It's Only a Paper Meme - Christine Kane

What’s in a meme?

A meme is when one blogger writes about a particular topic and then “tags” other bloggers to get them to write about the same topic.

What’s this meme?

This meme is about being paper-less. It’s about generating ideas so that we can all use a little less paper and create a tree-friendly world.

Who started this meme?

Motivational speaker Debra Moorhead began this meme. She’s becoming “paperless” in 2008 and wants some ideas as she embarks on this path. She tagged me.

So, here are six (mostly) paper-less things I do in my daily rounds:

1. Paint Rags in the Pantry

I regularly congratulate myself for thinking of this. It’s tree-friendly and unbelievably convenient.

In the paint section at Lowe’s, they stock a package of white terry cloth paint rags. It’s cheap. My husband bought them when I was in the middle of painting something. I never used them.

So I washed and folded them in orderly stacks on a shelf in the pantry. I use them for spills. I use them with Citra-Solv to do a final clean on the counters each night. I use them instead of napkins. I also take some in the car on road trips.

Typically, I use them once and then toss them in the washer. They get washed with the white stuff. (With big spills – like the unfortunate “olive oil incident” – you can just toss the rag because there’s plenty more.)

In five years, we haven’t had to buy any extras – and we’ve saved untold amounts of trees because we almost never use paper towels. (And the pretty rust colored dish-rags only get used only for the most dish-rag-y things – not for all the spills.)

2 – Canvas Bag at the Grocery

I know. I know. This is supposed to be a paper meme. But paper comes from trees. I love trees. And I cringe when I see roadside trees with plastic grocery bags hanging all over them. It’s such a symbol of our consumer culture where we just assume we should get a bag with every single thing we purchase. (Yes, I’m moving my Complaint-Free bracelet over to the other wrist.)

So, I carry my own canvas bags. (I don’t always remember to take them with me. But I do try to keep them in my car for those surprise trips to the grocery.) I use the canvas shwag-bags I get at conferences where I perform. My husband bought some cool bags at the local organic grocery store. (I even carry them with me to Target and Office Depot. I don’t mind looking like a geek when it comes to the environment.)

[One other cool idea: This under the sink cheap trash bag holder. It’s designed so you can re-use your plastic grocery bags as trash bags. (Rather than the “matching” plastic bags they try to sell you.) Our kitchen is small. I didn’t want to have a trashcan taking up more space. So I got one of these, and this is the only way we bag trash now. It puts those extra plastic grocery bags to use.]

3 – Living Tree Paper CD’s

My CD’s were printed on Living Tree paper. It was more expensive, yes. But I wanted to do it. Living Tree Paper is made from a combination of chlorine-free agricultural resources (hemp, flax straw) and post-consumer waste. The quality of their paper is superb.

4 – Starbucks on the Road

When I’m on the road and I go to Starbucks – or any local coffeehouse – I save the cup. I rinse it out and keep it in the cup holder of my rental car. I use that single cup over and over again. I used to travel with my favorite chunky metal cup – but the lid popped off in an airport, never to be seen again. This made me sad.

So, now I just reuse one paper cup, rather than continue to get new cups. Some baristas are so pleased that I’m doing this, that they automatically give me the refill price on the coffee – even though it’s not technically a refill. (We also save the occasional coffeehouse cup in a drawer at my house in case we ever need a paper cup.)

5 – Loose paper recycling

I don’t use the city recycling service that comes through the neighborhood once a week. You know why? They don’t pick up loose paper. They only take aluminum and glass.

Instead, I drive to the recycling bins in our city. They have big dumpsters for “loose paper” – junk mail, catalogs, etc. ANY random paper. So, every two weeks, when I’m on my way to somewhere else, I toss the recycling in the back of my car (aluminum, glass, corrugated and paper) and take it myself.

6 – If you must use paper…

The Dogwood Alliance has successfully lobbied Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max to increase their in-store supply of recycled paper, as well as reduce (and eliminate) the amount of paper that comes from virgin forests. You can now find 100% recycled office paper at all of these stores. This is all I use in the office.


