If you need new sheets and can afford it, invest in organic cotton, linen, bamboo, or eucalyptus tencel. Invest is the right word, so choose what’s likely to be the most durable; probably linen, a very strong fiber that gets softer with use. And choose a pleasant, neutral color that you won’t grow to hate. If you yearn for new French linen sheets and can’t justify spending the money, put them on your holiday wish-list or wedding registry.
If your old sheets are fine, just not as eco-friendly as you’d like, don’t buy new sheets. The most eco-efficient bedding is what you own right now. All the ecological costs have already been incurred. Price your dream sheets and use the money you save by not buying them to buy carbon offsets, for a double benefit.
If you do buy new sheets, keep the old ones. There are countless home and garden uses for sheets. Spread them as drop cloths for painting, under a fruit tree before you shake the fruit down, to keep frost from nipping your plants, etc. Check with your local animal shelter as well. They can definitely use towels and may have a need for sheets, too. Or you can cut them up for cleaning rags.
Sometimes you just need a paper towel, though—even though you know you shouldn’t be mopping up kitchen spills with the boreal forest. There’s good news here: Swedish dish cloths, and their many cellulose cousins. These are essentially reusable paper towels. Stiff and coarse-feeling when dry, they plump up when dampened, becoming soft, pleasant to handle, and very absorbant. They can be rinsed or laundered over and over before they need to take their turn in the compost pile.
Speaking of the boreal forest, are you flushing it down the toilet? Many of us are, but it’s easy to stop. Go to the Natural Resources Defense Council toilet paper scorecard and choose something that’s earned an A. Seventh Generation, based in Vermont, makes a good paper with recycled content, or you might try a bamboo paper. There are many to choose from. Does this make a difference? Yes. One tush; small impact. Lots of tushes: Big impact. If talking with your friends about toilet paper feels weird, just share the product information on social media. That’s how we find out about things these days.
What are you going to use to clean your sheets and towels? Readers of Green Energy Times are very familiar with Vermont Soap Company, which sells an all-purpose castile-based cleaner called Liquid Sunshine which can be used for laundry and all kinds of surface cleaning. The same is true of Vermont Soap’s Castile Liquid Soap, which can be used to clean all water-safe surfaces. Castile soap is made with an olive oil base; Vermont Soap makes an unscented version, and in several scents including lavendar, lemongrass, and pine. If you like your first bottle, you can buy a 64-ounce jug to use as a re-fill. At various solutions, which are listed on the bottle, this and other castile soaps can be used to clean almost anything, including laundry, carpets, floors, bathrooms, your car, your dog, and yourself. Using one soap for all these tasks eliminates a lot of packaging, decision-making, and potentially toxic or allergenic chemicals and perfumes. You can frequently find bulk dispensers of liquid castile soap at co-ops and natural food stores.
If you’d rather use a specialized product for laundry, go with a powder, or with dissolvable laundry sheets. When you buy liquid detergent you are paying for water, which is heavy to ship and has a bigger carbon footprint. Laundry sheets, by contrast, weigh a whopping 94% less than liquid laundry detergent and are reported to deliver excellent cleaning results. There are many brands to choose from. Some highly reviewed brands include Tru Earth, Happy Earth, Kind Laundry, and EcoRoots. There’s more than just the carbon to consider here. Laundry detergent is nonbiodegradable, and contributes to phosphorous pollution in lakes and rivers.
While you’re greening your washroom, consider getting a Guppyfriend wash bag. This product, recommended by Patagonia, traps the microfibers released by fleece and polyester when they are washed. Then you simply remove the fibers with your fingers and put them in the trash, eliminating one source of plastic pollution at its source.
Does one household changing its habits make a big difference? Not really, but a lot will. Nobody will likely comment on your laundry soap, but the cellulose paper towels are odd enough to be noticed and start a conversation. As Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and author of the new book Saving Us points out, most Americans care about climate change, but we don’t talk about it. Talking makes a big difference. For one thing, it might help us see where we all stand on this complex issue. So whip out that weird green paper towel, and if nobody asks about it, pipe up. “You know, these are great, and I’ve saved so many trees since I started using them—which is great, because trees are so important in the fight against global warming.” Or less-hokey words to that effect.
Jessie Haas has lived off-grid in Westminster, VT for over 35 years. She is the author of 40 books, including The Hungry Place