best products to reduce paper waste in the kitchen
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Paper towels, paper napkins, paper coffee filters—we throw away a lot of paper when we go about our daily routines in the kitchen. This can really add up; in 2006, over one quarter of U.S. trash going into landfills was paper products. And, globally, we’re the number one country as far as paper towel use goes, outspending every other country in our quest to wipe away messes with quick, throw-away convenience. With long-term cost savings and environmental benefits to be had, why not invest in some more eco-friendly options to help lessen all this waste?

Take a look at these products (some of which are old-hat for other countries), which can help reduce the amount of paper that ends up in our kitchen trash bins!

Cellulose Dishcloths

Let’s kick this off with the heaviest hitter: the cellulose dishcloth! Also known as European dishcloths or Swedish dishcloths, these can be used in place of paper towels and conventional dishcloths. What makes the cellulose dishcloth so great? It’s:

  • Reusable
  • Durable
  • Super absorbent
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Machine washable
  • Sanitizable in the microwave
  • Compostable

Amala Highly Absorbent Magic Sponge Cloths, 3 for $5.99 at Target

Amala Highly Absorbent Magic Sponge Cloths


At only $5.99 for three, and with the claim of replacing 45 paper towel rolls, this set of self-proclaimed “magic” sponge cloths might save you almost $40 (if you’re paying about a dollar per roll). Heck, even if it only replaces 10 rolls, you’re saving money!Buy Now

DII Swedish Dishcloths, 3 for $14.73 on Amazon

DII Swedish Dishcloths


If style is important, spend a little more on these DII Swedish dishcloths, which come in a dozen patterns to match your kitchen, the holiday season, or just your mood. With either option, you get a versatile spongy cloth that wipes up liquids and messes, then rinses, microwaves, or washes clean to be used again and again. And check out the reviews for both products—people love these cellulose clothes! Try them out, and see how much less paper waste you create.Buy Now

Five Two Compostable Sponge Cloths, 10 for $29 on Food52

Five Two Compostable Sponge Cloths


New on the scene, Food52’s take on the classic Swedish dishcloth is available to pre-order now (they’ll start shipping on May 2). Each one lasts for 300 uses before you need to commit it to the compost, and they’re made in a gray shade desgined to help hide stains.Buy Now

Reusable Paper Towels

When it comes to changing habits, baby steps work better for some. If you are looking to make a change, but can’t quit that roll-on-the-counter, square-ripping action just yet, reusable paper towels might be a good start for you.

Kitchen + Home Reusable Bamboo Towels, 20 sheets for $14.99 on Amazon

reusable bamboo paper towels


These reusable bamboo towels come in rolls like paper towels, but are made from bamboo, and can be reused and washed in the dishwasher or washing machine. Amazon reviewers tout how they’ve saved money and reduced their paper towel usage (and waste), even if they still use regular paper towels on occasion.

While these do come in rolls and fit on your paper towel holder, once you’ve torn off a few squares, most likely you’re going to store them on the counter or under your sink (even though one reviewer does try to return them to the roll after washing). This means that you only get that countertop-roll effect in the beginning, but even that may help you with the transition to more eco-friendly habits!

Buy Now

If You Care Reusable Paper Towel Rolls, 3 for $32 on Food52

If You Care Reusable Paper Towel Rolls


While these are made from different materials (cellulose, non-GMO unbleached cotton, and natural mineral salt), they work just the same as the bamboo towels above—and absorb up to 16 times their weight in liquid. Each sheet can be rinsed, wrung out, and reused for about a week, then composted.Buy Now

Reusable Snapping Paper Towels, 12 sheets for $38 on Etsy

unpaper towels reusable fabric towels with snaps

The Tailored Home / Etsy

If you are truly beholden to that paper towel holder and tear-off format, then get ye to Etsy, for some reusable, snapping paper towels. You get 12 reusable cloth towels that snap off one at a time, but cleverly snap back together after rinsing or washing! With so many cloth-and-snap colors and combinations, this is a product that can be suited to your kitchen style and your personal taste (and if you like to keep it basic, try this plain white roll). Real paper towel action, but with an eco-friendly soul.Buy Now

Related Reading: The Best Green Laundry Products

Cotton Coffee Filters

When you’re making coffee a few times a day, everyday (it’s not addiction, it’s love!), you’re likely in a routine where you brew, sip, and subsequently throw away a paper filter multiple times each day. While you can compost both the filter and grounds, if you don’t have access to composting services or a bin of your own, you might find that the daily disposal of this paper product quickly fills up your trash bin. The product to remedy that waste is a reusable cotton coffee filter.