The final part of a meme is that you tag other bloggers and encourage them to join in. So, with the full understanding that bloggers get meme-tagged all the time and may not have time to respond to this meme (I myself have dropped the ball on many a meme!) – I tag the following uber-bloggers…

Patti Digh at 37 Days

Alyson Stanfield at Art Biz Blog

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits

  • Change The Tape Troy

    I am sure that you all have already done this. My favorite is paying all of my bills online. No paper statements or bills. All electronic. I cant tell you how much my mail decreased when I stopped paper statements from the bank and other services. Blessings


  • Carolyn

    I also always use cloth tablecloths and cloth napkins! Big Lots is a terrific source for beautiful ones. Walmart and garage sales are wonderful too. I just toss them in the clothesbasket with sheets after we’ve used them 3 days. I also use old cloth diapers as rags and worn-out dishtags. We also tear old bathtowels into strips for rags.

  • leonie (chocolate covered musings)

    hey Christine!

    i just found the coolest thing and it reminded me of this post that you wrote – it specifically relates to #4 starbucks on the road.

    there’s a company that has just made an “i’m not a paper cup” cup that looks like a takeaway one. i thought it was so neat, i had to tell you about it.

    you get so many readers that i figured if you love it too, you could tell them all about it


  • Lin

    for always making my day…I gave you a ‘make my day award’…look on my blog…xx

  • Janie

    In one of Christine’s posts a few months ago on PMS, a few
    women mentioned that they use menstrual cups (Diva,
    Lunette and Instead) instead of less-than-earth-friendly varieties of paper-based tampons and pads. Knowing how wise Chrisitne’s readers are, I gave the Diva cup a try and I have been converted. It has totally changed the menstrual
    experience! It is no longer a hassle or inconvenience. And although this may sound odd, I now feel closer to the biological process and how amazing it is. Tampons and pads make menstruation a process and a production; the cup is really simple.

    The way this ties into the paper meme is that not only
    am I saving money in the long run (a form of paper,
    too), but I am saving the envronment from the paper
    waste of menstrual products, plus not using plastic
    grocery bags in the disposal process.

    It’s a win all around!

  • Lisa Call

    Laine – thanks so much for the idea of cloth bags for bulk food! Yesterday as I was filling a huge plastic bags with 2 cups of rice and another with 4 ginger cookies and another with a few walnuts I was thinking there had to be a better way.

    My dad used to open all of his junk mail and then print on the back side from his computer. I have a manual for a computer he built for me printed entirely on junk mail.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks again to all these great commentator types! I’m glad to hear this issue is near and dear to folks! And thanks, of course, to the Dogwood Alliance for joining in on the conversation. For any of my readers who don’t know them – it’s worth a look-see to go to their site… very inspiring!

  • themichellesmith

    It is so great that all of the major office supply retailers are stocking recycled paper and some of them are going even further. Dogwood Alliance and our campaign partners, Forests Ethics, published an Office Supply report card last year rating the major office supply retailers. Staples got a B and Office Depot got a C+. Eight years ago, when Dogwood Alliance first began challenging these companies all of them would have gotten F’s. Here’s the link to the report card, in case you would like to compare. Dogwood Alliance accomplishes so much because, obviously, people do want forest friendly paper products and we give people a means of communicating that desire powerfully to those who can effect change — the CEO’s and directors of large paper companies. Now we’re challenging companies to address the Packaging Problem. If you feel passionate about forests, land, water, air and habitat you might like to check out our site. Forests keep us all alive. They are far too important to be wasted for packaging that is used once and thrown away. Peace and fun, Michelle

  • Sid Cullipher


    Thank you for giving a shout out to Dogwood Alliance! Southern forests are hugely impacted by the paper industry. Out of 200 million acres of forests in the South, 32 million of those acres are single-species pine plantations converted from natural forests. Approximately 70% of the paper used in the US and 15% of total world paper comes from our Southern forests. Please keep that in mind when you make your paper purchasing decisions. Look for high post-consumer recycled content and FSC certification. You might pay a little bit more, but our forests will thank you.

