Greening the Basics: 5 Simple Switches We Can All Make

by - Thursday, February 09, 2017

redwood trees green basics

Originally published on August 25, 2015. 

In the last few weeks, I have started posting shopping lists that offer recycled, upcycled, biodegradable, and Made in America alternatives for commonly bought items. These probably don't apply to everyone, and most of them are things you only buy once in a blue moon.

Also, we can get the feeling like we are just trying to survive, so we will try to do better once we can. Don't let yourself give up that way! If you can buy the bad option, I want to show you that you can afford to make the better choice for the earth (and often yourself).

Every dollar we spend and every item we buy is a statement to companies about what we are willing to tolerate and what kind of world we want. This may seem overdramatic, but it's absolutely true, and the things we buy often send even stronger messages than what we buy that one time for a baby shower or wedding gift. If we want to make the world a better place than how we got it and be good stewards of the beautiful place God gave us, our regular choices are the first and best place to make those important little changes!

Some of the most important things anyone and everyone can buy a greener version of are the things we buy at our grocery store weekly- paper goods, trash bags, food, and water. Some of these have pretty easy (and surprisingly affordable when bought in bulk) options to make more Earth-friendly choices that send a clear message to companies- use more post-consumer recycled product! Stop making so much plastic packaging! Here is a list of a few things you can trade out:

1. Paper Towels- We all use them to clean up spills or our kitchen after cooking, but if everyone who read this switched to post-consumer paper, we could save THOUSANDS of trees. And this question will come up a lot, but do you really think killing a tree is worth wiping up that spill? Also, this is one where the reviews remain very positive for the recycled versions.

To Compare: A 6 Pack of Bounty Paper Towels at our Safeway is 11.59 (just under 2 dollars a roll)

Our Pick: Seventh Generation Unbleached Paper Towels- 4 packs of 6 rolls= 24 rolls- 41.76 (1.74 a roll- CHEAPER than buying rolls in smaller numbers at the grocery store).

Seventh Generation White Recycled Paper Towels- 24 rolls- 37.96 (1.58 per roll)

Marcal Small Steps Recycled Paper- Pack of 12 rolls- 28.99 (2.41 a roll)

Boardwalk Recycled Paper Towels (these are the kind you get at restaurants and come on ginormous 800 ft rolls)- 6 rolls- is 35.20 or 5.86 for every 800 foot roll.

And if you want to go big: The biggest step you can take is to have washclothes and use them for most of your clean up. If you cut down on how many paper towels you use, they will last you longer and save more trees.

Bamboo Paper Towels- They also have lots of paper towel substitutes available if you want a more dramatic change. This bamboo towel set is supposed to last 6 months.

Unpaper towels- You can get washclothes that even roll up like paper towels and snap together. Or you can get big packs like these ones, which can help your kitchen.

from Clear Sky Home
2. Napkins- Same story! We use them daily to wipe the schmutz off our face, but is this (admittedly noble) mission worth the life of a tree? We stopped using napkins and paper towels when feeding our bub, because the job was just epically large. But once we switched, and saw it made no difference in our lives to throw the napkins in with our other laundry, it made me question how to approach napkins differently.

To Compare: Vanity Fair Napkins are about 5 dollars for a 300 count pack (and straight to the Super PACs no less). Bounty is about 8 dollars for 400. So about 2 cents a piece on either.

Our Pick- Again we went with Seventh Generation (I love them, because they also mostly make their products in America). Their 2 packs of 500 (a thousand napkins) made 90% + post-consumer materials is 15.57 (or about 3 cents a napkin). I think if we buy a pack this big, we can basically be set for life. I also see a single pack of 500 for 7.45 which is slightly cheaper, but you have to pay for shipping. They also have white ones for 5.39 for 250 napkins.

Natural Value Napkins (100% recycled/ 80% post-consumer)- 200 Count napkins- 6.37 (3 cents a napkin.

Green Forest generally has great reviews for their products. They have a bulk set of 3000 napkins (so a lifetime supply or great for businesses, schools, etc.) for 45.48 (about 2 cents a napkin).

Marcal 100% Recycled Napkins- 400 for 10.69 (about 3 cents a napkin). They are also made in the US and have great reviews. Why buy mainstream brands? They also have a 2400 set for 32.86, which is a steal and basically sets you up for life if you have the room.