CoffeeSock Reusable Drip Cone Filter, $12.99 on Amazon

CoffeeSock Reusable Drip Cone Filter


With so many sizes and varieties, including types that can be used in a Chemex, you’re sure to find the right fit for your brew style. As with all the other products here, Amazon reviewers love CoffeeSock filters, sometimes noting improved flavor over paper filters. Though the clean up is more involved than just tossing a filter in the trash, reviewers like the eco-friendly aspect of the filter, and the fact that they don’t have to keep buying new paper filters over and over again.Buy Now

Metal Coffee Filters

Unlike new-kid-on-the-block cotton coffee filters, metal coffee filters have been keeping paper filters out of landfills for a long time. Some users of metal coffee filters end up returning to paper, citing a taste difference they can’t get over (in which case, they should try cotton ones!); however, for those who prefer easier cleanup, this is the way to go.

GoldTone Reusable Coffee Filter, $5.99 on Amazon

GoldTone Reusable Coffee Filter


Different size options fit different coffee makers, so make sure you choose the right one for your appliance. Since the grates of a metal filter don’t provide sieving as fine as with cloth, using a coarser grind of coffee will help keep grounds out of your cup (as one reviewer recommends).Buy Now

Cloth Napkins

Taking a step even farther back from some of the newer products, we come to an age-old standard: the cloth napkin. Where once I had a stack of paper napkins near my kitchen table, I now have cloth napkins in a variety of colors. They’re stronger, prettier, and they don’t create any throwaway garbage. And, if you’re having a dinner party, they enhance the look of your table and place settings!

Bulk Cloth Napkins, 10 for $22.50 on Etsy

Bulk Cloth Napkins

Chow with Me/Etsy

While most department stores carry any number of different cloth napkins, like these Buffalo Plaid Napkins from Target, you’ll find the mother lode for colors, patterns, and sheer variety on Etsy. Say you’re making the switch to cloth napkins, but you don’t want to mess around with picking this fancy set or that matching set—you just need quantity so that you’re not doing laundry every couple of days in order to have clean napkins. Look for something like this set of bulk cloth napkins in shades of blue, which are hardy, washable, and most importantly, numerous! Note: These are 5 by 5 inches, but you can also order them in 8- and 10-inch square dimensions too ($26 and $32, respectively).Buy Now

French Linen Monogrammed Napkins, 4 for $65 on Etsy

French Linen Monogrammed Napkins

Sincerely Yours, Lauren/Etsy

If you are the type of person to color-coordinate, and you like extra-special details like monogrammed initials, try something like these French linen monogrammed pompom napkins. Deep, bold colors will add some drama and elegance to dinner party place settings, and customized initials are the perfect finishing touch. Paper napkins don’t even come close to creating the same sophistication.Buy Now

Silicone Pastry Mat

Finally, we have the silicone pastry mat, or specifically the brand name, Silpat. While there are certainly pros and cons to using silicone pastry mats over parchment paper, the most important “pro” for this discussion is the fact that the mats are reusable!

Half Sheet Silpat, $26.95 at Sur La Table

pros and cons Silpat silicone baking mat


If you bake all the time, you might find you’re going through parchment paper like it’s going out of style—in which case, a silicone pastry mat like this could make a difference as far as paper waste goes. Use over and over again, cleaning each time, to avoid continuously buying and throwing away parchment paper.Buy Now

Let’s shake off some of these throwaway-culture habits, sacrificing a little convenience for more quality and less waste. Try picking just one product to replace your go-to paper version, and see how it feels—you might just fall in love with eco-friendly results!

Next Up: Plastic

The Best Plastic-Free Food Storage Options for a Greener Kitchen

Header image courtesy of DII/Amazon

Emily, a Chicago native (okay, okay, born and raised in the 'burbs), loves being able to bike to and from her job at a tech company. After hours, you can find her walking her rescue pup (he's a good boy), taking French classes (voulez-vous un macaron?), and thoroughly enjoying her city's excellent restaurants and bars. She lives for the Chopped-style thrill of creating the perfect meal from limited and oddball ingredients.
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