    Sid Cullipher
    Executive Director
    Dogwood Alliance

  • barb

    I use the plastic bags on the poop patrol, if the dogs err and poop in the house, I use toilet paper and flush it, otherwise, if Hannah’s weak bladder leaks, I use cloth towels and then just wash them. Since many of the poetry places have stopped returning submissions, I am going to start using paper that is wasted at work. at least it will be used twice. cuts my expenses too. My grocer gives me .05 cents credit for my cloth bags. I got a big insulated one to put all the frozen stuff in so I can run a few errands after shopping if I have to.
    Alice, I know how you feel, i work in a hospital and all the meal stuff is plastic. I bring my lunch, use my sandwich holder to bring the orange peels back for the compost. great ideas all. just think how this will spread with this blog. thanks ck bb

  • Mother Earth

    I reduced my files from 8 drawers to 4 last year, my goal this year is to reduce that to 2. I pay all my bills online, run a paperless office ( all electronic billing for clients ), no catalogs – all web or email driven – I have used 61 paper towel rolls since 1996 -more now because of dog accidents ( any ideas about that?), have been using cloth napkins for 20 years – bandana’s make great napkins, i use vintage hankerchiefs,rags for cleaning, and reduced my laundry by 50% this past year by wearing every last pair of wares and by doing full loads, and i clean green too, i really have enjoyed blogs that advocate or share more ideas, there is so much i haven’t implemented and could

    Mother Earth aka Karen Hanrahan

  • Alice

    Instead of tampons or maxipads, try Glad Rags. Website aside from saving a LOT of paper trash, they are much more comfortable because they are not bleached (I found the paper products to be very irritating). I used these for years til I “paused.”

    At work (in a supposedly “green” building), everything in the cafeteria is disposable: the trays, the utensils, everything. I avoid a lot of it by not using a tray and by bringing my own utensils (I usually eat at my desk). It makes me sick to think of the trash generated at this one building. The ultimate solution is to make my own food and bring it in reusable containers…I am working on that one!

  • seventh sister

    I don’t even like the store bags for trash bags. I am going to buy some garbage bags that biodegrade faster. I do use them when I take my dog to the park,though. I like the idea of the bags that get small if I am going to a retail outlet other than a grocery store. Most of them don’t like for folks to carry big bags around inside the store.

  • David

    This is an alternative to the canvas bag in the car. I bought ChicoBags and gave them as Christmas presents. They are reusable shopping bags, that when unfolded are about the size of a plastic grocery bag, and when folded are about 1″ by 2″ in their own storage sack. They have a little snap to attach to a key ring, and they fit nicely in a pocket. I don’t leave the house without one. Here is the web site:

  • Barbara J Carter

    I’ve been using white washcloths instead of paper napkins or paper towels for over a year now. I highly recommend it. When one gets too stained or ratty, I “downgrade” it from kitchen duty to household rag status. (I do keep an emergency roll of paper towels on hand, but after 14 months I’m still on the same roll.)

    Every time I receive a catalog I don’t want in the mail, I go to Catalog Choice ( and “decline” that catalog. They keep a list of all the catalogs you’ve declined, so you’ve still got a link to the catalog’s web site.

    I’m still struggling to remember to bring used shopping bags with me when I pop into the grocery store. I keep them in my car, but I still forget them until I’m in the store. My local store even gives a discount for reusing bags! I’m working on it…


  • Cynthia Morris

    Love it! I’m having a love affair with paper – cards, notebooks, stationery, etc, so I am very aware of paper in my life. I, too, reuse the cup when I get a drink at a cafe, though it’s been awhile and that cup I got last November is still in my car!
    Thanks for the reminder to be aware of paper, and to the commenters for their great suggestions!