And if you want to go big: Then cloth napkins are the way to go. In our house, we use them exclusively for our baby, who gets as much on his face as in his mouth (but he's so damn happy, who can complain?), and we are going to try to use them ourselves for nights when it is just us. If you just switch cloth out for simple nights at home and buy recycled for the rest of the time, that makes a HUGE impact! Also, if you get a couple of sets, you could do fun seasonal ones to add to holiday decor.

You can get simple napkins (mostly made in India) from Aunt Martha's on Amazon. Or you can get amazing, American-made napkins off Etsy, with the added bonus that basically no matter what you pick, I will be jealous of you. My three favorite Etsy stores for cloth napkins are
etsy oh little rabbit cloth napkins
from Oh Little Rabbit
Oh Little Rabbit- If anyone wants to get me something for Christmas, basically any of these screen printed napkin sets would make my day. I especially love the flying pigs!

etsy jaq studio cloth napkins
from JAQ Studio
JAQStudio- There are so many adorable patterns here, and I think they would add a little bit of style to any spread on top of avoiding the waste of paper towels. Totally adorable.

Clear Sky Home- This store also boasts tons of cool patterns, and these ones feel a little more whimsical and grown-up? Strange combination, but true. Plus, they organize the designs by color, so you can find what best matches your style.

3. Tissues- Now, I don't know about you, but I don't find boogers all that precious. Again, this is a perfect place to replace brand new paper products with something recycled. And in recent years, companies using recycled products have stepped up their game, which is great for when you have a hardcore cold, not just the sniffles.

To Compare: I hate to turn against Kleenex, because I have dreams of designing their boxes, but come on! They can start putting that magic nose lotion in some post-consumer paper! The prices vary quite a bit (at Target I saw a 4 pack of boxes for 6 dollars), but they mostly average around this set- 4 boxes of 50 tissues for 11.49 (about 5 cents a tissue! Pretty steep).

Our Pick: Green Forest Facial Tissues- 24 boxes of 175 (about 1 cent a tissue). Not only is this way cheaper, they also have great reviews for being soft (my favorite quote "I am not a major hippy, but if I could do something good for the environment, why not?") Preach it

Marcal Fluff Out Facial Tissue- 30 100 count boxes-24.99 (not great reviews, but really cost effective if you have a less sensitive nose.

Seventh Generation- Just to compare, their single box of 175 tissues is 2.84. In case you don't have the room to buy in bulk, there are still eco-friendly options for you!

Green2 Tree Free Facial Tissues- 30 boxes of 90 tissues is 48.71 (So 1.62 a box and a little under 2 cents a tissue). This isn't recycled paper, it doesn't use tree product at all. It is made in the US, owned by women, and a percentage of the proceeds go to replanting trees. So pretty awesome.

Kimberly Clark Surpass Recycled Tissues- Kimberly Clark manufactures Kleenex and most of the other brands you use, but this product is 100% post-consumer product. 36 boxes of 110 tissues is 59.24.

Natural Value- 100% recycled/ 80% post-consumer product. Made in the US. 30 tissue boxes with 100 tissues- 45.90 (so about 2 cents a tissue).

And if you want to go big: I don't know anyone who uses a hanky, but you could be that person. And get a monocle? Most of the ones on Etsy are embroidered keepsakes, but I think you could get plain ones easily enough. If you want to be green, lazy, and just a little bit gross, you could also use your sleeve (I kid!).

horrible charmin bears with a tree

4. Toilet Paper- Ok, this issue is slightly more complex than the others, so you might read up a little before you make your choice as a family. Recycled paper has small amounts of BPA (one of the nastiest chemicals that comes in plastics- plastics like pop bottles, food wrappers, etc- because of magazine paper which gets that glossy finish from plastic) which scientists aren't too crazy about. They have been pushing back on BPA in things people eat out of for quite a while, because it can mess up your digestive system. Now, they are watching out for BPA at the entrance of your digestive system, but they are worried that too much recycled toliet paper might be putting a little BPA near the exit as well (I might also point out that normal roll you use is covered in bleach and other chemicals, so it's not exactly all natural either). So you might think twice, or only use recycled part of the time.  It's something to think about for sure, but for us, we are going for it for now.

To Compare: The Boy hates the Charmin bears. Hates them. Worst, most condescending, and weirdest ads of all time. So let's start there. Charmin Ultra Strong comes in a pack of 9 for 16.95, so that is about 1.88 a roll.

