We hardly ever use paper towels. We do keep them for the occasional mess (broken wine glass the other day for example), but that rarely happens. On a day-to-day basis, we stick to old cloth rags for cleaning.
We got lucky because Grandmother Woods saved everything (literally everything), so we had enough old rags and washcloths to share among our family and each household now has a stockpile of cleaning rags we can use. We know not everyone has mounds of inherited rags (yes, we know we're cool...) but just keep cloth items as they age and once they're passed the point of not being presentable anymore, give them a new life as a cleaning rag! You'll be surprised how you accumulate rags over time, and think of all that cloth you've diverted from the landfill!
We know paper towels and disinfecting wipes are convenient, but our convenience shouldn't come at the cost of the planet. Rethink convenience! We think it's super convenient to not have massive landfills everywhere or to be able to visit the Great Barrier Reef (more than half of which is now dead due to climate change), and throwing our cleaning rags in the wash with our other clothes is well worth the tiniest bit of extra effort. To be honest, once it's part of your routine it does't even feel like extra effort!
A few points about paper towels and disinfecting wipes and their effect on the environment:
According to the EPA, paper makes up the largest share of municipal waste in the US. Of that paper waste, 13 billion pounds comes from paper towels each year.
In 2014, Clorox executives reported that about half of U.S. homes used their brand of wipes. Think of how much waste was produced from millions of people buying and disposing of all those plastic containers and single-use disinfecting wipes! And this is only Clorox brand we're talking about...
Napkins and paper towels are made from much lower quality material and aren't recyclable especially if they've been contaminated with food or liquid.
You can always compost your paper towels except if you've used them for cleaning and they're soaked in chemicals that would be harmful for your compost bin.
So give this small lifestyle change a try! Transition some of your washcloths and dishtowels into an impactful retirement and cleaning life, and ditch all those single-use paper towels and disinfecting wipes.