  • Debra Moorhead

    Wow! Thanks so much, Christine and everyone. Now, how did I know that you and your group of followers would have good ideas on this? The serendipity is just too much sometimes – one of my readers commented that she’d like to know how to stop using paper towels – this is perfect!

    Thanks for taking the time to participate. I can hardly wait to compile everyone’s ideas. As always, I appreciate you!

  • ChickiePam

    I’ve never re-used the paper cups from coffee houses; that’s a great idea. But I DO have a refillable one that I use. Since I don’t drink coffee or tea out much, it’s not a big issue if I forget. We have paper cups at our office for tea and water, but we also have some glass mugs available, too.

    Great ideas, Christine!

  • Joy Gardner

    So many helpful hints…here’s one I use…let them call me crazy! I keep the pressed paper egg cartons from my eggs, and when it’s time to empty the lint trap from the dryer, I portion it out into each egg “cup”. Then, when my candles are burned down, I melt the stubs on top of the lint like a “frosting” of wax. Makes a great fire starter in the fireplace…wood? Nah, I burn cocoa bean logs, nut shells, and pressed sawdust Envi Blocks…

  • Christine Kane

    wow! Great ideas everyone! i’m inspired! Joy – I’m wondering… Is there something in particular about tissue paper that’s bad? I always tell them to not wrap my stuff in it (NOrdstroms does it all the time.) — but I’m just curious to know if tissue paper is particularly harmful to the environment for some reason? Laine – i was a nanny a long time ago (a very earth-conscious family) – and the cloth diapers were so handy for all kinds of stuff — that’s one of the things that inspired me to use the paint rags instead of paper towels.

  • Marilyn

    This is an issue near and dear to my heart, even though my actions don’t always show follow-through on my intentions. We’ve been recycling plastic bags for our kitchen garbage for a decade. We recycled as much as we could when we lived in Portland…then we moved to the Caribbean…where there was NO recycling! ACK! Thankfully we’re back in the land of recycling consciousness. I’m one of the recycling coordinators at the school where I work…and I’m so pleased that a lot of junior high kids really do care passionately about this. Last fall my town eliminated the sale and use of single-serving water bottles at public events. I was really struck by this project done by a Berkeley man…it’s made me think even harder about how much waste we generate! 🙂

  • Laine

    I save the tissue from stores throughout the year and use it to wrap things at Christmas.

    No paper towels here, except a roll for “dog issues”.

    I have a supply of pretty cloth bags I’ve made and love to carry them around when I do my errands, and I’ve even started making smaller ones to hold beans and bulk grains instead of using plastic. I didn’t take 3 bags yesterday – CVS, hardware store, wine store (my bag has little wine holder pockets on the sides so they don’t clink together.)

    I have a few cloth “moon pads” and would use more if I ever got around to buying or making them.

    I make cloth diapers for my niece and nephews.

  • Joy

    i was shopping – browsing actually – at my favorite boutique in monticetto, california last year. a woman – turns out she was a big time hollywood costume designer – was purchasing some very shi-shi items and very shi-shi prices and asked the sales clerk to not wrap her purchases in the very shi-shi tissue paper they use there.

    i now do the same. you have to be alert because some sales clerks are very quick and will present you with your tissue-wrapped hanky-pankies before you can ask them not to.

  • fdr

    Great post, Christine! On bags — I too always used to forget to bring my bags into the store with me; in a shop in Portland, Oregon I discovered the “bag on a keychain” concept. Chicobag ( executes this very well; the bags fold up into their own attached pouch, and they’re lightweight and squishable enough that you can store one in even a small purse or handbag at all times. Now I use them for almost all my purchases (drugstore, clothes shopping, you name it) — and it’s so nice when I do things like grab too many books at the library; I have a way to carry them all!

  • m

    i use the backs of printouts to write my morning pages, I used to get an organic box delivered (I think you called this CSA) and saved lots of packing. Recycled loo paper ! – get cheap from Lidels supermarket.