Our Pick: We use Seventh Generation, and we bought 60 rolls for about 68 dollars (about 1.14 a roll). It serves its purpose and we generally like it. It also comes in all recyclable packaging

Marcal Small Steps- 40 rolls, 1000 sheets each, is 50.66, so about 1.20 a roll.

Green 2 Tree Free- If you decide the BPA risk is too much for you, this is your best option. This company is pretty awesome, but the product is a little more fancy. It is made out of bamboo and sugar cane bi-products, both of which are quick-growing and sustainable, and you don't have to worry about BPA at all. If you buy in bulk (96 rolls at 114 dollars, so basically all you need forever, right?), you can get it for 1.16 a roll, which is even cheaper than the other options. Also has great reviews and comes in recyclable, plastic-free packaging. This will probably be our next pick many many months from now when the Seventh Generation toilet paper runs out.

And if you want to go big: They have a thing out there called the Family cloth, which is basically cloth wipes rather than paper. I actually think the title makes it sound grosser, and for us, this lands past our limit. We are going with recycled toliet paper for now, but respect to you and yours if you figure out how to make the family cloth work. Or just do the Tree Free toilet paper!

picnic paper plates

5. Paper Plates- Paper plates have so many uses, and they can make life so much easier.  No one can deny, a big meal with no dishes is basically the bomb. If you are going on a picnic, or camping, you don't necessarily want to take your dish set with you. That being said, they are another one time use paper product that sucks down trees and then gets thrown away immediately. We can do better and our picnics can do better!

To Compare: Dixie plates are made in the USA, but there are fresh tree product coated in plastic- not great! They are also super cheap- 220 plates cost 17.99 (or about 7 cents a plate). Still, let's see how we can do.

Our Pick: When I have bought paper plates, it honestly has mostly been for art projects, so we have a strange assortment of Chinet bowls and plates from that. Chinet's eco option is Made in the USA, made out of recycled materials, and is fully compostable. So like 1000 times better for the Earth than those Dixie or Vanity Fair plates. A Value Pack of 32 costs about 5 dollars, so it is about 15 cents a plate.

Earth's Natural- Compostable plates made out of sugar cane instead of trees (but they are made in China). Great option if you want to go tree-free! 9.24 for 50, so about 18 cents a plate.

Stalkmarket- If you are looking for a lot of paper plates, Stalkmarket has a similar product- 420 plates for about 11 cents a plate. Totally compostable, able to handle hot, cold, and the microwave. It looks like you can even get it open box!

And if you want to go big: Preserve is one of my new favorite brands, because it makes light and easy picnic-ware that is awesomely eco-friendly. The plates (and cups and silverware) are made of 100% post consumer plastic and are 100% recyclable. And if you decide you are done with them, you can mail them back to the company, and they will recycle them for you. The plates are 8 for 8.76, so about a dollar a plate, but you would only have to use them a couple of times a summer before  you recouped the cost. This won't solve every paper plate problem, but the fewer one time uses you have, the better for our world.

I hope I have shown you that switching out some of these common items is totally doable, affordable, and worth it! I know when I started this, it felt overwhelming, but my goal is to share my research with you, so you can start treating recycled and recyclable materials as real options! I want to leave the world a better place than when I got here, and I know you do too, and seemingly little decisions like these, when made by lots of us, can make a huge difference! Join us in cutting down the cutting down of trees and we can make this world a better, healthier place.

You May Also Like


  1. I love this! I don't have the space to buy things in bulk, but just knowing what brands to look for (or avoid) helps a lot.

  2. Wow, you put a lot of work into comparing everything, this is amazing. Thanks so much for featuring my napkins here, and I plan to keep reading!

  3. I love this list. so informative and helpful for people who are starting to make a change in their lives/

    1. Thank you! It can be so hard to take those first steps- it's easier if you know what to look for!

  4. This is an amazing post, especially to read it on Earth Day! I admit that I am totally guilty of using a lot of these products because of convenience. I think that using washcloths more instead of paper towels is such an easy fix that I could start doing today, as well as cloth napkins. Imagine if we all just picked one of your suggestions to change in our daily lives?? It would make such a difference. Thanks for the reminder and great ideas!

    1. Right!? That's my big point- no one can do everything, but if we all did something, we could change the world!

  5. This is great! These are easy ways to go green without giving things up.
    I don't foresee us using the "family towel" though. Sounds gross!

    1. Me either! I will never be courageous enough!

  6. What a great list. We all need to do our part for the environment and this post is a great motivator to do so. Thanks!