions of these products and invest a little time into maintaining them?
Money is tight for me right now, so I know I'd rather spend the pennies to wash something rather than the dollars to pay to replace it every time I use a real one. My reusable paper towels are indispensable to me now, and when I do get a little more money in my budget I look forward to putting that money towards travel and experiences, not stuff that will end up in the trash in less than a month.
To that end, I've compiled a list of common paper and disposable products, and their waste-free/environmentally-friendly counterparts. Try a few in your home today. I promise you'll find better quality, and more satisfaction.
Paper towels = reusable paper towels, rags, washcloths, regular towels, microfiber cloth, skoy kitchen cloths
Disposable dishes and utensils = regular dishes and utensils, or at least biodegradable picknikware packaged without plastic
Napkins = there are so many cute cloth napkins out there, paper ones just don't seem any fun
Saran wrap/tin foil = Abeego wraps, lidded glass containers, or simply a plate flipped upside-down over a bowl
Ziploc bags = lidded glass containers, to-go ware and similar metal containers, and washable snack bags
Waxed paper/parchment paper = Silicone baking mats, or sustainably produced, biodegradable parchment papers
Cupcake wrappers = Reusable, silicone alternatives, or plastic-free, biodegradable options
Garbage bags = Leave your waste and recycling bins unlined. With a compost bin you won't have to worry about the bins getting too sticky, and a quick rinse every few months takes care of any other messes.
Paper and plastic bags = Carry your purchases home in reusable bags, and take lunches in furoshiki wraps, cute washable lunch bags, or a good old lunch box.
Disposable mops and brooms = microfiber sweepers, refillable mops, and traditional options
Two extra thoughts:
In cases where I'd rather buy the disposable version (toilet paper comes to mind for my family), look in health food stores and online to find biodegradable, plastic-free options that can go in your compost bin. This way your disposables become food for the soil, not poison.
Some people have questioned whether it's worth the water and energy to wash things, rather than to use disposable versions. Common consensus is that reusing is more earth-friendly, as it takes water and energy to make disposable products as well. Of course, on a per-use basis, reusable items take more water and energy to produce than disposable ones, but lifetime-use averages out to make reusables far less costly than impermanent products.
First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.